I’D NEVER REALISED IT WAS POSSIBLE TO GET DELAYED ONSET MUSCLE SORENESS IN YOUR HANDS.
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.