Katy and her occasional co-host, Dani Alexander (an occupational therapist), explore the importance of grip strength for people of all ages. They discuss therapeutic interventions, such as weighted pencils and play-dough, to improve hand strength and sensory input. They also touch on the impact of weak grip strength on daily tasks and emphasize the need to incorporate grip-strengthening activities into everyday routines. Join Katy and Dani as they delve into the connection between grip strength, overall well-being, and maximizing our physical abilities.
(time codes are approximate)
00:06:15:00 - Why be Concerned About Grip Strength? (Jump to section)
00:08:30:00 - Children and Grip Strength (Jump to section)
00:13:10:00 - Theraputty (Jump to section)
00:19:05:00 - Grip Strength and Everyday Life (Jump to section)
00:20:46:00 - More About Pediatrics and Big Body Movement (Jump to section)>
00:25:30:00 - Let's Talk About Adults ... and gangsters (Jump to section)
00:30:15:00 - How to Measure Your Grip Strength (Jump to section)
00:33:50:00 - Grip Strength and All Time Mortality (Jump to section)
00:41:30:00 - The Cost of Everyday Conveniences (Jump to section)
00:47:30:00 - Outtakes (Jump to section)
LINKS AND RESOURCES MENTIONED IN THE SHOW
This is the Move Your DNA podcast, a show where movement science meets your everyday life. I’m Katy Bowman - biomechanist, author, and daily hanger! All bodies are welcome here. Let’s get movin'.
Friends, we are going to be monkeying around a bit today.
I’ve been featured in the New York Times twice so far in 2023. And the first was for an article “5 Exercises to Keep an Aging Body Strong and Fit”. That was in January. And my contribution to this article was “hanging” as an excellent daily practice that you could start working on right away. And then the second article came out in October, “Why Your Grip Strength Matters, And How To Improve It.”
So, I give a lot of interviews and when I’m asked about the movements that I think are not only important for bodies, but also movements that I think tend to be missing most often, I’m always trying to slide in something that challenges the strength of your hands and arms. Because, yes, our modern lifestyle has left the lower body pretty weak in general, but that weakness is nothing compared to what’s happening in the upper body.
Today we’re gonna talk all about grip strength. And by we I mean myself and my former podcast host Dani! Dani Alexander is not only very fun to talk about movement with, she’s also now a COTA, a certified occupational therapy assistant.
KATY: Dani Alexander, welcome back to Move Your DNA.
DANI: Thank you. Nice to be here talking with you today!
KATY: How are things hangin'?
DANI: Getting our grip on!
KATY: Wow, we've only just begun. We've only just begun. Okay, tell me what Occupational Therapy is.
DANI: Ok the best way I can describe occupational therapy is ... a doctor saves your life and an Occupational Therapist helps you live it.
KATY: Oh. Did you just make that up on the spot or is that a t-shirt?
DANI: I didn't. But people always think it has to do with work and it has nothing to do with work or occupations. Occupation is anything you do in your waking or sleeping moments.
DANI: So from brushing your teeth to grabbing a pan to tying your shoes - those are all your occupations. And so what we do is help you do them if you're having issues performing any of those things.
KATY: Do OTs give a lot of foot exercises?
DANI: No. I feel like, when I talk to colleagues about feet they kind of just look over my shoulder and go "Yeah...". But I do have complete and total control on what I work on with my clients so I do work with my clients on a lot of foot stuff.
KATY: So OTs can kind of do whatever.
DANI: Whatever. Solve whatever problem with whatever means.
KATY: But I do know that do a lot with hands and grip especially because when people might hear about OTs often is in the school system...
KATY: ... because that's a big part of the occupation of school is being able to transfer maybe the knowledge in your head into paper or maybe now on screen.
KATY: So it used to require the grip of a pencil. It would be interesting - I could probably talk to you a lot about how we are - are we gonna start changing how we think hands need to be if gripping of pens and pencils - writing utensils are not the tool of the time? We don't have to talk about that yet.
DANI: But we get to, right?
KATY: But there will be space for that.
DANI: Oh good, cuz, I'm...
KATY: Oh yes. Yes. I want - Right. Because I think it's important. Before we move on, I have a little bit of trivia for you. It can be for you, Dani, or it can be for listeners out there. You and I have actually talked about grip strength before on this podcast. Do you remember when that was?
