Why grip strength is important even if you’re not a ‘Ninja Warrior’

You can bang out bicep curls in your sleep, knock out sets of chest presses like a pro. Yet your fingers feel as if they’re going to break off every time you attempt a pull-up or deadlift. What gives? You, my friend, lack grip strength.

If you’ve caught a few episodes of NBC’s “American Ninja Warrior,” you’re probably familiar with the concept. Getting through the obstacle course on the show, with all of the climbing and swinging from suspended rings, takes an incredible amount of grip strength — something commentators often mention.

A strong grip is critical for a range of sports, including gymnastics and wrestling, and everyday activities, such as opening a jar or carrying luggage, said Ethan Reeve, assistant athletic director of sports performance at Wake Forest University.

Your grip can also be an important indicator of your overall health. A study in the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research concluded that grip strength is a predictor of muscular endurance and overall strength. Other studies have found that a stronger grip correlates with a lower risk of heart attack and stroke. Researchers say the findings suggest a link between heart health and muscle strength.

“Having general health in your hands is important,” Reeve said. “Extension is just as important as flexion in the fingers, so you need to build the muscle on the top side of your hand and those on the other side.”

Exercising all parts of your hand will also help you avoid creating an imbalance between the muscles that help you open and close your hands. Overworking the muscles used to close your hands, for instance, could lead to tendinitis. Reeve said a good way to strengthen both sides of your mitts is to shove your hand into a bowl of rice or sand and extend and flex your fingers.

There are actually a few types of grip strength — crush, pinch and support — according to Scott Caulfield, head strength and conditioning coach at the National Strength and Conditioning Association. Each lends itself to the overall sturdiness of your grasp.

The crush grip is the strength between your fingers and your palm, what helps you shake hands or crumple up a piece of paper. The strength between your fingers and thumb is known as the pinch grip, used to grab a piece of paper, for instance. The ability to hold on to something, such as the handle of a shopping bag or luggage, for a long time, is called support grip.

Caulfield said there are a host of exercises that can improve your grip. Holding a dumbbell for as long as you can is one way to get comfortable training your hand, especially if you are not accustomed to weightlifting, he said. If you do know your way around the weights, Caulfield recommends a standard deadlift. You can start by simply picking up the barbell off the floor and putting it back down. Once you feel comfortable with your grip, start adding plates to the bar.

“Doing exercises like a deadlift will work your grip because it’s a total-body exercise, and your grip tends to give out first,” Caulfield said. “You can also train your fingers by letting a dumbbell roll down your hand and catching it at the tip of your fingers.”

Reeve and Caulfield recommended a few moves that you can do at your desk as well as some you should try at the gym.

Crush moves

Gripper squeeze: Grab a hand gripper, the nifty gizmo with the spring in the middle (your gym probably has one), and flex your fingers into your palms. Squeeze in and out for 20 seconds, and then rest for 10 seconds. Repeat this pattern for three rounds. You can also accomplish the same thing at your desk with a stress ball.

Newspaper roll: Place your hand on top of a sheet of newspaper, pulling the paper in with your fingertips until you roll the paper into a ball.

Pinch moves

Plate squeeze: Take two weighted plates, the ones you would add to a barbell, and hold them together in one hand, with your thumb on one side and your fingers on the other. Not strong enough for this yet? Try just holding one plate for as long as you can.

Plate orbit: Grab one five- or 10-pound plate, with your thumb on one side and your fingers on the other. Pass the plate around your body in one direction three times, then switch the direction. As you get stronger, add more plates so that you are passing around two or three in one hand, instead of one.

Support moves

Dead hang: Hang from a pull-up bar for as long as you can with your arms straight. Test out different positions to really work your hands, including keeping one hand clasped over the bar while the other hand grabs from under the bar.

Farmer’s carry: Grab a pair of dumbbells, the heavier the better. Place one in each hand and hold tight as you walk across the room.

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5 Benefits of Grip Strength Training | 3 Types of Grip & 17 Exercises using Steel Maces

December 03, 2018 4 Comments

When creating a workout program, people invest countless hours closely examining every facet of their leg, chest, shoulder and back routines. Every possible angle is covered to reach maximum gains… but what most individuals overlook is the benefits of grip strength.
That doesn’t make very much sense as grip strength is required when using over half of your muscles. Plus a stronger grip will actually boost your overall performance and increase your gains.
Grip training must include three elements – strength, mobility, and endurance.

