Grip Strength, Handguns, and Gender Differences

Did you know that studies show grip strength has a relationship with cardiovascular and overall health? I'm not a doctor, so I'll stay in my lane and aim the conversation towards firearms. Let's examine the following questions:

What is grip strength, and how to measure it?

Is grip strength important for shooting handguns?

Do men have a biological advantage, and if so, does that mean men have an advantage over women with shooting handguns accurately?

What are the things you can do to develop and enhance more grip strength, and why is one of the most often recommended exercised actually detrimental to developing grip strength?

What is Grip Strength? How to Measure-

We typically measure grip strength using a hand dynamometer, which is a specialized device designed for this purpose. The device records the force exerted in pounds-force (lbf) or kilograms-force (kgf) and displays it on a digital screen or a scale.

Different Types of measurements:

There are several types of grip strength measurements, each focusing on different aspects of hand strength and function. Here are the most common types:

Static Grip Strength: This measures the maximum force a person can exert while gripping an object without any movement. It's typically assessed using a hand dynamometer.

Dynamic Grip Strength: This assesses the strength of the hand and forearm muscles during a squeezing or gripping motion involving repetitive contractions, rather than a static hold.

Pinch Grip Strength: This measures the strength of the fingers and thumb when pinching an object. We can further divide it into lateral pinch (thumb against the side of the index finger) and palmar pinch (thumb against the pads of the fingers).

Tip Pinch Strength: This specifically assesses the strength of the thumb tip against the pads of the fingers, which is crucial for fine motor tasks.

Cylinder Grip Strength: This measures the ability to grip a cylindrical object, simulating tasks like holding a tool handle or a bottle.

Spherical Grip Strength: This assesses the ability to grip a spherical object, similar to holding a ball.

Three-Jaw Chuck Grip Strength: This measures the strength of the fingers and thumb when gripping a three-jaw chuck, which is commonly used in machinery.

Key Pinch Strength: This evaluates the strength of the thumb against the side of the index finger, resembling the motion of turning a key.

Power Grip Strength: This is a combination of static and dynamic grip strength, encompassing the entire hand and forearm. It's crucial for activities like lifting heavy objects.

Precision Grip Strength: This involves the use of the fingers and thumb in a coordinated manner for tasks that require fine motor control, like picking up small objects.

If you're as blown away at all the different ways to measure grip strength, join the club. But it makes sense, right? The hand and has muscles and tendons, but these aren't the only things controlling our hand. The muscles and tendons of the forearm and even the muscles of the upper body influence our grip. These different measurements have application to shooting a handgun to varying degrees.

Is grip strength important for shooting handguns?

The primary support for hand guns are…hands. I know that is a profound statement. But because we don't have a sling, a point of contact with our shoulder, or a stock weld, the way we grip a handgun is really important.

Before worrying about how much grip strength you have, first work on the mechanics of an optimal grip. This isn't a one-size-fits all grip for every shooter and every handgun. But there are principles. Here are some resources you can check out for how to build a sound grip on your pistol.

ShopTalk: Grip Revisited

Tips for Gripping a Small Pistol

Shooter Ready Challenge, April 2023

Handgun Grip Development Course

Grip Your Way To Better Recoil Management [Video]

I would like to take a moment and bust the grip strength percentage myth. This is the teaching that the shooter distributes a percentage of their grips strength between dominant and support hands. A commonly recommended distribution is 60/40.

First, the percentage of strength is highly subjective and nearly impossible to know exactly how much percentage of grip strength your applying at any given time. Secondly, I believe that consciously trying to apply more grip strength from your dominant hand can cause you to overdrive the gun toward the support side.

I believe the easiest way to think about how much grip pressure to apply, is to apply 100% of your grip strength in each hand, then dial it back to a point where you are not causing shaking, and you're not so tight that you're impinging on the natural articulation of your trigger finger.

The Grip Gap: Men vs. Women

No matter what the ‘experts' say, there are inherent biological differences between men and women. This is true for grip strength as well. This comprehensive study found that, on average, adult men typically exhibit grip strength, ranging from 85 to 105 pounds-force lbf per hand. In contrast, adult women tend to fall between 50 to 70 lbf per hand.

