Is grip strength important for cycling?
Grip strength is often an overlooked topic within the cycling community. However, grip strength can actually have a significant impact on cycling performance. Not to mention it's used as a biomarker for health! A weak grip is correlated with increased mortality and mobility issues later in life. Consequently, even if you weren't a cyclist it's a good idea to improve your grip strength.
For cyclists, though, grip strength is particularly important for gravel racing, endurance mountain biking, or epic rides with long descents. A weak grip can slow you down. When your hands and forearms get fatigued, you will have a harder time squeezing the brakes. Consequently, you're likely to ride slower and more cautiously. Get ready to ride hard this spring by working on your grip strength this winter. Check out some helpful exercises below.
The best way to improve grip strength is lifting heavy things. Both hanging and carrying are ways to accomplish this goal. If you have a pull-up bar, you should start doing regular hangs. It's not important to do actual pull-ups - simply hanging as long as you can will do wonders for your grip strength. A bar hang can also help you relieve pressure in your back if you've been sitting for a long time. Try to complete five hangs a day, with a one to two minute rest period in between.
This exercise could also be renamed "how many bags of groceries can you carry at one time?" For the farmer's carry, simply grasp a dumbbell in each hand and hold them with your arms hanging by your side. Hold for 60-90 seconds per rep, and do 5 reps. You should aim for 50% of your body weight for the farmer's carry - in other words, 25% of your body weight in each hand.
For this exercise you will need either weight plates, or a heavy cutting board or cookbook. You will need to be able to lift and hold the object with your fingertips. Start with your object on the floor at your side. Grasp it in a pinch grip and lift it off the floor as you stand up. You will want to raise the object until your arm is straight out in front of you. For best results, alternately supinate and pronate your wrist, rotating to palm up and palm down 10 times each. Switch hands and repeat. Complete the exercise five times with each hand.
The above exercises will help greatly on those long rides and descents. However, to reduce hand and forearm fatigue you need to address your grip 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 or how many farmer's carries you've done. On rough terrain, whether it is gravel racing, mountain biking, or cyclocross racing, your goal should be to maintain a secure but light grip on the bars. You can achieve a smoother ride by using a lighter grip on the bar while relaxing shoulders and elbows to use as a shock absorber.
When it comes to braking on long descents, you wan to switch between picking up speed and braking hard for a short time, rather than riding the brakes all the way down. This will give your grip and your brakes and rims a much-needed rest that will prevent overheating and fatigue.