DANI: Oh my gosh. It was early. Maybe our second year? Was it our first or second year? It was early on.
KATY: Episode 61. Get a Grip. If you want to go listen to Katy ... Katy and baby Dani for those pre-menopausal Katy and Dani. September 2016. Seven years ago.
DANI: Holy guacamole. Wow!
KATY: I know. We've got chips.
KATY: We have got chips.
KATY: All right. So that podcast was about - At that time there had been some new research being dropped about a decrease in grip strength in millennials compared to test subjects in the same age range 30 years ago. And so that was sort of a really important bit of data because also associated with grip strength is all-time mortality. So for reasons that we can speculate and discuss in a little bit, there's a relationship between your overall well-being in many different forms and your grip strength. And then there's this sort of decline of grip strength in the last 30 years. That's why I am sure the New York Times wants to write about it. And it's why I keep wanting to insert it. Because I think there's something important here. And then I know I wanted to have you on because...
DANI: I agree.
KATY: ... you are actually, in real-time, seeing the effects of grip strength and perhaps changing it. But that's what we were talking about at that time.
DANI: I remember. I remember that article too. That was good.
KATY: Well if you want to go back and listen to the podcast, the podcast is sort of hilarious because I think we spend more time trying to suss out what a millennial actually is. I don't know if you need to go back and listen to it. But if you want to hear us, not talk so much about grip strength other than trying to figure out what something like that means - how do you measure, how do you figure out? How does someone even figure out how other ailments relate to grip strength?
KATY: All right. So why should people be concerned about grip strength? What's your professional opinion?
DANI: Oh my gosh. So I'm coming at it from the pediatric point of view, right? So I'm seeing where that lack of development starts. And so I see it as a concern. I don't think about it in longevity so much now as quality of life from what I see. And so somebody with poor grip strength, which basically translates into poor intrinsic - or the muscles inside our hands moving our hands - when I see that, I see kids that can't button their shirts and get frustrated. And then their parents are dressing for them just to get them out the door, so they've got no practice in that. They can't hold on to pencils and kids still do have to use pencils. Right? Not as much as we'd like but it's still - they still have to use them. So they're being maybe categorized as maybe having a learning disability when they may not really have dysgraphia or something like that. Their hand's tired. And they can't keep up with the teacher.
DANI: So everyday activities, even just, you know you want your kiddo to brush your teeth for two rounds of happy birthday and they might be using more of their shoulder to help them make those movements of brushing their teeth. So that means they might have shoulder problems when we don't want to engage our shoulders to do something like that. So I see this whole broad - it's almost like being a fortune teller and you don't like what the future's holding. Because you see that people are gonna have less ability to do their everyday things that they need to get on through life. So part of it's exciting because I think well we can make a difference if we see this happening. But part of it, too, is kind of ... waaa waaa.
KATY: Well you can make a difference if you can intervene.
DANI: Right. Part of intervention, I think, is awareness. Correct?
KATY: That's right. And that's why we're doing this.
DANI: Exactly. So kudos to you!
KATY: Well, kudos to you for coming on. So let's talk about, therapeutically, what do you do for children in this case? Simply.
DANI: Simply. Sure. There's a million different interventions.
KATY: Weighted pencils. You say, "Ok, here's your seven-pound pencil".
DANI: OK so this is what I love. You and I both were '70s kids. We're GenXers. So even though for some reason my daughter's generation calls me boomer. I'm like, no you're so... you're wrong... Okay, so you and I are GenXers. We grew up with - remember the giant pencils that were so big you had to lay them on your shoulder to write?
DANI: They were so big. And we kind of do that. We give kids bigger things like big crayons, big pencils, thinking well this will make it easier for them to do this coloring book or whatever. And the opposite is true. So giving a little child a regular-sized crayon is better developing their intrinsic hand strength. You don't need to give them something more giant. Even toys. Even toys have become more giant. And I understand you don't want to give a little kid legos because they might eat them. But you also - I don't know if you need to get the giant legos either that their hands can just kind of clomp onto. So you just work within ... let them touch everyday things that are small. Right? Just like you and I, instead of going to the grocery store and pushing a cart, you and I are gonna carry a basket or carry our groceries in our hands to help develop that arm strength, that upper body strength, and the hand grip. Well little kids we can do the same for them. We can have them carry things. Believe it or not.
