Today, we have a great addition to our hand strengthening exercises: several hand gripper workouts to support stronger grip strength and pinch strength. Occupational therapy practitioners working in a hand therapy clinic know the value of a hand gripper, to support functional performance with data. Who knows what hand fitness is all about? Well, it includes many factors such as hand and finger strength and endurance, but the most important conclusion is that hand fitness boils down to the grip and use of the hands for functional tasks and activities without difficulty. So, what better way to address the need for hand fitness than a good, old-fashioned hand gripper workout.
Hand Gripper Workout
Now you may ask, what is a hand gripper workout? It is the use of any gripping tool that is designed for strengthening the hands and fingers. Hand grippers include:
- Resistance bars
- Strength trainers
- Forearm grip exerciser
- Finger extensor gripper
- Finger stretcher
- Exercise rings
- Power web
- Theraputty exercises
- Rubber band gripper
Gripper Workouts for Kids
Below, we are highlighting a few gripper tools that can easily be used with kiddos during therapy sessions or even as part of a home exercise program. These exercises can be incorporated into therapy sessions in several ways to encourage meaning and motivation:
- Use in an obstacle course
- Incorporate into a sensory path
- Add as a brain break option
- Use as a transition activity
- Include in a visual schedule of therapy tasks
- Add as a “warm up” activity or ending activity
Let’s dive into the use of these fun tools that can be used right away and help build the necessary hand fitness that kiddos need to access their environment and perform their daily life functions.
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CanDo Twist-n’ Bend Flexible Resistance Bars – This is a simple resistive bar that works on grip, forearm, and wrist strength. There are various levels of resistive bars to include: extra soft, soft, medium, firm, and extra firm.
This bar is used simply by grasping and twisting or grasping and bending to strengthen the muscles of the hands and arms. Think grip strength by grasping the bottom and twisting the top with each hand.
Resistance Bar Workout – Twist the resistance bar one way 10 times and then switch to twist the bar the opposite way. Consider positioning the bar in different planes.
Digiflex – The digiflex is used for whole hand and individual finger strengthening. That’s right, it can do both! All you have to do is flip the rubber hand gripper from one side of the device to the other and you’ve got a new tool!
They come in easy to more difficult strengths to include: 1.5 lbs., 3 lbs., 5 lbs., 7 lbs., and 9 lbs. My older kiddos love this tool as it provides them a visible measurement in their progress of hand and finger strengthening.
Digiflex Workout – Squeeze each finger 5-10 times. Consider combining with learning or other therapy goals: place a sticker on each digiflex button or use the gripper to spell words.
Basic Ergonomic Hand Gripper – The basic hand gripper is a tool that is designed for whole hand strengthening or you can adapt it for just strengthening fingers and thumbs. It comes with graded exercise bands: four pairs of rubber bands, two of each resistance level to include: extra light (yellow), light (red), medium (green), and heavy (blue).
It can be used prior to handwriting tasks as a warm-up tool or simply to provide whole or partial hand exercises as a child works to build overall hand and finger strength.
This one is easy to adapt for many children and can make their wrist, palm, and fingers stronger while building endurance and increasing overall hand power. Older kiddos like using this gripper as they enjoy feeling like an adult while using it, so they have said.
Ergonomic Hand Gripper Workout- Squeeze the gripper 10 times. Try adding other movements or complete in different planes.
Simple Hand Gripper – This is a simple gross grasp hand exerciser that can be purchased at a local retail store. It is simply just for squeezing and exercising the hand and finger muscles, but be careful and make sure it is the correct grip strength for the children who are using it.
It is a great tool for simplicity and easy travel.
Simple Hand Gripper Exercise- Squeeze the gripper with either the elbow in almost full flexion or in an almost full extended position. Repeat 10 times.
Finger Stretcher – This is an isolated finger stretcher that helps to build hand and finger strength as well as build individual finger awareness.
It can serve as a hand and finger warm-up tool prior to fine motor activities, keyboarding, or handwriting. If you are looking for a more grown-up hand fidget tool, it can serve as that too!
There are 3 different resistance levels and can be used for a variety of ages. This one focuses on finger extension rather than flexion as we do not need to forget this muscle grouping as we help kiddos build their strength and endurance.
Finger Stretcher Workout- This is a great tool to use as a fidget or as a “reward” in therapy that also strengthens the hands. Repeat each finger 5-10 times. Repeat 2-3 times.
Exercise rings – These are silicone rings that are used as hand grip exercisers that comes in 20-, 30-, 40-, and 50-pound resistance levels.