Besides, gender, age and body mass play a role in generalized grip strength in men and women.

Understanding that grip strength has a role in gripping a handgun, and recognizing the differences in grip strength between men and women, do we conclude that women are at a disadvantage in shooting handguns? An interesting article on the Force Science website summarizes research conducted on police officer handgun qualification rates. Here is a relevant portion of the summary:

“Male officers in this study had, on average, higher qualification scores than the female officers. 21.9 % of the female officers in this study failed the qualification compared to 8.1% of the male officers. Researchers theorized that insufficient grip strength would negatively impact shooting performance, and that female officers would, on average, have lower grip strength than male officers. Both theories were supported by the research results.

First, researchers determined that grip strength in the range of 80lbs and 125lbs was needed to score approximately 85% and 90% on the pistol qualification test. The average grip strength for the female officers in the study was 77.5lbs, while the average for the men was 121.5lbs.

78% of the females and 92% of the males passed the qualification test (22% and 8% failed respectively). Researchers observed that, for every pound below the average grip strength required to score between 85% and 90%, the odds of an officer failing the pistol qualification increased by 2%.”

According to the study, grip strength seemed to impact performance quite a bit. However, here are a few things to keep in mind.

Females also have smaller hands on average than male counterparts. How the hand interacts with the gun is quite important. Grips of more narrow circumference play a big part in how efficiently one can apply grip pressure.

How much Grip Strength do you Need to Maintain Control of a Gun During Recoil?

I've heard a lot of different numbers, and that isn't surprising based on different calibers, gun shapes, sizes and grip textures. In the research noted above they suggested grip strength of 80 lbf was needed to pass the qualification with an 80% score.

However, taking more studies into account, it seems on average, a safe bet is 50-60 lbf per hand is more than adequate to manage pistol recoil. What this means is that most women have enough grip strength to handle a handgun.

I haven't done any of my own testing, but I suspect that lower overall grip strength may manifest more when shooting from unconventional positions where the grip is suboptimal. When the shooter can't employ the other principles that help manage recoil, less grip strength makes it harder. Also, fatigue may also come into play for those with less overall grip strength. A long training session may make more of a negative impact on someone with less grip strength to start with.

applying grip pressure still from video

Building a Grip of Steel

Now, let's get down to business. How do you transform your grip from ordinary to extraordinary? I found a link that breaks down some fantastic ways to improve grip strength, and none of them include the hand grippers.

  1. Farmers Walk: This exercise not only challenges your grip but also engages your entire body. Grab a pair of dumbbells and take a stroll – it's like a strength-building power walk.
  2. Wrist Curls and Extensions: Target your forearm muscles with these focused exercises. You'll be giving handshakes that leave a lasting impression in no time.
  3. Deadlifts: This compound exercise is a powerhouse for overall strength, engaging multiple muscle groups, including your grip.
  4. Towel Hangs: Hang tough and build finger and forearm strength simultaneously. It's like an iron handshake in the making.
  5. Fat Bar Training: Employing a thicker barbell or implement for exercises like curls and rows provides a unique challenge that intensifies grip training.

Hand Grippers: The Misguided Mission

While hand grippers may have their merits, they're not the be-all and end-all for achieving superior grip strength. In fact, if they give too much resistance, they can inflame tendons and make it more difficult to apply grip strength. It's important to make sure you're stretching your forearms and wrists so you don't develop issues. Grip rings, balls and finger exercisers are some better alternatives to the hand grippers.

Conclusion: Sharpen Your Aim with a Stronger Grip

In the realm of marksmanship, your grip is a great ally. Embrace the natural differences between men and women, and harness the power of targeted grip-strengthening exercises. Bid farewell to misconceptions about hand grippers and grip pressure percentages.

About Matthew Maruster

I follow my Lord and Savior Jesus Christ who is the eternal co-equal Son of God. I currently live in Columbus, Ohio with my wife and daughter. I served in the Marine Corps Infantry. I was a Staff Sergeant and served as a Platoon Sergeant during combat in Iraq. After I was a police officer at a municipal agency in San Diego County. I have a Bachelors's Degree in Criminal Justice from National University. I produce the Concealed Carry Podcast and coordinate the Concealed Carry Instructor Network, and manage MJ Maruster Defense.

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