KATY: Well, I mean...
DANI: I know you believe me but...
KATY: But yes...
DANI: People ... we don't really expect those kinds of things. So I think playing with everyday small things and letting them struggle. Letting them struggle during a task where they really have to use their hands and it might be frustrating for them. Helping them with it but letting them struggle a little bit. Because that's kind of okay too. That's how we learn to problem solve. I think one of the greatest things you can give a kid is playdough.
DANI: It really is. For increasing that intrinsic hand strength. One, because they're not going to be bored with it. They're gonna play with it for a long time because of the possibilities. And two, there are so many different ways you can use it in your hand to develop that intrinsic hand strength which leads to stronger grip.
KATY: OK, so I hear a couple things. One is the idea that maybe it's a misconception that little kids need chunkier things because they don't have the fine motor skills so we'll give them bigger-sized things. But of course then if the Duplo, big blocks, sorry - brand name drop. Shouldn't have named anybody. If you pick the bigger block that really prevents going through a fuller range of motion of the hand. And if you have a smaller one, yes fine motor skill is needed, but then that's also the canvas for learning. It's a canvas for developing that ability.
DANI: Correct. That's exactly what I said. So, yes thank you for saying it simply and direct.
KATY: And then also something simple like more play dough play. I don't see playdough around the way that I used to see playdough. When I was a kid I feel like I was still seeing Play-Doh coming out when I was 10. And 12. It was much more of a ... I can still smell it.
DANI: Oh yeah. And there's nothing like a fresh can of play dough cracked open.
KATY: Yes! I loved playdough. Actually, I'm just imagining it squeezing in my hands. And I would probably enjoy doing that with my hands right now. What about for adults? Because when I had done this interview I always prefer interviews - when I'm giving exercises - exercises such in the fitness and the therapeutic realms that very rarely do publications want to include... it's like a fitness column. We're talking about bodies in the fitness column and there's where we talking about it. And I was talking about making bread and gripping your cast iron pan to actually test range of motion of the strength of your wrist and your hands operating together to see if it was a problem for you. Because I think that people can relate to some of the real-world examples of where they might look to getting it more or seeing if it's an issue for them.
KATY: I know you do mostly pediatrics but do you know also of, we don't have to call it clay, but clay therapy or other sort of kneading...
DANI: Absolutely. Absolutely. There is actually an adult - it's called Theraputty. I'm sure you've seen it.
KATY: Of course it is.
DANI: I think they originally developed it for stroke survivors to help get some mobility back in hands that are affected. But I use it with kids because it comes in different densities which make it more difficult as you move through the colors. And it doesn't have the weird playdough smell. Or the good play dough smell depending on what camp you're in. But that's something that works in so many levels and it's so cool. One, it strengthens your hands. You can just fool with it. You can pull it. You can twist it. You can grip it. You can stick your fingers in one by one and work on individual dexterity and individual finger strength. But also it involves - and this is something that I think is missing from both pediatric, from the young standpoint, and older standpoint - is it involves sensory input. And the less things we touch, as you know, the less that we don't have those receptors to respond to that touch. So things might become abhorrent or awful or repugnant to us because we're not accustomed to them. If you always hold a smooth stainless steal cell phone in your hand in a certain way, then when you grab something like a yam that's overgrown with a bunch of eyes or whatever on it, you might just go, "Blah what is that" instead of really feeling it. And that's something like, with Move Your DNA, I still like to go outside and feel the wind rustle the hair on my arms. Because I know how important that is.
KATY: Vitamin texture, too.
DANI: It is.
KATY: It's another, vitamin texture, like in the feet, for the same reason we're in the camp - we don't know everything. We don't know close to anything. But the idea of texture as being this necessary input for the feet - for the hands. Then also what you're talking about is becoming not able to tolerate different textures. That shows up in eating.
KATY: In oral issues. The ability to not process textures where your tongue, in this case, is standing in for your hands or your feet. The idea to take in something that requires you to move around it in a different way.
KATY: What is the environment of - what are the surfaces, the hand surfaces kids are more accustomed to now than before?
DANI: PlayStation controller.
KATY: Yeah. Right.
