Men's Health (Malaysia) - - Guy Skills - BUT A DAY AF­TER MY FIRST

se­ri­ous grip ses­sion, as I sat at my desk and tapped at my key­board, I found my hands racked by a grind­ing ache that set­tled in the tri­an­gles of flesh be­side my thumbs, and ra­di­ated across my knuck­les and down into the pad of mus­cle be­neath my pinkies. It was an ache that felt fa­mil­iar and yet for­eign at the same time. Sure, I’d felt this in my glutes, my quads, my ch­est. But my hands?

It all started a few months ear­lier on the ten­nis court. Ev­ery Fri­day lunch, a col­league and I will head down and hit for an hour or so. It’s a ca­sual affair; we don’t keep score. Once we’ve both worked up a sweat, we’ll gather the scat­tered pills then meet at the net for a hand­shake. And ev­ery time he’ll get me. His pur­chase will be a lit­tle firmer, a lit­tle surer. My knuck­les will buckle, my fin­gers will strain. And no mat­ter how many fore­hand win­ners I’ve driven down the line, I’ll slink back to my desk with the bit­ter taste of de­feat in my mouth.

It’s a weekly in­dig­nity that got me think­ing: why had I never – not once – made a con­certed ef­fort to strengthen my grip? Why had I ig­nored those ropes of mus­cle that curl around the el­bow joint and run down the fore­arm? Why had I ne­glected those flex­ors and ex­ten­sors that pass through the wrists, and fan into the fin­gers and thumbs? Van­ity, most likely. Hell, when has a woman ever ad­mired the mus­cu­la­ture of your thumbs?

But from a util­ity per­spec­tive, these mus­cles are cru­cial. As per­sonal trainer and strength me­chan­ics ex­pert Paul Ber­sagel points out, the hands are in­vari­ably the first point of con­tact be­tween you and an ob­ject – be it a bar­bell, a spar­ring part­ner or a stub­born twist top. “Your hands are like the tyres be­tween the road and the car,” he says. “If you get good con­tact and ini­ti­a­tion there, ev­ery­thing else will func­tion at a higher level.”

In­deed, the force you ap­ply with your hands doesn’t just empty on to an ex­ter­nal ob­ject – it also rip­ples back up your arms and into your shoul­ders. “There’s a lot of re­search that shows grip strength has a di­rect cor­re­la­tion with ro­ta­tor cuff strength,” Ber­sagel says. “And strong ro­ta­tor cuffs, of course, keep your shoul­der in a sta­ble po­si­tion.” For this rea­son, Ber­sagel con­tends that if you’re do­ing any weighted move­ment – from bench press to dead­lifts – it’s vi­tal that you ac­tively en­gage your grip to sta­bilise your shoul­ders, pro­vid­ing a con­crete plat­form for the big prime movers in the ch­est, back and legs to do their thing.

But the sig­nif­i­cance of a firm grip ex­tends well be­yond the gym. An ex­haus­tive 2015 study pub­lished in the Lancet mea­sured grip strength in 140,000 adults in 17 coun­tries. The re­searchers then fol­lowed the sub­jects’ health over a four-year pe­riod. The re­sults: ev­ery fivek­ilo­gram de­crease in grip strength was linked to a 16 per­cent higher risk of dy­ing from any cause, a 17 per­cent higher risk of dy­ing from heart dis­ease, a nine per­cent higher risk of stroke and a seven per­cent higher risk of heart at­tack. The con­clu­sion: grip strength is a peer­less marker of your bi­o­log­i­cal age. The stronger your grip, the bi­o­log­i­cally younger your body; the weaker your grip, the more de­crepit your car­cass.

Armed with this knowl­edge, I made a book­ing at my lo­cal gym to test my grip strength on a dy­namome­ter – a cu­ri­ous im­ple­ment that mea­sures the amount of force a clos­ing hand can ap­ply. My re­sults – 56 kilo­grams on my right hand, 52 on my left – placed me at the up­per end of av­er­age for a man aged 30-39. Not bad. But fill­ing the bell curve isn’t op­ti­mal, es­pe­cially with the fragility of my hand­shake be­ing bru­tally ex­posed on the ten­nis court each week.

It was time to call in the ex­perts.

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