By LOUISE CARR, Associate Editor and Featured Columnist
In our quest for fitness, we often overlook our hands. But hand strength is important, and not only for sealing the deal with a firm handshake. Your hands give you the power to succeed in sports like weightlifting, wrestling, rock climbing and tennis. And, as I've written about before, hand strength gives you important clues about your overall health and your prospects for living a long life.
Hand power is essential for carrying heavy loads of any type. You need strong hands whether your goal is just to carry bags of groceries or , if you're into more extreme sports like martial arts, you need powerful hands to break through piles of wooden blocks.
And let's face it, weak hands are for losers - who wants to have to ask a friend to open that jar of pickles or saw that pile of logs? If your hands are more puny than powerful, you can do something about it. Flex the muscles of your pinky, fingers, wrist and forearm to build powerful strength with these exercises. What exercises help to build strong hands? Are there any every day activities that you can do to make your hands stronger?
What is Normal Hand Strength?
Are your hands weaker than normal or more powerful than the average man? It's hard to pin down a normal level of hand strength because hand power depends on many variables such as age, physical condition, state of health and muscle mass.
Hand strength weakens as you age, according to data from the University of Connecticut. According to 1994 research from the Pennsylvania Hand Center the average maximum grip strength for men (measured by using a calibrated Jamar dynamometer) was 137 pounds.
These experts showed that hand power was linked to height, weight, sex and hand dominance - the majority of people who were right-handed were 10 percent stronger in their right hand than their non-dominant hand. This is promising because it shows you can successfully build strength in your hand by using it.
How Do Martial Arts Experts Break Bricks?
If you're looking for super-power hands, what do you need to do? Is it possible to increase hand strength to the point at which you can break wooden boards or bricks?
If you punch a brick with the right force, momentum and positioning you can successfully break it, according to experts including researchers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. There are no tricks, just hand power and proper training. According to researchers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, a karate black belt can throw a chop at 46 feet per second. That delivers a powerful hit of around 2,800 newtons - when you consider that you can split an apple with one newton you'll realize how much damage you can do with 2,800. But splitting bricks requires discipline and training in the correct techniques.
If you're looking for a more general hand workout, take a look at the following Top 10 tips:
1. Build Your Hand Power in the Gym
Get your hand muscles working alongside the rest of your body by adding a few choice hand power exercises into your gym routine. You will automatically build your hand muscles when you grip dumbbells and bar bells, and wrapping your fingers around the bar of the weight will help strengthen the muscles that cause your fingers to flex.
You can also improve your hand power on the mat. Do the fingertip pushup - set yourself up for a regular pushup with your arms shoulder-width apart and your legs fully extended. Then lift yourself up onto your fingertips before performing the press movement. Tough but effective.
2. Everyday Activities to Increase Hand Power
Don't limit your power-building to the gym. These ideas were developed for children by the Department of Occupational Therapy, Royal Children's Hospital, Melbourne in 2005 but you can take advantage of their strengthening power. Just make sure you do enough repetitions to feel the difference. Water plants with a spray bottle, carry heavy shopping bags, knead dough or use a rolling pin, peel and grate food and vegetables, squeeze juice from an orange or lemon manually, and pour liquid from a heavy plastic container into a cup. All these everyday activities help increase hand power.
3. Increase Your Hand Strength with Grippers
Increase your hand strength and ward off sarcopenia - a decline in muscle mass that is as fast as one percent a year after middle age, according to the University of Connecticut. Strengthen your grip and build hand power with a gripper that you press to open and close. If you don't have a gripper you can use a ball, a pair of tightly-rolled socks or a lump of putty. (Read more about exercises that prevent sarcopenia.)
4. Write to Increase Your Hand Power
That's right - writing can build up strength in your hand. All too often nowadays we type and text rather than pick up pen and paper and our hands are suffering for it. Write every day - a shopping list, a report, a novel…. You'll see benefits in your hand strength. (Read about what your handwriting says about your health.)
5. Hand Exercises to Help Arthritis Sufferers
Special exercises can build up your hand power if you suffer from arthritis. Using a ball of putty, follow a routine of movements including squeezing the putty, rolling the putty on a smooth surface using your wrist, stretching the putty with your fingertips then shaping it with your thumb and index finger. A six-week program of hand exercises improved hand power and hand function in patients with rheumatoid arthritis, according to a 2009 study from Halmstad University, Sweden. The results were even better after 12 weeks of training.
6. Exercises for Building up the Hand in Carpal Tunnel Sufferers
Carpal tunnel syndrome is when the median nerve trough the forearm is pressed or squeezed at the wrist. If you suffer from carpal tunnel syndrome you may feel pain in the hand and wrist, and the strength in your hand will be reduced.
Try these exercises from the University of Oklahoma Orthopedic & Reconstructive Research Foundation. After a quick warm-up, extend and bend both your wrists and fingers as if you were going to do a handstand. Straighten wrists then make a tight fist. Bend both fists towards your wrists. Straighten and relax fingers. Repeat the exercise 10 times then let your arms hang loose and shake your arms and hands for a few seconds.
7. Use a Forearm Roller to Increase Your Hand Strength
A forearm roller is a useful piece of kit for developing hand power. The equipment has a pull bar attached to a weight with a rope. You roll the weight up and work your forearms and hands by extending and flexing your wrists. As with all weight training exercises, gradually increase the weight you use.
8. Do the Plate Pinch for a Hand Power Boost
When you´ve finished your weight routine, add a hand power exercise. Stand two weight plates next to each other on their edges. Keeping them away from your feet, pick them both up by gripping as hard as you can with the fingers of one hand. Hold them at your side for as long as you can until you need to rest them on the floor. This exercise will develop finger strength and help improve your grip.
9. Practice the Rice Bucket Grab To Increase Your Hand Power
Take a tip from Eastern martial arts and use a bucket of rice or fine sand to help improve your hands. Fill the bucket with rice or sand, put it on the floor then, keeping your fingers straight, sink your hand down into the bucket as far as you can. Open and close your fist, working against the resistance of the sand or rice.
10. Paper Helps Improve Hand Power
This may sound strange but paper can be a powerful tool for increasing your hand power. One of the most effective hand strengthening exercises is the newspaper crumple. Using only your fingertips and your thumb, crumple a sheet of newspaper into a ball. Squeeze down on the ball as hard as you can, for as long as you can. Keep going until you've done the whole newspaper. You can also practice tearing folded sheets of newspaper until you've built up enough hand strength to rip a phone book in one go.