DANI: That's about it. That's about it. I have kids that they're little hands are kind of permanently shaped in that PlayStation controller grip. But back to your question of adults. I think just having those - we used to talk about carrying that bag of groceries or carrying those groceries. It's a whole different ball game. And I challenge anybody to just go to the store and do this, instead of pushing that cart, just try and hold some stuff. And you might be really tired by the time you get to the third aisle or whatever because you're just not used to it but I think it's a good idea to keep doing that. And floor time is huge for that hand strength.
KATY: What do you mean floor time?
DANI: Well being on the floor. Being in quadruped.
KATY: Oh yes. Loading on the wrists.
DANI: Right. It's really huge. And last year the CDC removed that crawling milestone from the sheets they give out at the pediatric visit. Here's where your kids should be. Well, crawling's no longer there.
KATY: How come?
DANI: Because the CDC says they didn't have the comprehensive data to back it up like they did with walking.
DANI: I understand that from a scientific standpoint. However, from a developmental and realistic standpoint, I don't think it was good because I think crawling is important for every piece of a child's development into an adult human being in the things that they do. So that's kind of been - therapists kind of cringe about that being taken out of the vernacular, the common vernacular, of this is is a milestone. Because it is important. And so I think as adults we don't value that wrist loading that is so important. I say that's one of the everyday things a person can do is just get down on it. Get down on the floor and push yourself back up over and over again.
KATY: Well that was one of my recommendations in this interview for how can you kind of generally assess how your hands are moving. This wasn't only about grip but just functional. How functional are your hands and being able to just get down on hands and knees? Wrist extension is the technical term for what your wrists have to do. They have to bend back to about 90 degrees for you to be able to be on the ground in most cases. And for those who go to movement classes or teach movement classes, I can definitely see the decline of people being able to do that in almost everyone in an exercise class. Where that's the weakest part of the body - is the wrist. The shoulders are strong enough. The core is strong enough to do all sorts of other advanced exercises but not the wrists.
KATY: And so, again, it's one of these things. This piece of our body that isn't working and we're trying to exercise around it. And I think that you made a very important distinction. It was different than what I was saying earlier but I really appreciate this distinction where an occupational therapist isn't thinking about longevity per se. So where people might be concerned with grip strength because of its relationship to all-time mortality. You are saying there's a separate issue of not being able to use your hands in everyday life, right now. And I think that's a brilliant distinction and it makes me think of - I was talking to one of our common friends who is a movement teacher and had gone backpacking with her mother who is in her 80s. She often goes backpacking with her mother in her 80s. But her mother had gone on a backpacking trip with peers/friends where her family wasn't there sort of quickly whipping up tents and opening and closing things. Where she just sort of could benefit from a lot without having to do as much. But when she went on her own she was struggling to open the beer can with a quarter. And that was a practical thing that she did not realize she had lost the ability to do. And so many of these things with our hands - they show up, they definitely show up every day. But sometimes there's just this outlying thing that you do that you don't maintain every day. Like a wrist twist. Like a wrist rotation...
KATY: ... or using a particular too. When it came to being able to use it, she had been doing exercises for backpacking. Hiking. Hiking up and down the mountain carrying a load. But she hadn't thought to exercise her hands. Where that though was key to getting food or doing some other essential task.
KATY: I want to keep talking about pediatrics. Although I think it's important for everyone and can apply it...
DANI: Well it applies across the whole...
KATY: It does. It does. I want to go back to pediatrics and big body movement.
DANI: Mm-hmm. Good.
KATY: I feel with these articles, too, on grip strength. So often the conclusion is I'll go get one of those grippers. I'll just do playdough.
DANI: Oh yeah.
KATY: I'll do my hands. But that's not really what I or anyone else in the article is recommending. That really you don't want to be only strengthening your hands. That the way we use our hands is in this functional, hand-to-ribcage motion. So what do you do for big - is there a big body way of working on grip strength for children even?
DANI: So, well of course there's always hanging. Which is fun. Monkey bars. Kids love monkey bars. But I see - well I guess that's a tricky one because when I usually see trouble it's that kids are using too much big body movements to do small hand tasks.
DANI: And so they'll be using their shoulders or their entire trunk or torso, the shoulder girdle, or something that you would be doing from the elbow down or the wrist down if you have that mobility and hand strength. So for big ones, I have kids crawl. And crawling, even when they are older is essential.
