My friends I would like to chat with all of you about how to improve grip strength. I have seen too many articles out there on the internet describing how to improve grip strength with a wide variety of exercises and techniques.
I have just one problem with all of them. They are not being specific enough!
Remember training is a very specific activity, especially if you want to be good at it. You have to train like you want to perform.
Sure it may look really cool to perform these exotic looking squeezing exercises (if your into that kind of thing). But I’m truly surprised nobody has asked the question:
“DOES ANY OF THIS STUFF ACTUALLY WORK?”
In this post, I am going to reveal to all of you my top 5 favorite exercises that will give you a grip strength people will fear.
What Does “Grip Strength” Mean?
Grip strength can mean a lot of things to a lot of people, but it really has only one main component as far as lifters are concerned.
For a lifter, the only real strength necessary to lift heavy things is the ability to squeeze and crush things like your life depends on it.
Other athletes, such as gymnasts and rock climbers, have much more demanding roles they place on their hands and forearms. As a result, they need to have a wide variety of exercises in order to keep up with the demands of their sport.
Lifters have different needs. So to get the most bang for your buck, you always want to do more with less.
Crushing strength is a form of flexion. When you curl your fingers up into a white knuckle fist and squeeze as hard as you can, you are performing flexion. This is the main type of movement we want to focus on.
The opposite of flexion is extension. Our fingers now open up instead of clench. This is not going to make your lifts go up. However, it will improve the health of your joints.
Too much flexion with too little extension will only lead to joint pain, especially in the elbow. To balance this out we need to train the opposing muscles in order to bring stability to the joint. No matter what, your health always comes first!
Exercises To Improve Grip Strength
If we want to improve grip strength and add serious pounds to our lifts, we are going to need to do some serious grip exercises. The following is definitely my favorite 5 exercises for building grip strength.
Probably one of the most common grip exercises out there. Using grippers will build a tremendous amount of grip crushing strength. My personal favorite grippers are the Captains of Crush. The reason being is they have a very good strength progression from the guide all the way to the No. 4.
I personally use the grippers like I use any other exercise. Some days I will do very strong grippers for multiple sets with low reps. Other days I will use lower strength grippers for very high reps.
Generally speaking, it is ideal for men to get a grip strength between the 1.5 and 3.0 and for women to get a grip strength from the trainer to the 1.5. Another added benefit from grippers is NO SPINAL LOADING.
**Spinal Loading in a Nutshell**
When you do exercises like deadlifts and squats with heavy poundages. It puts an immense amount of pressure on the discs and places them in a compressed state. In the short term this is not that big of a deal, providing you are doing spinal decompression on a regular basis(article on this coming soon). Otherwise in the long term this can lead to early onset disc degeneration. Not a pretty picture. Building grip strength without heavy spinal loading should always be a part of every training program.
#2 Dead Hangs
Another great exercise that both improves grip strength and helps decompress the spine. Simply hanging from a pull-up bar will help build strong hands for weight lifting.
Now just to be clear, hanging from a pull-up bar is not as simple as it sounds. I wrote a post a while back teaching How to Perform A Pull-up. In this post, I described that the body had to be in a straight line when hanging from a pull-up bar. Otherwise the shoulders would be placed into a compromised position.
Likewise, the position of your hands matters A LOT! When hanging from the bar you want to make sure the outer part of your hand is wrapped AROUND the bar. The outer two fingers are the weakest and these are usually the first to give out during heavy lifting.
To make the dead hang even tougher, you want to hang from a tougher surface. The best example are cannonball grips, pinch blocks, etc. These have much less leverage for the fingers and will really challenge them to develop better grip strength.
Of course you could also do pull-ups on these attachments and hanging leg raises as well. The added momentum from the motion will force your grip to squeeze harder.
Finally if you really want a challenge, hold onto the attachments with one hand. These will develop beast-mode grip strength. Your welcome!
#3 Farmers Carries
I love farmers carries. They are probably one of the most underrated exercises out there. Not only for grip training but also for improving upper back and arm strength.
I find it quite funny how so many lifters try to grab heavy dumbbells for bench pressing without having ever lifted them before. They will obviously feel pretty heavy.
If on the other hand you grab the heavy dumbbells and just hold them for as long as possible, it will condition those muscles to handle the weight. So when the day comes to actually perform a set with those weights, you will be ready.
