Grip strength is definitely not a common topic in the cycling community. But those of you interested in gravel racing, endurance mountain biking, or epic rides with long descents should pay attention. Let’s take a look at why grip strength is important and how you can improve yours.
You can ride faster with a stronger grip
Grip strength says a lot about a person. In fact, it is used as a biomarker for overall health in studies. Having a weak grip correlates with increased mortality and mobility issues later in life. What’s more important for cyclists, weak grip can make you slow down. This is because when your hands and forearms are fatigued, you have a harder time holding the handlebars and squeezing the brakes which makes you more cautious and slower.
Do some hangs and farmer’s carries
The best way to improve grip strength is to lift heavy things. The two simplest exercises that help are hanging and carrying. If you have a pull-up bar, start doing regular hangs. You don’t have to do pull-ups, just simple hanging for as long as you can a few times will do wonders for you grip endurance. For carries you can use any dumbbells, kettlebells, or even heavy grocery bags. Aim for 60-90 seconds at a time and complete 5 reps. A good starting point is 50% of your bodyweight (25% in each hand), and then adjust as needed.
Strengthen your pinch
An important supplementary type of grip strength is the pinch. That’s when you hold something between your fingertips and your thumb. The best way to exercise this is to hold weight plates you usually find in a gym. At home a large cookbook or heavy cutting board can do the trick, as long as it’s heavy and you can lift and hold it with your fingertips. You can add wrist rotations while you’re holding the object up.
Practice a light grip
In cycling, it’s not all about strength. Your grip can fatigue because of problems related to bike fit, your handling skills, and your overall confidence on the bike. Clutching the handlebars like your life depends on it is going to wear out your hands and forearms no matter how strong they are. That’s why it is important to practice a secure but light grip when the terrain gets tougher. A death grip on the bars will make a rough ride feel even rougher, which will make you want to grip even tighter.
When the riding gets easier, try to focus on relaxing your elbows and shoulders so that they serve as shock absorbers. When it comes to braking on long descents, cycle between picking up speed and braking hard for a short time. This will give your grip and your brakes and rims a much-needed rest that will prevent overheating and fatigue.