DANI: I have kids that are in school all day long and I don't see them at school. I see them after. And I'll say hey, let's play this game. And I'll get down on the floor and they'll go "Can we get on the table? Can we ..." And I say, "No you've been in a chair for 8 hours. Let's get down on the floor and play." And sometimes they struggle. But even just doing that. Getting down - and I'm not talking about kids. Like you and your partner can get down on the floor and play backgammon together. Something that's going to distract you from this possible potential temporary discomfort that you feel in your shoulders, neck, wrist, or elbows, or arms. So you distract yourself with doing something like, "Hey let's get down and sort through the photos that we've been looking to do forever." And just get out of, of course, that chair. That's an easy, big-body, way to work on hand strength for both kids and adults. And then hanging like you said. Good old monkey bars.
KATY: Yeah. If you don't have grip strength and you're compensating with your shoulders, I feel like the grip strength is still going to be challenged by some things where the load is so high on the hands, where you're actually dealing with grip.
KATY: And also maybe, I mean so many playgrounds have cool designs now where you're meant to grab ropes to help yourself move through those. I always did obstacle courses when they were kids/little. Just like there's pictures of the ladders we would put up specifically so they would be using their hands.
KATY: So basically what I hear you saying is that on my next date night, I should be setting one up for the special grown-up in my life: "Guess what? We're gonna play backgammon on the ground."
DANI: That's right.
KATY: And then we're gonna crawl around on some ladders. Is that official advice?
DANI: I mean it's official advice because it's not exercise. It's not a task. It's an activity that is disguised. It's like broccoli in the brownies. It's a way to get past it and get that movement in that you need. So I think, and really just as we - if you spent a day looking at your hand and what you do with them. It's kind of a disturbing activity. If you're always gripping the steering wheel or you're always holding your phone. You've maybe got 5 movements that you're doing consistently with that hand during the day. So it's kind of a fun little thing to pay attention one day, on a work day, and say, "OK what am I doing with my hands." Have little hash marks: make little columns, steering wheel gripping, phone holding, keyboard claws. And then pay attention and think about if this is the only way of moving it then this is how they're gonna end up. And I won't be able to open my own zipper. Forget about jars, right? We're crying about getting dressed. There's so many ways now we don't need to open jars. There's so many different things. But there's, you know, you want to be able to dress yourself. You want to be able to lace your own shoes.
KATY: That's when we go to slip on pants and slip on shoes, right?
KATY: And that really is a particular thing. So also in the process of doing this interview, I'm going to kind of switch to adults a little bit. I think there's some confusion a little bit because the idea is, aren't I, I am using my hands all the time, right? I'm on the keyboard. I'm swiping. I'm pushing. So really I'm exercising my hands all the time. That was sort of the response I got to some of the things I was saying. And then I had to clarify that you want to be able to do lots of different things with your hands. And so yes, typing is sort of exercise. But it wouldn't necessarily be exercise that develops grip strength. Because what develops grip strength is going to be something where you're having to squeeze your hand together in some particular way. And exert some amount of force. And then the follow-up from that is well, rock climbers do quite a bit of that, and have very high grip strength but they can also have overuse injuries. Which is a good distinction just to say, any time you're doing a lot of one thing whether it's typing or the main thing that you do is one particular sort of just overhand grip and you're really developing it, you're gonna be looking at what can essentially be thought of an overuse situation. And so, we want diversity in our hand use. Just like we want in movement throughout the body. There's different grips, I guess. That's one way to think about it, right? There's different coordinations of gripping. It's not just all squeezing a ball and pulling.
KATY: There's pulling. There's pinches.
DANI: And it's not always all five phalanges.
DANI: It's different things. So you can even sit at your desk, if you're in a meeting or you're on a Zoom meeting, you can get a pile of paperclips, right? And you can just sit there and attach those paperclips and make a chain. And then you're working on your first and second fingers.
DANI: And that strength which is gonna help with your gorilla hands later on. And then you can do things like how the gangsters take the coins and flip them between their fingers in movies...
KATY: All the gangsters that I know are doing that. All the gangsters.
