Strategies for Improving Grip Strength

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I received an e-mail from one of the staff at Men’s Health yesterday asking about grip strength, and thought my response would make for a good blog post today.  Well, my response was actually a little shorter, but since it got my brain juices flowing, I’m rolling with it:

Grip strength – something most people don’t normally train.  Do you have an exercise you can recommend to our readers to improve/increase grip strength?  As well as some thoughts on why increasing grip strength is beneficial?

First off, lets start with the benefits of developing a solid grip.  The obvious benefit would be an increase in loads one can handle.  Grip strength is oftentimes the “limiting factor” with many trainees – particularly with regards to things like deadlifts and chin-ups, for example –  so it stands to reason that if one takes the strides to better develop it, the heavier loads (s)he’ll be able to use in the gym.

As such, this can lead to cool things happening like increased muscle mass, more calories burned during any given training session, and even an improvement in fat loss.  Although, to keep things a bit more “on point,” I’m more inclined to stick with the whole “increase in muscle mass thing,” since that’s what most trainees gravitate towards anyways.

Additionally, an improved grip can also pay huge dividends with shoulder health, believe it or not.  Through a process called irradiation, when someone is told to grab a dumbbell (or barbell) with a death grip, it sends a signal to the rotator cuff to “fire” and “pack” itself, which provides more stability to the joint.

Try this:  hold your arm out in front of your body and just LIGHTLY close your hand so that it makes a fist.  No big deal, right?  Conversely, do the same thing, but this time when you make a fist, crush it!  You should notice your rotator cuff fire as well as a subtle “packing” in the shoulder.  Trust me, it happened.

Not coincidentally, one of the best cues I use as a coach to help people with shoulder pain is to tell them to grip the bar harder.  Works like a charm every time.

Moreover, as a corollary – and this is just me speaking in dude talk –  an improved grip is an awesome way to “send a message” to other dudes to step off when it comes to making a pass at your girlfriend.  A few years ago my ex who had someone from upper management make a pass at her.  He was shady about it (married, and knew she had a boyfriend), and he sent a few text messages to her asking if she wanted to meet up after work sometime for dinner.  She told me all about it, and we both had a laugh.  Secretly, though, I wanted to scissor kick the guy in the forehead.

Being the non-jealous type, I just let it slide and trusted that she would take care of it – and she did.  Well, eventually, Christmas time approached which meant company Christmas party!  As luck would have it, Douchebag McDouchington was in attendance, and being that he was a superior of hers, he was introduced to me.  I smiled, said hello, and as he reached out to grab my hand, I simply CRUSHED his.  I think he got the message.

With some of the benefits out of the way, lets discuss a few exercises that can be utilized to train grip strength

1.  Honestly, refraining from using wrist straps would be my #1 choice.

Sure, there’s a time and place to use them, but more often than not guys rely waaaaaaaay too much on wrist straps when they train – to the point where they use them for everything!!  Bicep curls, lat pulldowns, DB rows, you name it, straps are being used.  I’m surprised more don’t use them just to grab a glass of water in between sets.

That said, just making a concerted effort to use dumbbells and barbells WITHOUT straps would be a step in the right direction.

2.  Get a pair of Fat Gripz.

Making barbells and dumbbells inherently harder to grab would be another way to train grip strength.  At Cressey Performance, we utilize Fat Gripz quite a bit, and have found them to be a very useful tool in the toolbox, as we can add them to things like chin-ups, DB presses, DB rows, and, as former CP intern Dave Rak showed, Spike shots as well.

3.  Farmer Carries!

I did a coaching call for Muscle Imbalances Revealed the other night and went on a rant about how much I freakin LOVE farmer carries.  As far as bang-for-your-training-buck-instantly-increase-your-badass-factor-by-at least-15 points-exercises are concerned, farmer carries are where it’s at.  With regards to grip strength, however,  all you’re going to do is grab a pair of the heaviest sumbitches (translation:  DBs) you can handle.  Hold them at your sides (as if you’re holding a suitcase), and then go for a walk – making sure to keep your chest out and shoulder back.  No leaning!

The objective here is to stay as upright as possible.  I’d say a decent distance would be anywhere from 50-75 yds (most will have to walk back and forth, obviously).

Perform 2-4 sets of 50-75 yds, or until you hate life.  Whichever comes first.

4.  Hex Holds

Another exercise I like to use – albeit it’s not quite as baller as farmer caries – are DB Hex Holds.

 

Here, all you’re going to do is grab a 15-40 lb DB (anything heavier would mean you have Andre the Giant hands, you freak!) and simply hold for time using ONLY your fingertips.   As far as how long to hold – I don’t really have a set criteria.  Anywhere from 30 seconds to OMGICANTFEELTHELEFTSIDEOFMYFACE should suffice.

Unfortunately doing this exercise is contingent on whether or not the gym you train at actually has “hex” dumbbells available.  If not, sucks to be you!

