Grip strength is critical for many aspects of daily life, from writing to weight lifting. It's a particular issue for people with health issues or who are recovering from injuries. Fortunately, there are many different occupational therapy exercises to increase grip strength.
3 Simple Hand-Strengthening Exercises for Adults
Hand-strength exercises typically require very little equipment, which means that they can be done at the gym, at home or even at work. For these hand exercises, you need a rubber band, stress ball and a dumbbell.
Move 1: Hand Squeeze
The National Institute On Aging recommends this handgrip exercise for adults.
- Hold a stress ball or gyro ball in your hand. You can also use a dedicated handgrip strengthener.
- Slowly squeeze the tool as hard as possible. Hold your hand in place for 3 to 5 seconds.
- Slowly relax your hand.
- Repeat 15 times, then switch to the other hand.
The Best Occupational Hand-Strengthening Tools
Move 2: Rubber-Band Stretch
This occupational hand-strengthening exercise is ideal for improving finger strength and fine motor skills, according to American Council on Exercise.
- Wrap two rubber bands around the fingers of each hand.
- Slowly open your hands and spread your fingers as far as possible.
- Pause, then slowly close them again.
- Repeat as many times as you can until your hands become tired.
- Rest for 60 seconds, then repeat for a total of 2 to 3 sets.
Move 3: Wrist Curl
The dumbbell wrist curl is one of the most common occupational therapy exercises to increase grip strength and hand function.
- Hold two light dumbbells and place your forearms on your thighs with your palms facing up and hands hanging off the edge of your knees. Relax your hands so the weights rest in your fingers.
- Squeeze your hands, then bend your wrists to raise your palms as close to your forearms as possible.
- Pause, then slowly lower back to your fingers.
- Do 2 to 3 sets of 10 reps.
The Importance of Hand Strength for Adults
Grip strength is crucial for almost every daily activity, from using your phone or writing to lifting weights or carrying your groceries. Yet, most people take hand strength for granted, not considering its importance until they get older or have an issue that affects their daily function.
Various factors, including aging, nutrition, muscle strength, mobility and overall health affect hand strength, according to a July 2017 study in Acta Medica Indonesiana. Certain health conditions, such as rheumatoid arthritis, coronary heart disease, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease and diabetes can all affect grip health.
Several studies, including a July 2018 study in the International Journal of Adolescent Medicine and Health, have shown that it's possible to improve grip strength through specific occupational hand exercises. These exercises can help improve your pinch grip, handgrip strength, handwriting speed and hand coordination.
Despite their importance, activities to increase grip strength are often missing from workout programs, according to the American Council on Exercise (ACE). Fortunately, there are a variety of different occupational therapy exercises to increase grip strength. If you work out regularly, you can even incorporate some of these hand-strengthening exercises into your regular routine.
If your weak grip is due to a health condition or related to an injury, you should talk to your occupational therapist about activities to increase grip strength. If your hand weakness comes on suddenly or you also experience tremors, consult your doctor.
5 Fun Hand-Strengthening Exercises for Kids
Hand exercises can improve handwriting and other fine-motor functions in children. Hand-strengthening exercises concentrate on a child's grip strength and pinch strength for functional activities. Try these suggestions from The Royal Children's Hospital Melbourne.
1. Mashing Up Theraputty
Squeezing, kneading and pulling theraputty or modeling clay helps strengthen children's hands. Try FlintRehab Premium Quality Therapy Putty (Amazon.com, $14.89).
To make things more interesting, hiding beads or small coins in putty or clay gives kids the opportunity to use hand and finger muscles to find the hidden objects and to put them back. Use more-resistive putty as the child's hands get stronger.
2. Cutting and Hole-Punch Activities
By using different weights of paper, such as newspaper, construction paper, card stock or even cardboard, cutting and hole-punch activities can help strengthen kids' hands. These exercises can be as simple as punching holes throughout a piece of paper or cutting a frayed edge on a piece of paper, to copying and following more detailed patterns with scissors or a hole punch.
For these exercises, encourage one-handed use of scissors or the hole punch to maximize grip strength in the dominant hand.
3. Pinching Clothespins, Tongs or Tweezers
Clothespins, tongs or tweezers provide opportunity for kids to use muscles for pinch strength in their hands. With clothespins, kids can make or copy designs by transferring the pins onto a grid board. Try BULYZER Grid Wire Board (Amazon.com, $30.99).
Children can also use tongs or tweezers to pick up objects and transfer them to another location.
4. Crumpling Paper
Paper can be a good tool for strengthening hands. Kids can place their hands palm-down on pieces of paper and then scrunch the paper into balls.
You can make this strengthening activity more or less challenging by using different types of paper: tissue paper, plain paper, construction paper, etc.
5. Building Small Building Toys
Small building toys, such as DUPLO blocks, that require pulling apart and pushing pieces together, allow children to work on grip strength and pinch strength. Try the LEGO DUPLO Classic Brick Box (FatBrainToys.com, $29.99).
A fun game may be to set a timer for the child to finish a cube or other shape as fast as they can.
- American Council on Exercise: "How to Improve Grip Strength"
- YouTube: "National Institute On Aging: Go4Life Exercise - Hand Grip"
- International Journal of Adolescent Medicine and Health: "Can Upper Limb Taping or Exercises Improve Hand Function, Writing Speed and Self-Perception of Performance in Adolescent School Children?"
- Acta Medica Indonesiana: "Factors Related with Handgrip Strength in Elderly Patients"
- Department of Occupational Therapy, Royal Children's Hospital, Melborne: Hand and Finger Strength