5 Serious Benefits of Grip Strength

Ever wonder “why is grip strength training important?” Well, here are 5 reasons why you should be doing hand grip exercises.

#1: You’re Only as Strong as Your Grip

How many times has your grip slipped or fatigued, keeping you from doing another rep or getting your max weight up?
How many times has your grip given out before other muscles when working out? i.e. forearms and/or hands fatigue during trap exercises, deadlifts or even bicep curls?
You’re only as strong as your grip allows. Over half of the muscles in your body are fashioned to aid you in hanging and lifting stuff off of the ground.
Many powerful movements require carrying weight around. This involves holding onto and controlling that weight. Grip strength in check? Hope so!
Most of the time it’s your grip that exhausts first, therefore notably limiting the amount of work you can put on your pulling muscles.
Your grip also affects your pushing muscles. Your body keeps your overall muscles relatively balanced. Your pushing muscles can only become as relatively powerful as your pulling muscles. So, a stronger grip correlates to stronger pushing muscles too.
A powerful grip can even affect your core!
The most effective abdominal exercise, by far, is the hanging leg raise. Without a strong grip, this extremely effective exercise becomes nearly impossible to do properly.
Most people who can’t grip long enough to do a complete set of hanging leg raises will usually revert to easier abdominal exercises, like chair devices or crunches.
This is like a kid putting his training wheels back on after taking them off because he realized it’s much harder to ride without them!
Don’t avoid getting stronger!
A strong grip correlates to a strong body and improvement in overall performance.
Some athletes MUST emphasize grip training throughout their training programs due to the nature of their sport. They make it a staple of their training program.

Hand Grip Workout Benefits for Athletes/Sports
For example:
Grip training is extremely important for those who train Judo, BJJ, submission grappling or MMA; having a strong grip is a huge benefit to anyone doing a grappling art.
Strongmen can’t carry 1050 pounds up an inclined ramp 36 feet long, let alone pretty much every other challenge they face, without powerful grip training.
American Ninja Warrior has made obstacle course racing popular, and one of the most important aspects of getting through those courses is grip strength.
Combat warriors need grip strength and endurance to man their M16. (Not necessarily an athlete but this still applies).
Rock climbers can’t ascend a challenging route without impressive grip strength.
Envision a professional rock climber ascending a gorgeous, rigid mountain. She is constantly maneuvering her bodyweight while the sun beats down on her back as she makes her way to the summit. Her climb demands hours of hanging, pulling, climbing. She is literally putting her life in her own hands…or grip. After a grueling climb she makes it to the summit. She reaches her hands to the sky. She’s mastered that mountain. She owns it.
Increasing strength in your hands and forearms will advance upper body endurance, allow you to perform more reps, and reach new heights.

#2 Breaking records – PRs

This benefit is more of a compliment to the first.
Generally, weightlifters notice that when they have reached a plateau in their weight training, focusing on training the strength and endurance of their grip can actually boost their performance and break through their plateau.
Grip training has helped many weightlifters break personal records in lifts like deadlifts.

#3. Firm handshake

A strong handshake will leave a strong impression. It doesn’t take much to have a firm handshake but think about that time when a person shook your hand and it felt like Thor had a grasp on it. It was impressive… if not intimidating!

#4. Bigger, Stronger Forearms

Bicep, Tricep, Forearm, Gains, Girth.
Grip strength training will impact your forearm girth. That word seems so wrong but in this case it’s so right. Big forearms and strong hands are a sign of power. Again, it’s impressive.

Plus, stronger forearms will lead to stronger biceps, triceps, shoulders, back, chest and abs. And, stronger muscles leads to better muscle endurance, which leads to increased hypertrophy. That’s enough hand grip benefits to make me happy alone.

#5 This is a big one – Preventing Injuries.

Without grip strength training, sports, weightlifting or even mundane daily chores can conceivably result in either minor discomfort or more severe conditions such as tennis elbow and carpal tunnel syndrome.
Let’s dig into this more…
How and why a strong grip will prevent injuries.

