Get a grip on improving your cycling skills (and more)
By “weak grip” I am not referring to the force you can generate with your hands and forearms, although that is also important, but to their “stamina”; that is, how long they are able to perform at the highest level before they begin to tire. If you have poor grip, it can slow you down when pedaling because when your hands and forearms get tired, it will take more effort to hold on to the handlebars and apply the brakes. As a result, you risk driving slower and more cautiously and, in the worst case, having an accident because your braking was too slow or ineffective. This is especially important for gravel racing, endurance mountain biking or long tours with long and demanding descents.
The different types of grips can be classified into three categories: squeeze grip, support grip and pinch grip. The crush grip is used when you squeeze something between your fingers and palm, like a rubber ball, for example, or when you grip the handlebars firmly. Support grip is when you hold or carry things in a grip, such as when carrying a suitcase, or when hanging from things, such as a chin bar. Finally, the pinch grip is when you grab something between your thumb and your fingers, like a book or a clothespin.
Here are some exercises you can perform to improve your grip strength. The best way is to lift heavy objects, like yourself. That’s why simply hanging from a chin bar is a great way to strengthen your grip. You don’t even have to do pull-ups; just hanging there, not touching the ground, does wonders. And it can also help relieve pressure on your back if you have been sitting or standing for a long time. Do five hangs a day with one to two minute rest periods in between.
You can do a similar exercise with dumbbells. Hold one in each hand with your arms hanging by your sides. Resist the temptation to lift them; simply hold them as if you were carrying buckets of fresh milk (hence the name of this exercise: the farmer’s carry). Hold the position for a minute or a minute and a half and do five repetitions. How much should dumbbells weigh? Ideally, both should equal half your body weight.
The final exercise is called the pinch twist. You will need something heavy that you can still lift with your fingertips, like a copy of War and peace, thick cookbook, or similar item. Place it on the floor, grab it in a pinch grip, and lift it off the floor as you stand up. Hold the object straight in front of you, then alternately twist your wrist so that your palm faces up then down ten times and switch hands. Repeat the entire exercise five times.
Improving your grip strength is not only important for your cycling, but it can also improve lifespan. A recent study in the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society examined 5,000 women and followed them for five years to assess the effects of a number of factors (weight loss and gain, smoking and, yes, grip strength) on their death rates.
Surprisingly, they determined that having better grip strength and scoring higher on short physical performance tests (SPPB) were associated with lower death rates. So if you want to ride better and live longer, hang in there!