DANI: Yeah. Exactly. Me too. My gangsters do that too. So do that with a pencil. No one can see me because this is audio, but you can start just flipping a pencil through your fingers. And it's uncoordinated at first and you're gonna drop it a lot. Which is why we do pencils and not glass wands or anything like that. But you just - working those fingers in a plane that they are not used to increases that strength. Just picking up tiny things. You can just have a pile of beans and pick them up. And I know that totally sounds like an occupational therapist thing to do. But it's all the fingers matter in your grip strength. So just - I think you're right. We tend to train our forearms in those gripping exercises. And you can really end up with problems super duper quickly that way.
KATY: Right. And especially there's the grip of the hand but the hands facing you is different than the hands facing away from you. Those are technically different grips. And if you've got one that comes easy to you, don't write off working on your hand or grip strength. Think about all the different things that you do. One of my favorite body-building exercises from back in the day was submerging a hand in a sac of rice and then opening and closing it against that resistance. And it's ...
DANI: That's brilliant. Yeah.
KATY:... it's like a Zen garden for the hands. I really feel like so much of this hand work, and I've actually seen some research on it, where there's a particular pleasure we get from just utilizing our hands in creative - in fine motor ways that create. Where it was almost secondary to the creation itself. It was the fact that you were utilizing your hands. So even doing some things, we'll call it mindless, is really great for just nourishing this part of your body. Again, it's like being barefoot. Yes, you're hands are not shod like your feet are shod but they're also not really interacting with the world very much anymore. So they're sort of still understimulated, like our feet inside shoes are.
KATY: OK, I wanted to talk a little bit about a really cool part of this article that was left out for space. And I thought that you listeners out there might be interested. And this is how to take your own grip strength. Because we talk about the importance of grip strength and you can find all the grip strength norms. But most of you aren't going to have access to a hand dynamometer which is a tool used to measure grip strength so you're not going to really know what your grip strength is. So the way that I like to recommend taking your grip strength is get an analog scale. A bathroom scale. And you can squeeze it.
DANI: That's a good idea.
KATY: So you get an analog scale and it has to be ... so you can actually take your individual hand and both hands together just to get a baseline for yourself. So if you take an analog bathroom scale you can hold it with both hands. You can get a two-hand measurement. Or you can hold it - gently support it - with two hands and just squeeze it one at a time and that can give you your grip strength. The one thing you can't do with that particular measure is correlate it to hand dynamometer numbers. So you could not get what - you would not be able to see how you compare to grip strength averages because a hand dynamometer is a different grip than you have on scales. And also you can't even say that there's one normal grip that you would find on a home scale because they're all different sizes.
KATY: So you can't normalize it. But that's not to say that you can't go see what your grip strength is and then pay attention to working the hands and then also - so working the hands individual hand exercises like we were talking about - getting down on the ground, being on your hands more often, I talk about hanging ad nauseam. So I'm just really all for starting a hanging program. Not only because it deals with the grip strength issue but because in the same way that the lateral hip is very important to the foot and walking, the latissimus is basically the lateral hip of the upper body. And it's going really underutilized in most people. And it's a major part of stabilizing the spine. So developing a hanging program. And you can see on my website - I've covered that in Move Your DNA how you can make progression on that.
DANI: Oh I like that idea. And also if you don't need a measurement measurement that's a number, you can get a 12-dollar pack of those different therapeutics that start at the softest strength and go to the hardest. And start playing with them and start to notice as time goes on "Hey this is one I used to hate playing with because it was really hard and no fun. And now I can." That's how I show younger clients this is working. Your hands are getting stronger because you hated the color blue putty. Two weeks ago you hated it and now look at it! You can play with it. So even if you don't need a number you can just progress on something.
KATY: Right. Yeah. I like that. I like that. Theraputty.
DANI: It's good. It's a good fidget too so you can just get your sensory input and your handstrengthening all in one.
KATY: Well and just to give a little nod to the second part. So we've talked a little bit about hand strength as improving the quality of life right now. Then there's this other thing about the way hand strength could relate to all-time mortality. And I think, as we were mentioning before, one of the reasons it's not necessarily recommended to just get a hand exerciser/gripper and just do it all the time is that really, the idea or the understanding that we have about the why - why grip strength relates to all-time mortality has more to do with if your hands are strong, then you're probably doing more movement in general with more parts of your body. Especially your arms. You're staying more active overall. And that is why there's a relationship...
KATY: ...to overall well-being, Rather than there's magic in the grip of your hands that's good for your heart and your hips.
DANI: Right or your hands are so work you can't open up food anymore so you're not gonna live.