5.  When All Else Fails, Just Read Anything By Diesel Crew

Jim “Smitty” Smith and the guys at Diesel Crew know a thing or two about grip strength, so I’ll just defer to them when it comes to this topic.

And there you have it.  Nothing extraordinary or life-changing to say the least, but I hope this post provides some insight and ideas as to how you can improve your grip strength!

If you have anything to add, by all means, share below in the comments section.

Just a Reminder

Show and Go is still on sale until midnight tomorrow (10/28) for 50% off the regular price.  Eric has informed me that he’s included another sweet bonus for those who go a head and purchase it today – titled Warm-Ups 2011, which gives everyone an inside look at some of the (current) warm-up drills we utilize at Cressey Performance.

What’s more, don’t forget that I’m still holding a drawing for some free swag as well.  Again, for those who click HERE and purchase Show and Go (and send me the receipt:  tgentilcore18@yahoo.com), I’ll enter your name either for a free copy of Muscle Imbalances Revealed – Upper Body OR a free month of individualized programming from yours truly. 

 

 

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  • SG PEP

    Hey Tony, dealing with overhead athletes, do you worry about the farmers walk increasing scapular elevation? I love the movement but am paranoid about upper trap activation, especially with our baseball guys. I totally understand your post was about grip strength and not programming for soft overhead athletes, just thought i might get lucky and get to pick your brain really quick.

    • Anonymous

      Don’t over think it dude. I wouldn’t worry too much about it. Sure, if they’re going out of their way to “shrug” the weight up, then you MAY need to re-think the movement. But regardless, it’s a fantastic exercise that has far too many benefits to not use.

  • Thanks for the shoutout bro.

    • Anonymous

      Anytime Smitty. You’re the man! By the way, I’m thinking that when I’m home (back in NY) for Thanksgiving, I may try to make a cameo appearance at your place.

  • Karine

    Wow, how nice to read this – “the heavier loads (s)he’ll be able to use in the gym” – because you added the “s” before the word “he’ll”. Thanks from a heaving-lifting female.

    • Anonymous

      Anytime Karine! Thanks for reading.

  • I swear to go I saw a dude using write straps for tricep kickbacks the other day. Well, I use the term “dude” loosely.

    I also like, what I call, Plate Pinches. Holding two plates (something like a 25 and 5 or 10) between the finger tips for either time or walking with them for a set distance.

    • Apparently I can’t type…I swear to “god”…and “wrist” straps…#FAIL

    • Anonymous

      Michael –

      Absolutely! I’ve used plate pinches in the last as well – albeit with 45s! Okay, not really. That never happened. But it IS a great exercise.

  • Nock

    Hey Tony,

    Great read…….quick question for you I can’t seem to find the article you wrote for New Personal trainers coming to this industry. I think you were answering someones email or something. I was going to refer my buddy to that article but on your new set up it is hard to find the article.

    Nock

  • R Smith

    Reminds me of the time I “whined” to Tony about not being able to hold 90-pound DBs for 4×6 walking lunges. I halfway wanted him to say “use straps.” Umm, he did not.
    Instead, I increased my rest intervals, and months later I was holding 115s for 4 sets of 6.
    Winning!

  • Jedd Johnson

    Thanks for the mention. I see Smitty already posted as well. Keep up the good work.

    Jedd

    • Anonymous

      My pleasure Jedd. Like I said previously, you guys are the grip training ninjas in this industry….

  • Gaglionestrength

    Great information Tony!

  • lange_troy

    10 years ago i severed all my ligaments and tendons in my right wrist…i have pinch grip on that hand but limited use of last 3 fingers…they bend but they don’t ‘scissor’ if you know what i mean…i can;t hold more then about 150kgs on a deadlift because of it…and my hands are tiny – thoughts Tone?

    • Anonymous

      Oh boy – probably outside my scope of practice as it sounds like you need some aggressive manual therapy. Having said that, though, you’d be the rare exception where I’d actually advocate using straps! No worries, you still get to keep your man-card

      • lange_troy

        yeah i’ve got some but it seems my hands are so small that if i wrap them where i have to loop btw my hands and the bar, i can’t grip the bar enough

        they’re really small!!!

  • Brett

    Thanks a lot Tony, I’ve used some great stuff from Jedd at Diesel Crew. I go to a Bouldering gym when I can and the way that tests my grip and my forearms goes way beyond anything I’ve tried in a gym.

  • Bretcontreras

    Hilarious! Good stuff Tony.

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  • Oli

    Hey Tony, I like your point about grip packing the shoulder.

    Do you know anything about or any references to the difference in relation to how the shoulder ‘packs’, between gripping thumb with fingers compared to thumb opposing fingers.
    My sense is that when the thumb opposes the fingers the front of the shoulder is engaged and rounds the shoulder forwards somewhat when the thumb is with the fingers then the shoulder retracts more easily.

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  • Thanks a lot for the post!)) I think men appreciated it greatly))  Anyway the info is awesome and very helpful!;)

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