It can be used as a fun whole hand exerciser that is easy to grasp and use. Simply grasp the ring within the palm to squeeze, hold, and release! That is it!
Exercise Rings Hand Workout- This is another great tool to include as a reward or a fidget activity. Squeeze the hand rings 10 times and then repeat 2-3 times.
Power web – This is by far the most unique and intriguing hand and finger exerciser. Children wonder what it is and are instantly into trying it out no matter what.
The power web comes in combination resistance levels as well as singular resistance levels. The levels include extra, extra light to extra heavy.
Power web gripper workout- Use the finger holes to strengthen gross grasp or individual finger strength. Squeeze each finger individually and count 5-10 grips each finger. It’s easy to adjust the intensity of the workout by simply shifting the position of the hand or the depth of the fingers within the cutout holes.
Therapy Putty – This is an oldie, but a goodie as children love this putty and have no idea that they are building hand and finger strength and endurance while using it! BONUS!
Most therapists use it with younger kiddos by hiding small objects inside the putty for the child to find. However, older kiddos can benefit by actually performing the hand exercises the putty was intended for…it comes in extra soft to extra firm resistance levels, but the younger kiddos just like the fun colors!
Soft stress ball workout- Some individuals can’t tolerate or use the required strength to squeeze the grippers included above. One item to strengthen hands with less resistance is a stress ball. These can include any type of squeeze toy, fidget, or soft ball. The goal with using a stress ball in a gripper workout would be to increase tolerance to grip the therapy tool, but also increase strength.
Hand therapy protocols for strengthening grip strength may vary depending on the individual’s needs and goals, but generally involve a combination of exercises to improve grip strength, endurance, and dexterity.
Tennis ball hand exercises– Have you seen the occupational therapy tennis ball with a mouth cut into the ball? Therapy providers will cut a slice into a tennis ball and draw eyes and a nose onto the ball. When you squeeze the ball, the mouth opens and the child can “feed” the tennis ball face small objects like mini-erasers, craft pom poms, paper clips, etc.
The tennis ball gripper is a great exercise because it’s play-based and kids love it! You can extend the activity by squeezing the tennis ball face in an isometric exercise to hold the mouth open while using tweezers, tongs, or a pickle picker to place the small objects into the tennis ball.
Hand Gripper Workout for Hand Therapy
If working in an outpatient setting, hand therapy, rehab, or other medial model of therapy, using hand grippers in rehabilitation occurs more frequently. Grippers are a great tool to improve grip strength.
Below, we’ll cover repetitions and frequency to use a hand gripper for strengthening grip strength. Know that every case can be different, depending on the diagnosis, doctor’s orders and protocol, baseline of the patient, and therapy interventions.
Hand gripper exercises can include repetitions to improve both initial grasp and endurance:
Isometric exercises: Isometric exercises involve contracting your muscles without actually moving your joints. To perform an isometric grip exercise, hold a soft ball or gripper in your hand and squeeze it as hard as you can for 10 seconds. Repeat for 3-5 sets with each hand.
Dynamic exercises: Dynamic grip exercises involve moving your hand and fingers through a range of motion while holding an object. Some examples include using a gripper to perform repetitions of squeezing and releasing, or using a therapy putty to perform hand exercises. Repeat the gripper exercise 10 repetitions and then repeat 2-3 times.
It is important to note that hand therapy protocols should be individualized and performed under the guidance of a qualified hand therapist to ensure safety and effectiveness.
Using a Hand Gripper Workout in Therapy
One last thought on the use of grippers for children, think about naming the exercises fun names rather than the classic OT exercise names. Think fun names such as power pinch, flutter fingers, finger fling, thumbkin thump, curl crunch, or peppy power. Go ahead, be inspired to make up your own fun gripper exercise names, but do not forget that kiddos are creative too, so let them come up a few!
Now, go ahead and explore the fun hand and finger grippers available out there and build the strength and endurance that children need to function successfully in their daily life activities. They will be happy you did – and so will you!
Regina Parsons-Allen is a school-based certified occupational therapy assistant. She has a pediatrics practice area of emphasis from the NBCOT. She graduated from the OTA program at Caldwell Community College and Technical Institute in Hudson, North Carolina with an A.A.S degree in occupational therapy assistant. She has been practicing occupational therapy in the same school district for 20 years. She loves her children, husband, OT, working with children and teaching Sunday school. She is passionate about engaging, empowering, and enabling children to reach their maximum potential in ALL of their occupations as well assuring them that God loves them!