Hand grip test – the benefits and how to do it at home

9th December, 2022 • 10 min read

When was the last time you tried opening a pickle jar? Did you find it impossible to take off the lid? Or are you dropping things a lot because you’re struggling to grip things in your hands? The hand grip test is a reliable way to tell if your muscle strength is weakening or lacking – and can even indicate an underlying health issue. You can test this muscular strength at home using a simple hand grip test. Read on to find out how to do it, what the benefits are, and what hand grip strengthener exercises you can do if you need to.

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Hand grip test benefits – they might surprise you

A simple hand grip test is quick and simple to do yourself at home without a doctor.
"Handgrip strength is a cheap and easy-to-perform test, but it may help with early diagnosis of health problems and other underlying health conditions,” says Steiber. Commenting on her own study published in the British Medical Journal (BMJ), co-author Nadia Steiber says
it can:

  • help you work out if you need to do some hand grip strengthening exercises to help ensure you can do everyday tasks like get the lid off jars, grip pans, carry shopping.
  • flag up potential health issues, such as problems with your heart, and give you the chance to talk to your doctor if you need to. In 2015 researchers at Harvard Medical School found a direct link between the strength of a person’s grip and their heart health. It found that for every 11lb decrease in grip strength, there was a 17% increase in your risk of heart disease and a 7% increase in your risk of a heart attack.
  • set up ‘early warning’ conversations with healthcare professionals for older people – it is linked to several chronic diseases, cognitive decline, longer hospital stays, and even death, along with age-related muscle loss (sarcopenia), which is often responsible for falls and injuries.

Who is the hand grip test for?

Anyone can use the hand grip test! It’s often recommended for older adults but is useful for anyone wanting to use a simple home health check. It’s even used by physiotherapists tracking the progress of an injury, and some researchers think it should be used as a standard test in medical practice.

The hand grip test can also be an indicator of osteoporosis so could be a useful check for menopausal women, as hormonal changes in menopause can lead to a decrease in muscle mass and strength.

Signs your hand grip may need testing and strengthening

People with decreased hand grip strength may notice they’re struggling to do daily tasks like:

  • open jars like jam or pickle jars
  • carry groceries
  • shake hands using a firm handshake
  • grasp an object
  • pick up or place a pan of boiling water on the stove
  • ironing
  • hold a knife or fork
  • do up buttons
  • hold things or pick them up without dropping them

How to test hand grip strength at home

Measuring grip strength is often described as a bit like taking your blood pressure. You’ll need a small hand-held piece of equipment called a dynamometer (sometimes called a Jamar dynamometer) – you can buy one online or some wellness centers have them.

Here’s how to do it:

  • With your arm in the same position as if you were picking up a glass to drink it, elbow tucked in, squeeze the machine.
  • Keep squeezing as hard and for as long as you can — the needle should rise on the dial as you squeeze.
  • When the needle stops rising, read the measurement (in kg) from the dial and record the result to the nearest 1kg. The outside dial registers the result in kg and the inner dial in lb.
  • Ignore and repeat the test if you lift your arm up or your feet lift off the floor during the measurement.
  • Take three measurements for each hand, alternating sides, before using an average of all measurements recorded to provide your final, accurate result.

Remember equipment can vary slightly and results could be recorded in pounds (lbs) or kilograms (kg)

Alternative ways to test hand grip strength at home

Unofficial ways of measuring grip strength that some use include using a hanging bar and set of scales to see how much weight you can pull up with just your hands. Another is with the weight scale 'squeeze' method. This involves squeezing your bathroom scales with one hand at a time, pushing down with the heel of your hand, and wrapping your fingers over the top.
However, Dr Ann Nainan, family doctor and Healthily expert says: ‘Evidence shows that the results from these at-home tests will not be as accurate as a dynamometer.’

Key things that change how well you do in a hand grip test

How well you do will vary depending on a few factors:

  • Gender – men tend to carry more muscle than women, so they may score higher on this test
  • Age – the older you are the fewer muscles you tend to have in your body, meaning your muscular strength is likely to be lower
  • Body height and composition – if you’re taller or have more muscle you’re likely to score higher
  • How active you are – if you’re mildly active or play a certain sport, your hand grip strength is likely to be higher

How to read the results

If your hand grip test results are considered abnormal, this will alert you to talk to your doctor. But what counts as a good or bad score with the hand grip test?

Your dynamometer should come with instructions including how to read the results. These should include a table that shows grip strength squeeze “norms” for age and sex.
The table may include grip scores similar to these, which are used by health experts today.