Farmers carries can be performed with either dumbbells or a barbell. My personal favorite is the trap/hex bar. That thing is killer because you can load a crap ton of weight and keep your shoulders in a good position.
Good progressions for the farmer carry is to do them with one dumbbell. This will also work on the core.
You could also do this with a barbell if you really want a challenge. With a longer point of leverage, the barbell will also work the hell out of your forearm as well. Your forearms will gain you respect.
Another brutal variation is to hold a kettle bell bottoms up while walking. This will really force you to squeeze as hard as possible. If your really a sick bastard, hold the kettle bell overhead bottoms up. You will earn your grip with this one.
#4 Barbell Rows
You may be thinking that barbell rows would be an uncommon choice for a grip exercise, but they are one of my favorites. That is… if you DON’T USE STRAPS!
**WARNING! Incoming Rant**
Straps are great! I love them! In fact, I use straps all of the time. However, you shouldn’t become dependent on them. There is a big difference between using and abusing. Most amateur lifters abuse the hell out of their straps. They use them for everything. Even pull-ups(LIKE…REALLY?)
Straps are a tool only to be used when absolutely necessary, for that purpose, they are awesome. Failure to develop REAL grip strength will eventually catch up with the lifter in the long run(in the form of shoulder problems).
With that said, you should perform barbell rows with no straps to work grip. These will work your grip harder than deadlifts due to the velocity of the bar. Adding this kind of variety will develop your overall grip.
Use an underhand grip with both hands to really get some nice calluses. The underhand grip is tougher because it forces you to do the exercise with tucked elbows. The exercise is now much harder to cheat. If the elbows try to flare out to much, you will lose your grip.
#5 Rope Climbs
If your gym doesn’t have a rope, then you could just buy one and throw it around a tree in your backyard. Otherwise you are missing out on building some serious pipes.
Rope climbing is awesome for building big shredded arms. Squeezing the rope will develop crushing strength as well. The best part of rope climbing is how you have no choice but to squeeze as hard as possible because there is not a designated surface designed to help you get a good grip.
Barbells, and dumbbells, have a knurl area designed specifically to enhance your grip strength. Ropes do not. They are also unstable. A rope will swing and twist on you when you climb, which will also force you to squeeze harder.
You can get pretty creative with the rope climb. The first and most obvious progression would be to use a weighted vest. More weight = more grip strength.
You could also climb the rope without using your legs. Now your lower body will be flailing around like a fish out of water. You will really have to squeeze hard or your going down very quickly.
The most brutal rope climb variation is the “L” climb. If you have ever seen a gymnast perform an L-seat, or have tried it yourself, you know it is a tough exercise. Now try holding an L-seat while climbing a rope. You typically start from a seated position on the ground and then pull yourself all the way up to the top. You will achieve legend status if you can do this.
Adding elastic bands will work the wrist/finger extension function mentioned earlier. These should be performed at the end of every grip session in order to prevent elbow pain.
Renzo Gracie Pull-ups
These are pull-ups where you hang from one or two fingers. These will get your grip stronger but they are not really necessary for most lifters. Fighters should definitely do them.
The rolling thunder is an attachment sold by IronMind. Generally speaking I find the rolling thunder to give your grip a slight edge. But I find it has little carryover to any actual lifts.
Indoor Rock Climbing
Rock climbing is an awesome and fun way to get a stronger grip. In fact, I would have included it in the rest of the list. However, not everyone has access to these types of gyms. Plus we don’t really want to break the bank if we don’t have to.
Rock climbing will work your forearm and fingertip muscles to such an extreme that your hands will be sore in ways you couldn’t even imagine. Even typing will hurt.
The toughest version of rock climbing is called bouldering. This is where the rock walls pop out at you in different angles. Although you will need to use your legs. Don’t be fooled, you will be using your arms almost exclusively. Be sure to bring some chalk with you because trust me you are going to need it.
Trying to Improve grip strength does not have to be rocket science. If you want to lift heavy poundages stick with what works. Remember this valuable life lesson where-ever you go.
A while back I read a book by a “financial guru” by the name of Ramit Sethi about personal finance. In the book, Ramit said one of the best quotes ever said.
The quote was: “Do you want to be rich, or do you want to be sexy?”
The same thing can be said about strength training. Just doing a bunch of exercise to make yourself look “sexy” while at the same time making no progress is probably one of the worst things you could do.
People don’t care about your personal showboating. They care about results. After all, getting results is the sexiest thing you could do.