It’s quite discernible actually – Stronger muscles and connective tissues help prevent injury. To get stronger muscle and connective tissues we must condition them properly.
If you don’t condition your grip and forearm muscles for mobility, strength and endurance, the results could wind up being hindering chronic repetitive motion injuries.
These injuries are common in workers and athletes alike – Don’t get it twisted.

Bone Density

Furthermore, grip training doesn’t just strengthen our muscles and connective tissues, it also increases bone density in wrists and elbow joints.

Stronger Bones + Stronger Muscles + Stronger Connective Tissues = Less Risk of Injury.
Brain signals in the gym
Your brain sends signals throughout your whole body to brace for shock when you grip a significant load in the gym. Essentially, it puts your body on alert to prevent injury.
You may have heard of Neural Inhibition.
Neural inhibition is what happens when your brain senses that you lack the strength to support a certain position. It’ll actually cause all the muscles involved to shut down to protect you from injury.
If you don’t want this to happen when taking your lifts to the next level, you need to build strength and stability in your hands and forearms.
Examples of how grip strength equates to injury in sports.
Without thorough grip and forearm conditioning, tennis players can develop tennis elbow (lateral epicondylitis), which is an irritation of the tissue connecting the forearm muscle to the elbow.
Cross-trainers, obstacle racers, and golfers can develop a similar problem if they don’t thoroughly train their grip and forearms. This problem is known as golfers elbow or climbers elbow. The medical term is medial epicondylitis, which basically means pain on the inside of the elbow and forearm. I bet you know someone with a bad elbow.
People who work certain full-time jobs can also get one or both of these same issues.
You can subject yourself to all the deep tissue work, injections, massage, and anti-inflammatory remedies known to man, but until you address the underlying issue of grip and forearm conditioning, these issues will persist.
Fitness training hero Charles Poliquin has backed this up…
… “these ailments are often caused by improper strength ratios between the elbow muscles and the forearm muscles. If the elbow flexors, like the biceps and brachialis, are too strong for the forearm flexors, uneven tension accumulates in the soft tissue and results in elbow pain”…
The strength of one’s grip plays a key role in injury prevention and overall strength development.

Grip Anatomy

Grip strength is determined by the strength of your fingers, forearm, thumb and wrist.
There are 35 muscles involved in movement of the forearm and hand, with many of these involved in gripping activities. During gripping activities, the muscles of the flexor mechanism in the hand and forearm create grip strength while the extensors of the forearm stabilize the wrist.
There are four major joints of the hand, Carpometacarpal, Intermetacarpal, Metacarpophalangeal, and interphalangeal joint, with 9 extrinsic muscles that cross the wrist and 10 intrinsic muscles with both of their attachments distal to the wrist.
That’s a lot of muscles you probably never considered, and of course, each of these muscles is active during gripping activities.
Too many muscles for mind-muscle control? AHA, think not. Just follow the 3 types of hand grip exercises below.

3 types of grip training exercises:

“The crush grip is what is most commonly thought of as “grip”. It involves a handshake-type grip, where the object being gripped rests firmly against the palm and all fingers. A strong crush grip is useful in bone-crushing handshakes or for breaking objects with pressure.
In a pinch grip, the fingers are on one side of an object, and the thumb is on the other. Typically, an object lifted in a pinch grip does not touch the palm. This is generally considered a weaker grip position. The pinch grip is used when grabbing something like a weight plate or lifting a sheet of plywood by the top edge. Care must be taken to avoid cramping the muscles in the hand.
A support grip typically involves holding something, such as the handle of a bucket, for a long time. This type of strength is epitomized by the “Farmer’s walk”, where the bucket is filled with sand or water, and carried over a long distance. A great deal of muscular endurance is necessary to have a good carrying grip.”
Remember, the type of grip training that you do should depend on its relevance to what you want to achieve.
Grip training best practice would include all three elements mentioned above. You want a well-rounded grip that’s ready for whatever comes your way. AGAIN, Think STRENGTH, MOBILITY & ENDURANCE.

Top 9 grip training exercises you can do at the gym.

Grip Strength vs Grip Endurance

It’s crucial to note that your grip training should include heavy, short and explosive grip movements to increase grip strength.
Training with different objects is great as well. It will give you the ability to easily grasp a variety of objects.
You should also do lightweight, long and slow movements, to build grip endurance and the ability to hold on to something for extended periods of time.

