climbing · fitness · Guest Post · strength training

Get a grip (guest post)

Shortly after starting indoor rock climbing, I found out that my grip strength was going to be a limiting factor, especially when I tried out the bouldering wall. So, I decided to train my grip strength. To get a baseline to measure my progress against, I asked my gym for a go at their grip strength tester.

I pulled about 100lbf. “You have excellent grip strength!” the gym attendant said, pointing at the last column of the “female” table, which topped out at 70lbf. That didn’t seem right to me because while I can open jars, I couldn’t hang on in any but the absolute easiest bouldering routes. So I checked the “male” table.

[img description: A grip strength tester reading about 100 pounds, set next to a paper showing two tables with age ranges and grip strength categories from “needs improvement” to “excellent”. The top table says “female” and the “excellent” grip strength column has numbers around 70 pounds. The bottom table says “male” and the “needs improvement” grip strength column has numbers around 90 pounds.]

“Poor,” it said.

Literally, this manufacturer’s grip strength assessment put the weakest of wimpy men at stronger than the strongest of women.

I would have understood overlapping results with “average” on the men’s table being a bit higher than on the womens. But this?

Anybody who trusts this table won’t recommend grip strength training to women but will to men, for the same strength measurement. It quite directly encourages men and discourages women from strength training. “Oh you’re plenty strong enough, lady,” it says. No need to get stronger.

Then people wonder why men tend stronger.

When I pointed this out to the gym attendant, he was shocked, and went looking for a better grip strength table, but all the ones he found on the internet had the same gap between the top of the women’s table and the bottom of the men’s table.

A much more useful grip strength table, in my opinion, wouldn’t be split by gender at all, and would have column headings like “can open most commercially sealed jars,” “can hang 50kg body weight with a 2 handed grip,” and so on. Because it looks to me like every female climber is going to be well into the “men’s” table,and whether your grip strength is “excellent” or “needs improvement” should really depend on what you need and want to do, not on some arbitrary and sexist value judgement

Varve is a nonbinary novice climber who is heartily sick of being told they can’t do something because they’re “a girl” – and has been since long before knowing there was anything outside the binary.

11 thoughts on “Get a grip (guest post)

  1. I like your criteria – much more useful and understandable than some random number. And also those charts are appalling!

    1. I know right? Even knowing how sexist the fitness industry can be, I was shocked that there was so blatantly no overlap at all in the two charts.

  2. Love your grip strength criteria! In fact I think you should make a chart. It would be awesome!

    How did you get on with training your grip? See any improvement? I really need to work on mine…

    1. LOL I wouldn’t know what measurements to put in different categories!

      I just did my baseline test last week, so I won’t be seeing any improvement yet.

  3. i climbed competitively in my late 20’s albeit locally. Every “contest” was divided between men and women. I always wondered why…good article:)

    1. Climbing seems like an odd sport for gender segregation. (I say this as a woman who climbs, probably around a novice or intermediate level.) My technique and beta on some climbs are pretty different from those of my boyfriend, who is 8 or 9 inches taller than me, but I would expect a tall woman to climb more similarly to him than to me. I assume the contests weren’t divided by body size, though!

      Re: the original post, that grip strength table sounds incredibly unhelpful! There’s no way that the “best” a woman can do tops out below the “worst” level for a similar-aged man.

    2. Seems that everything, but especially every physical activity, is gender segregated. By the gender assigned at birth, of course.

  4. I definitely like your grip strength criteria better…

    When you write the table can you add on, enough to carry 40kg dumbbells in a farmers walk, then I know where to get to…

    My grip strength is lacking, I know that from when I used to climb and because I always feel I am going to drop my deadlifts, the current chart would probably say I had nothing to worry about!

    1. Well you’ll know you’re there when you can do it…
      I agree it would be nice to know how far there was to go other than “not there yet” though.

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