DANI: A little more complex than that.
KATY: Yes. Right. So if you're doing averages on these measurements ... and so that's why I like that there's multiple approaches here. You know what I mean. You can start to be training your hands in these more refined higher volume ways. And then there's looking at your exercise or training program or even just the way you use your body throughout the day and thinking about "I want to make sure that my arms aren't being neglected." Even in people who are very active - otherwise very active. I find very weak arms can show up again and again. You can be extremely fit cyclist, right? Or you're doing so much lower body. But that won't necessarily be affecting the strength that you have in your arms to be able to hold your body weight in hanging or moving in this particular way.
DANI: That's true.
KATY: So to be thinking about in the same way you can stand on both legs and stand on a single leg, that you can hang from both arms and maybe hang from a single arm, not you're not only addressing grip strength. But you really are making sure that your fitness Which we think of as a whole body state - that fitness is sort of distributed well throughout your body. And I've done little things. I've obviously talked about this before in different books. We always have some sort of hanging apparatus in our house. Even little rock holds. (rock climbing holds)
DANI: Rock grips. Yeah.
KATY: Rock grips putting them in above doorways. It allows you to use these parts and challenge your grip. And that's a whole different grip, right? That's not even a closed-hand grip. So again, there's many different grips that you can be working on. You can pick a few to play with as an essential part of your program.
DANI: Right. I really like that chart you made. And I think it was for the Grow Wild book. And it was the ways, like kind of a little assessment - how am I moving.
KATY: Oh the activity tracker.
DANI: Yes. Thank you. And like I mentioned earlier, I think doing one of those for your day - doing a self-assessment. And being really honest with yourself about the different ways and just kind of make note of different ways you move your hands and then look at other people in other professions and see how they're moving their hands. And that can give you some ideas about "Oh, O'm not doing that." or "That's more difficult for me." That's always helpful too. How am I really doing? We go through our day without a lot of thought, often. And that's just what we do. But I think it just takes taking that step back and looking at what am I really doing. It's pretty eye-opening.
KATY: It's like assessing your moving diet for vitamin grip.
KATY: How much vitamin grip do you have in your diet? So even if you work out are you doing things - are you choosing to do weights? Are you doing things on cables where you can grab and pull? Are you using pull-down bars? Are you - even if you don't do kettlebells, to buy or find a 5 or 10-lb one just to walk around carrying it? You don't have to do any more spectacular exercise in that. Nor do you have to buy a kettlebell. You can fill a sack of potatoes that you have in your kitchen.
KATY: I have a hula hoop and I just sort of mindlessly hula hoop around my house. But I can see just going around and finding something that you already have that's weighty and instead of putting a book ... go to the library with a bag of books instead of lopping that strap over the shoulder. To take it off and to hold it, just grip it with your hand and let it dangle from your hands. We don't necessarily need you to do more things but you're just adding - you're picking the grip version of the things you're already doing to make sure that this area is not being neglected.
DANI: Yeah. Exactly. And to remember that grip translates to all finger movement. All hand movement. Not just what we equate in our hands as hanging on to something.
KATY: Yeah. Yeah.
DANI: That it all matters.
KATY: Before we go, is there a single life task that you have found is harder for folks when they don't have grip strength? You mentioned getting dressed. And so I'm just thinking about ... I know for people who have frozen shoulder, being able to put a shirt on can be so challenging. Is there anything like that with grip where there's some everyday task that we might take for granted?
DANI: Yeah. For dressing it's more for kids that really struggle with that when they don't have that grip strength. So that's more of a kid thing. I think it's ... boy that's a really good question. And I guess what we would have to do is remove a couple of everyday conveniences to see...
KATY: What would those be?
DANI: Well your grocery cart. That would be one. That would be a big one, I think, is your grocery cart.
KATY: Is that arm strength? What is ...
DANI: Well you're holding things. You're holding - even just if you carry your bags or your whole groceries without being bagged out to your car... I've had people come up to me and say "Do you need some help?" when I'm carrying bags to my car.
DANI: And it's because I'm not pushing my cart filled with bags to my cart.
KATY: So carrying is one.
DANI: I think carrying is a big one. Yeah. And we would have to remove that to see "woah, I'm ... this is hard. I'm not that good at that."
