Grip strength training is one of the most overlooked factors when trying to build overall muscle. Choosing the proper grip exercises and learning how to build a stronger grip will improve all of your fitness results.
You might be asking, "Why should I focus on training a muscle group that represents less than five percent of my body?" Grip strength training isn’t the most glamorous. After all, you’re doing deadlifts; doesn’t that improve your grip strength?
Grip strength training can make your whole body stronger and improve functional movement patterns. Let’s take a look at what grip strength is, how you can improve it, and the benefits of grip strength training.
What Is Grip Strength?
Grip strength is the ability to transfer strength from your upper body to the weight load. This means that even though you might have a strong back, shoulders, and arms, the decisive factor to move a certain amount of weight will be your grip strength. You might think that using straps or hooks will bypass your weak grip. This will worsen your actual grip strength and destroy your future gains.
Muscles Involved in Gripping
When referring to grip strength, many muscles come into play to produce gripping force. Every muscle, big or tiny, from your elbow to your fingertips, contributes to your gripping strength. The biggest players are mainly the thumb, the fingers, the hand, the wrist and the forearm muscles.
In fact, there are a total of 35 muscles involved in movement of the forearm and hand. During gripping activities, the flexor mechanism in the hand and forearm provides strength to the hand while the extensors of the forearm stabilize the wrist.
It’s not uncommon to see athletes who neglect grip work having some form of muscle imbalance between the antagonistic muscle groups in the forearms (flexor and extensor). This makes them vulnerable to inflammation-related injuries such as tendinitis and lateral epicondylitis, otherwise known as tennis elbow.
Benefits of Having a Stronger Grip
Whether you want to improve your sports performance, boost strength training results, or get better at functional movements around the house, grip strength training can help:
1. Better Grip Means Stronger Lifts
There is a common saying that summarizes this point: “Take care of your grip, and the rest of the body will follow.”
Having a strong grip will improve your ability to handle heavier weights in the gym. This is especially true with the big compound lifts such as deadlifts, rows, and pull-ups. You will also produce better hand endurance on every exercise in your routine, and this will allow you to pump out more repetitions. This is essential because it ensures muscle failure, NOT grip failure. As a result, you’ll see better gains.
When trying to lift a heavy weight, if your body thinks that it will get injured, it will simply shut down your force production. Basically, it will produce the maximum and safest contraction possible to stay injury free. If your grip is the weak link in the chain, then it is inhibiting your whole upper body strength thus preventing any possible development. You must get rid of the weak link to continue to progress.
2. Injury Prevention
Strengthening the muscles involved in gripping activities will prevent many common injuries, whether you practice contact sports or simply do repetitive movements like any exercise in the gym. If you do get injured by accident, stronger muscles tend to recover much faster.
3. Bigger and Stronger Forearms
Grip training will can generate hypertrophy or muscle growth in your forearms. This is important to create a well-balanced look in your arms – Not just a focus on the biceps and triceps.
4. Increased Shoulder Stability
Studies show that an increased prevalence of rotator cuff weakness was present in subjects with hand injury or weakness. These same studies demonstrate that by increasing grip strength, there is a positive correlation with increased shoulder stability and strength.
Grip Strength Training - 3 Simple Steps to Follow
Before talking about grip strength training, we need to look at the structure of the hand. You clearly see that the main function of the grip is, of course, grasping. With this in mind, we can focus grip training on its main function: isometric contractions.
This being said, we never recommend wrist curls. It is simply too harsh for your wrists and anatomically speaking, it is very easy to get injured with improper form. Just follow these simple steps and you will see your grip strength go through the roof!
Step 1: Ditch Your Lifting Straps
The simplest and most effective way to train your grip is to actually let your grip do the work. When doing deadlifts, pull ups, and rows, don't use lifting straps to help you do the work.
Step 2: Use Thick Bars and Dumbbells
Thick bars and dumbbells can be traced back to the early events of strongmen training. They used thick handled apparatus (two-inch + diameter) on every lift because they were able to increase strength and explosiveness on their lifts with thick barbells.
Unfortunately, most gyms today only carry small one-inch bars and dumbbells simply because they are cheaper to buy. Fortunately for you, we have a full line of thick grips to convert any barbell, dumbbell and cable attachment into thick bars.
Thick bars have the ability to enhance your grip because of the level of effort required to hold the bar. Add them to all your exercises and you will get an intense workout for your thumbs, fingers, hands and forearms while doing your regular exercises.
Check out our article on the other benefits of thick bar training.
Step 3: Add Functional Grip Exercises to Your Training
If you want to increase grip strength, then you need to train it for what it's designed for: Holding heavy objects. Here's a list of functional grip exercises:
Top 5 Grip Strength Exercises
1. Thick Handle Dumbbell Holds / Hex Dumbbell Holds
- Stand straight and hold Hex Dumbbells by the extremity.
- If you can't access Hex dumbbells, use thick handled dumbbells in your hands.
- Aim for 45 to 60 seconds hold.
- We recommend doing these with the Alpha Grips 3.0.
2. Farmers Walk
- Take a pair of heavy dumbbells and walk as far as you can until your grip can no longer hold.
- We recommend using thick grips to increase the effectiveness of this exercise.
- You should aim for a walk of 45 to 60 seconds to effectively target the forearms.
3. Thick Bar Hangs
- Grab a pull up bar, get your feet off the floor and hold until your grip gives out.
- From workout to workout, try mixing your grip: palms facing you, neutral, mixed grips, etc.
- When you can easily hold for one minute, we recommend you to increase the bar diameter.
4. Plate Pinches
- Use weight plates and face them between each other so the flat area is on the outside.
- Pinch the plates together and hold.
- Try to hold for 1 minute.
- Increase weight as your strength goes up.
5. Towel Pull Ups
- This is an extremely hard exercise and requires you to have impressive grip strength to execute.
- Put a towel on a pull up bar so half of the towel is on each side.
- Then grab each side of the towel with your hands and try to do a pull up.
- Good luck with this one! We recommend trying these only if you can master the other exercises above.
Time to Get Strong with Grip Strength Training
Now that you know how important grip strength is to your upper body development, and how to train it, get yourself a pair of fat grips and incorporate these exercises in your training.
Choose two different exercises and train your grip every other day or when you feel fully recovered. Alternate between exercises every workout. Do these for six weeks in a row then take a week off.
Do You Perform Grip Strength Training?
If so, what benefits have you noticed? Are you able to lift more weight? Haven’t started grip strength training? What questions do you have about it?