Getting a grip on handshakes

Europeans have their double cheek-smooch and the Japanese have their bows. And Americans, we opt for the handshake – and a nice firm one at that. But different social situations call for different shakes. Here’s

Europeans have their double cheek-smooch and the Japanese have their bows. And Americans, we opt for the handshake – and a nice firm one at that. But different social situations call for different shakes.

Here’s a how-to guide to mastering the art of the handshake that won’t leave you hanging:

The Traditional

Also known as the “interview shake,” or the “I’m meeting my girlfriend’s grandfather for the first time” shake, this handshake is essential to making any good first impression and must be mastered before moving on to more intimate greetings.

Before schooling you on how to pull off a successful traditional, it’s perhaps more practical to point out what not-to-do first. Everyone fumbles a shake or two at some point in their lives – and that’s OK.

The key to recovering a good grip is pressure. I can’t emphasize pressure enough. We’ve all had those encounters where you are introduced to someone, let’s say at a Christmas party for instance and you get the dreaded “fish hand.” You put your hand out there expecting something decent, but what you get in return is a flaccid, lifeless poor excuse for a man hand. Almost as if they are waiting for you to kneel and kiss their rings. Stay away from this shake at all costs.

The other extreme, of course, is the knuckle-fracturing lumberjack grip. This shake often occurs when being greeted by retired blue-collared types or veterans with those rough, callused catcher’s mitt-hands. These guys take the concept of a firm handshake to a new level. It’s like you’re playing one of those boardwalk arcade strength games and they’re just waiting to label you in the “school boy” category.

Sensing your weakness, they hold on for what seems like an eternity staring you down while applying more pressure to rub it in.

Achieving something in the middle goes like this: extend your right hand toward the individual, forming an angle slightly more obtuse than 90 degrees with your arm. Make your hand rigid in with your thumb up as if you were thumb wrestling, high enough for theirs to slip in.

Once you’ve made contact, apply just the right amount of force and shake up and down two to three times. (Adding a left hand on top of everything makes for a nice warm sandwich effect and shows extra adoration).

The Man-Hug

Applicable as a greeting or farewell, this form of endearment, also known as the “Soul Brother Handshake,” dates back to the 60s, but has gained more and more popularity since. This shake is generally a three-move procedure with variations welcome.Start the hand a little higher than the traditional extension, with the arm at an acute angle ready for the thumb-to-thumb clasp.

If you do this step correctly you should hear a loud clap, followed in quick succession by the sudden chest-to-chest step-in with the left hand pat on the back. The final step involves rotating the hand forward to a hooked clasp of only the fingers, in the manner of railroad couplers. (Using this form in all situations could be considered as disrespect. Accordingly, forget about breaking it out during your first interview.)

Sports Situations

Leave the high five (and its low-five cousin) where they belong – 1985. Instead, use these variations to celebrate a last-minute touchdown, clutch three-pointer or hole-in-one on the 18th green. While the straight high-five has lost significant flavor, there have been developments
that have resurrected the old favorite in a big way.

Give the “high-miss, backward-slap” a try. In true “Revenge of the Nerds” fashion, approach the conventional high-five, but intentionally miss throwing your hand’s momentum down counter-clockwise and connect for a loud backward low-five. This is a high-risk, high-reward alternative generally reserved for baseball.

Another personal favorite, especially when on the basketball court is the “ultra-low double hitter.” Focus on power here. As if you were spanking a standing infant, bend your knees and give your teammate’s hand a good crack and as soon as you hit the first, recoil into the second. The sound should be on tempo like two quarter notes.

The “pound” is always a safe bet too. Make a fist and basically hit your teammates straight on. This soft knuckle-to-knuckle punch can be spiced up with an “explosion”: as soon as you make contact, quickly open your hand, spreading your fingers. Many have also opted for the “three-step hammer
hit” which goes from top to bottom, and then back to the regular, yet this has become somewhat played-out as well. Now we can’t discuss sports without touching on the classic “chest bump,” popular in both basketball and football (or in slow-pitch softball, more accurately classified as a “belly bump”).

For maximum poor sportsmanship, jump as high as possible toward your teammate and bounce his or her puffed-up lower chest as you lean forwards and tilt your head opposite your buddy’s. What’s crucial is to only touch your chests here.(When dealing with the infamous butt slap, use your own discretion, but I would recommend against it with the opposing team).

Cody Glenn can be reached at

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