Fitness + Well-being

This generation has a weaker handshake — how to tighten your grip

 (iStock)

Bad news: Your dad's rote exhortations that you develop that firm handshake that is so critical to surviving the corporate world appear to have fallen on deaf ears. According to a study conducted by researchers at Winston-Salem State University and published last year in the not-at-all-fake-sounding Journal of Hand Therapy, men and women under age 30, across the board, have significantly weaker grips than their compatriots did in 1985. Kids these days, man!

The study's set-up was pretty simple: Researchers measured the force that participants were able to generate while squeezing a hand dynamometer, a lab tool that looks kind of like a cross between a cordless joystick and a terrifying optometry instrument from a horror movie. Their findings, in scientific terms, are that you are helpless and pathetic when asked to open a stubborn jar of pickles, and so is everyone you know.

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In 1985, the average right-handed and left-handed grip strength of men in the 20-24 age bracket were 121 and 105 pounds, respectively. Today? 101 and 99 pounds. Double digits! Your intrepid post grad-school crew fare even worse: Men in the 25-29 age group are down 26 and 19 pounds.

What gives? According to the researchers, it's in large part to your boring desk job that presumably does not involve shucking corn:

"Work patterns have changed dramatically since 1985, when the first norms were established," says Elizabeth Fain of Winston-Salem State University, who led the study with Cara Weatherford. "As a society, we're no longer agricultural or manufacturing ... What we're doing more now is technology-related, especially for millennials."

To be fair, the point of this research was to test the metrics that rehab specialists use to evaluate recovery from hand injuries, not to shame your embarrassing failure to develop that vise-grip greeting that will impress the person conducting your interview into offering you a job on the spot. Still, courtesy of our friend and fitness pro Gideon Akande, here a few pointers for improving your grip and forearm strength, an essential not only in the boardroom but also in the weight room. Especially when it comes to exercises like pull-ups or deadlifts, starting with a strong grasp of the bar will help you get the most out of your next workout. You can also check out his demonstrations here.

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Farmers walks:
Grab a pair of heavy dumbbells. Now put those down and grab a heavier pair. Ready? No, kidding, put those down a grab a heavier pair. Alright, now you're ready. Exercising your tightest king fu grip and maintaining an upright posture—shoulders back, core tight, and glutes engaged—walk for 45 seconds. This exercise requires almost as much willpower as it does strength. As your forearms get stronger and the exercise becomes easier, find, you know, heavier weights.

Renegade rows:
Assume a plank position with both hands gripping dumbbells. Keep a tight grip on both and perform a rowing movement, pulling the dumbbell in your left hand toward you as you simultaneously push the dumbbell in your right hand out away from you. Reverse and repeat.

Hanging grip rotations:
Remember hanging from monkey bars as a kid? This is pretty similar. Start by hanging from a using a tight grip, palms facing toward you in chin-up position. With controlled, intentional movements, reverse your hands' direction one hand at a time. Perform as many switches as you can in 30 seconds, or a minute if you're feeling especially bold.