Grip Strength Test: How To & Normative Values

The handgrip strength test is used to measure how much force can be exerted isometrically by the hand and forearm muscles while squeezing a handheld device. In this article, we’re going to cover…

How to test grip strength?

The most common way to test grip strength is by the static handgrip strength test. To conduct this test, we can follow a standardised protocol recommended by the American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM)…

To perform the test, you will need: 

  • Handgrip dynamometer 

Test protocol: 

  •  Adjust the handgrip of the dynamometer so that the second joint of the index finger is at a right angle (see picture below).
  • Turn the handgrip dynamometer on and ensure the display states 0.0 kg prior to testing.
  • The person being tested should stand in an upright position, and hold the handgrip dynamometer down by their side, ensuring there is a slight bend in the elbow and the dynamometer is not touching the body. 
  • Then, squeeze the handgrip dynamometer with as much force as possible. Ensure you breathe normally and the rest of the body remains still so that the dynamometer doesn’t touch the body. 
  • Repeat this procedure twice on the left hand and twice on the right hand, with a rest in between each attempt.
  • Record the score displayed on the screen in kilograms. The score of the highest reading for each hand should be added together and that is the individual’s total score. 
A picture showing hand grip strength testing
Set up hand position for the static handgrip strength test

The protocol above is just one way you can conduct the static handgrip strength test. There are a range of other protocols and testing positions…

Other protocols: 

Other protocols differ with the number of trials the participant undertakes, the duration of the rest periods between trials, the duration the participant squeezes for and the warm up prior to undertaking the test.

If you would like to learn more about the different protocols and the effect each one has on the results, check out Ev Innes review here

Other testing positions: 

The American Society of Hand Therapists protocol recommends the person undertaking the test sits down and their elbow is held at a right angle throughout the test. 

Another variation is starting with the arm above the head and moving it down to the participant’s side whilst squeezing the dynamometer. 

The position of the arm and the protocol you use has a significant impact on the result of the grip strength test. Whichever one you choose to use, ensure that the position and procedure remain consistent throughout all tests to ensure reliability and take caution when comparing results to normative data.

Grip strength test equipment

You need a handheld dynamometer in order to conduct the static handgrip strength test. The most popular and widely used dynamometer is the Jamar hand dynamometer which is hydraulic and uses a sealed system. It records grip strength in kgs or lbs and the handles can be adjusted to five different positions. 

Other types of handheld dynamometers include pneumatic, strain gauge and mechanical instruments. 

Validity and reliability in grip strength testing

Validity:

The grip strength test has been used as a measure of overall strength, however the validity to test this has been questioned. It has therefore been advised for greater validity that if you are using the grip strength test as an indicator of overall strength, grip strength should be measured in conjunction with a measure of lower limb strength. 

Reliability:

The Jamar dynamometer has high inter-rater reliability and test-retest reliability, meaning that it will provide accurate readings every time you use it.

To ensure reliability when using the dynamometer, make sure to calibrate the dynamometer regularly as well as follow a standardized testing protocol and position each time.

Why is grip strength important?

Grip strength is needed to function in our everyday lives, it helps us to complete mundane tasks such as opening jars or carrying our shopping, but that’s not all. Grip strength is also needed in sport in order to catch, throw or hold something such as a ball.

Grip strength can also give us an indication of overall strength if it is also used in conjunction with a measure of lower limb strength. It can also provide us with an indication of health status. Research indicates that poor grip strength is associated with: 

  • Falls
  • Disability
  • Impaired health-related quality of life
  • Prolonged length of stay in hospital
  • Increased mortality 

Normative data

In the tables below, we have provided grip strength normative values for men and women by age following the ACSM static handgrip strength test procedure. In both tables, the values represent a combined score for both left and right hands.

You can use these tables to help guide you in interpreting your score and assess if your score falls within “normal” ranges for your age and gender.

Normative values for hand grip strength by age for men
Grip strength normative values by age for a man (adapted from ACSM guidelines).
Normative values for hand grip strength by age for women
Grip strength normative values by age for a woman (adapted from ACSM guidelines).

Alternative ways to measure grip strength

There are three other tests that use a hand dynamometer and can be used to measure static grip strength, these include: 

  • The five position grip strength test
  • The rapid exchange grip test
  • The rapid simultaneous grip test 

If you are interested in learning about the five-position grip strength test, skip to the next section. If you would like to learn about the rapid exchange grip test or the rapid simultaneous grip test, check out a review on the procedures by Ev Innes here.

Five position grip strength test

The five-position grip strength test, also known as the five handle position test (5HPT) or five-rung test is used to determine the level of genuine effort someone is giving when testing grip strength.

The test involves measuring grip strength in five different grip positions using a hand dynamometer such as the Jamar. It is advised that you squeeze the dynamometer once with as much force as possible at each grip position, starting from the narrowest grip and progressing in order to the widest grip. Complete all five trials on one hand before repeating this protocol on the other hand. 

The test results from the five different positions are then plotted onto a graph as force output against handle position for both hands. The shape of that graph is then interpreted to determine the level of genuine effort: 

  • It is expected that for those individuals that give it their all (i.e. exert true maximal effort), they will produce a bell-shaped curve. This means the grip strength test results from the second, third and fourth trials are greater than the first and fifth trials.  
  • Those who don’t put in their best effort (i.e. a submaximal maximal effort) will produce an erratic or flat curve. This means that the standard deviation of the five trials is less than or equal to 7.5. 

Studies have questioned this test’s validity and effectiveness with factors such as gender and the strength of the participants’ hands influencing the shape of the force output curve.  

Summary

When it comes to the handgrip strength test, there are many different protocols, positions, equipment, and alternative tests you can use. For more on fitness testing check out this article, or for more reading on specific tests check out these articles on the Yo-Yo test. the 505 agility test, the pro agility test, the sit and reach test.

Further Reading

Reference 

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Golf Insider UK | Website | + posts

Will is a sport scientist and golf professional who specialises in motor control and motor learning. Will lecturers part-time in motor control and biomechanics, runs Golf Insider UK and consults elite athletes who are interested in optimising their training and performance.