DANI: So yeah. I just think what are those everyday conveniences that I would need to remove to see that I need to increase my hand strength. I don't have a good answer for that except the kind of stuff you use daily. Remove it from the equation and see how you do then.
KATY: Yeah and this is the problem that we have in these modern times where we don't really recognize the cost of these everyday conveniences until they're gone. I mean we can appreciate we have them but there's been sort of a steady decline in needing to use your arms. So how do you feel as a therapist at this point? One of the takeaways of that article that we were talking about seven years ago where there was a decline in average grip strength - one of the takeaways was well then we should be lowering the norms of grip strength. That was the honest-to-God takeaway. There was someone in an article about the research article who had said "We want to make sure that we're not having people do more therapy than what's needed to get them. I mean it was like - it was a strange perspective.
KATY: How do you feel as a clinician? If there is this steady decline in strength and arguably modern life doesn't require very much of us physically. And further, physical fitness is defined as having enough strength to do tasks of everyday life. And part of everyday life is conveniences, how do you feel about lowering the norms? How does that resonate with you?
DANI: As a therapist and a human it does not sit well with me. It's kind of frightening to me. Because I know we do base a lot of our "Oh I need to do this" out of whatever article we saw in Prevention or the New York Times about "Hey this matters!" or "This Doesn't matter." Because we don't have that critical thinking as a whole to kind of dig deeper to know "Does it really matter? I don't know." So it's scary and disturbing to me because there's two sides. There is the everyday functionality and then the norm. Those are two different things. So for us to base "Well this is all I need to do because the norm says that's all I need to do." But these conveniences might not always be here.
DANI: And also the human body is so fascinating and interesting and I feel like it deserves that movement. It deserves all of that. I wish we wouldn't do those things. But I guess we do as norm makers. Whatever they are. Stop it norm makers. Just stop it.
KATY: Well and I think, too, what you also said there was very - it was the glimmer that caught my ear. Which was to me that idea between everyday use and the norms is the intersection of the importance of grip strength in everyday life and the importance of grip strength to all-time mortality. Sometimes the consequence of the inconvenience might not show up in the everyday because we have all of these - an endless number of tools being invented and created. But the cost of those shows up in a way that doesn't relate to your grip strength.
KATY: And I think that that's in a nutshell why I prioritize the strength of all of the parts and all of the parts working together in a system. It's because the importance of movement transcends the individual part and the function that it's doing. It's about pumping the entire machine around.
DANI: It's true.
KATY: It's about the functions that we don't consider when we think about the hands. We think about buttons and pencils and monkey bars but we don't necessarily think about the heart.
KATY: Or the spine.
DANI: The sensory system.
KATY: Or the nervous system.
DANI: Nervous or sensory system. So yeah, all of that matters, and then we boil it down to do I want quantity or quality.
KATY: You want to maximize it.
DANI: You want to maximize it but I think really just I want to be able to do all the things that I can.
KATY: Yeah. And all the things that you want to do. Thank you so much. It was so nice to...
DANI: Hang out. I know.
KATY: ... hang out with you. Where can the listeners find you if they want to... your house?
KATY: Where do you live? Can you give everyone your address?
DANI: OK get your pencils ready and they better be normal-sized pencils. No, I'm in Colorado still. In Lafayette. And just developing some stuff but right now offline.
KATY: I salute you. And I think that's amazing! It was good to see you. Thank you so much.
DANI: Yeah it was good to hang out! Thanks!
Hi. My name is Rukayat from England. This has been Move Your DNA with Katy Bowman, a podcast about movement. We hope you find the general information in this podcast informative and helpful. But it is not intended to replace medical advice and should not be used as such. Our theme music was performed by Dan McCormack. This podcast is produced by Brock Armstrong. And it is transcribed by Annette Yen. Make sure to subscribe to this podcast wherever you listen to audio and find out more about Katy, her books, and her movement programs at NutritiousMovement.com. Thank you!
KATY: Wanna take 5. Dani's stepping away. That was like a date I was on once.
DANI: (Cracks up!)
KATY: And I was like, wait, I wonder if...
DANI: You're just talking and I walked away. The dog was going to create a ruckus. I guess I did anyway.
KATY: I liked that you looked back though like, "Well you're gonna keep talking..."
KATY: Didn't trigger me at all!
DANI: So funny!
KATY: Oh my gosh, ok. Ok, what was I saying?