Grip score norms for women in lbs are:

Ages Right Left
20-24 55.9-84.9 47.9-74.1
25-29 60.6-88.4 51.3-75.7
30-34 59.5-97.9 50.3-85.7
35-39 63.3-84.9 54.6-78
40-44 56.9-83.9 48.5-76.1
45-49 47.1-77.3 43.3-68.7
50-54 53.9-77.4 46.6-68
55-59 44.8-69.8 35.4-59.2

Grip score norms for men in lbs are:

Ages Right Left
20-24 100.4-141.6 82.7-126.3
25-29 97.8-143.8 94.3-126.7
30-34 99.4-144.2 88.7-131.7
35-39 95.7-143.7 91.2-134.6
40-44 96.1-137.5 94.1-131.5
45-49 86.9-132.9 78-123.6
50-54 95.5-131.7 84.9-118.9
55-59 74.4-127.8 59.8-106.6

In kilograms, this

2019 study
suggests a “norm” grip squeeze of 22–25kg for women, depending on age and left/right squeeze. This rises to around 35–42kg for men, again depending on age and which hand has squeezed the dynamometer.

What are the problems with the hand grip test?

  • You need an accurate way to measure it – and you need to do it right to get the best results. For instance, sitting correctly is important. NHS instructions say the test should be void and repeated “if you lift your arm up or your feet lift off the floor during the measurement.”

  • You won’t be able to interpret the results as well as a healthcare professional could. For example, they could make sure you’re comparing your results to the most comparable group of people (based on age, sex, and body height) so as not to misinterpret your grip strength reading and cause unnecessary concern.They will also use the test alongside other tests and symptoms to determine your overall health.

  • It can be hard to know what to think or do about borderline results – but the best thing to do would be to talk to your doctor. A recent study looked at existing thresholds used to determine cut-off points for “healthy” muscle strength. It found that even results “slightly below” a threshold could still give cause for concern, meaning results may not be so clear-cut and need doctors’ expertise to interpret.

Always talk to your doctor if you’re concerned about results taken from a hand grip test, or ask them to do the test for you if you notice any of the signs of weakness in the list above.

Remember, if your hand grip strength is low, it could just be because you need to try being more active to improve it – try the exercises below, starting gently and slowly building up.

Also be mindful that although low hand grip strength can be linked to health conditions such as heart and lung problems, the risk is still relatively low (as mentioned earlier) – for every 11lb decrease in grip strength, there was a 7% increase in having a heart attack.

Hand grip exercises

If your test result wasn’t very high, you can try two things.

Do hand grip strengthener exercises

Tough Mudder
known for its incredibly challenging fitness obstacle courses, recommends trying this grip-strengthening workout:

  • newspaper scrunching – try tearing newspapers into strips (a few layers at a time) or scrunching a sheet into a ball using one hand, until you feel a burn in your forearm muscles and then switch hands
  • towel wringing – put a towel into a bucket or bath of water until fully submerged. Remove the towel and aim to wring it out, squeezing and twisting it until every last drop of water has been wrung out of it. Try this once or twice a week when the bathroom’s yours
  • wine bottle wrist rotation – grasp an unopened bottle by the neck, keep your upper arm close to your body and bend your elbow to 90 degrees and rotate your wrist (and the bottle) until it’s horizontal. Swap hands and aim for 10 reps on each
  • bucket carry – fill a bucket with water (or something to make it heavy but carryable) then walk for 15 seconds carrying it with one hand then switch hands. Aim for 3–4 sets

And of course, squeezing anything you can find around the home that has some resistance, like a stress ball or tennis ball, will also help improve grip strength.

Do general muscle strengthening exercises

“If your hand grip is an indicator of general muscle strength and heart health, it’s worth looking at your activity and exercise levels and types,” says Dr. Ann.
Try these daily exercises to improve general muscle strength and heart health:

  • lift a carton of milk a few times before you put it back in the refrigerator to build your arm muscles
  • do more squats
  • consider weight training - add ankle or wrist weights when you go for a power walk
  • take the stairs whenever possible. This will build the muscles in your legs, hips, buttocks, and abdomen
  • get active while talking on the phone or standing in line by doing leg lifts and heel raises. This will help strengthen the muscles in your legs and buttocks

When to see a doctor about poor muscle strength

Muscle strength declines with age but always see a doctor if:

  • your hand grip test results were low or below the threshold for your age
  • You have swelling, redness, or any deformity in the hand
  • your grip issues are interfering with your ability to get on with your day
  • you notice you are getting weaker in multiple parts of your body e..g link your arms or legs
  • you have a family history of muscle problems and have never been tested

Go to the emergency room if you have:

  • symptoms such as difficulty breathing, dizziness, fever or a stiff neck
  • you suffer a sudden loss of strength or muscle weakness
  • Your sudden loss of strength is accompanied by facial drooping, pain or other unusual symptoms

For more help with unusual or unexplained symptoms, including when to see a doctor, use our

Smart Symptom Tracker
.

Important: Our website provides useful information but is not a substitute for medical advice. You should always seek the advice of your doctor when making decisions about your health.