What’s the best fitness tool for grip training?

If you are looking for a good grip training tool, Set For Set’s Steel Mace is the perfect weapon for your grip training arsenal. They come in 5 sizes – 7LB, 10LB, 15LB, 20LB and 25LB, which allows for an extremely wide variety of movements, exercises and training purposes – benefits of steel mace training.

Steel Mace Grip Strength Workout

17 Mace Exercises For Iron Hard Wrists

If you have questions, comments or feedback about getting a better grip, or you have your own grip strengthening tips to add, please leave your thoughts below. We would love to hear from you!

4 Responses

Mary K

January 18, 2020

I came here looking for exercises to improve my tennis grip. Thanks for the range of exercises!


January 20, 2019

I need one to try out


February 17, 2019

Well, to say strength training exercises are only good for fat loss would be undermining its importance, It has multiple benefits for your heart, your balance, making your bones strong, plus making you look all svelte and sexy! Research has scores of good things to say about strength training! So, wouldn’t you love to add this research-backed fitness regime to your routine?

Carter O’Connor

August 29, 2019

Nice post! Ive been doing grip strength exercises for a while now and have seen significant improvement in my deadlifts. I never use to really care about my grip and would use wrist wraps if i felt my grip couldn’t outlast my primary muscles strenght. I’m coming to realize grip strength is definitely underrated

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Editor’s note: This is a guest post from Jedd Johnson.

In this day and age, we all know (or should know) how important it is to maintain a healthy level of physical fitness in order to live a good quality life, maintain our cardiovascular system, and keep our bodies strong in order to thrive into our later years. For many of us, this means getting into the gym in order to do resistance training — one of the best forms of exercise that is available to us. For those looking to get back into the gym in order to maximize your health, strength, and vigor, one thing to take into consideration that is often forgotten or completely ignored is grip strength. “Grip strength? What does that have to do with anything?” you might ask. It may not make sense to you right off the bat to take time to train the hands and lower arms while at the gym. I know when I first learned about it, it seemed like a complete waste of time to spend valuable training time on less than 5% of your body, but the truth of the matter is having a strong grip pays many dividends both in your training and elsewhere.

What is Grip Strength?

Grip strength is often thought of as simply hand strength, and while hand strength is definitely included, there are actually many other things to consider when thinking of grip. First off, grip involves everything from the musculature near the elbow down to the fingertips. It has to be thought of this way because many of the forearm and hand flexor muscles actually originate above the elbow, and anytime a muscle crosses a joint, it will in some way influence it. As we move downward, the gripping muscles pass through the forearms, the wrists, and into the hands, fingers, and thumbs — and not only through the front of the forearms, but also the back of forearms. This is important to remember. When we look at grip in this manner, we start to see that there are MANY movement patterns that are realized by the lower arm musculature. As we train the lower arms, we must then remember to train all of these movement patterns in order to maintain a suitable balance between the antagonistic muscle groups, such as the flexors and extensors. In fact, many cases of inflammation-related forearm pain such as tendonitis, tendonosis and epicondylitis can arise due to improper training of the forearm muscles or simply neglecting certain muscle groups or movement patterns.

Benefits of Having a Strong Grip

There are many reasons men should seek to have a strong grip. They range from social reasons, to training reasons, and beyond. Let’s highlight a few.

Stronger Grip = Stronger Handshake. Whether it is right or not, men are often judged by their level of strength and by how strong they seem. Nothing is a better example of this than the need for a strong, hearty handshake. When you shake hands with a man and he looks you in the eye and gives you a solid squeeze back, it makes him seem more confident, dependable, and trustworthy. However, if they hit you with the proverbial “dead fish” handshake, they lose credibility and may even seem slimy and weak.

Don’t let this be your handshake…
Stronger Grip = Bigger Lifts. When you have a strong grip, you are able to lift heavier weights in the gym. Especially in pulling movements such as deadlifts, rows, pull-ups, and chin-ups, a solid grip that you can call upon will help you increase your training results by increasing strength.

Stronger Grip = Better Endurance. When your hands and lower arms are strong, you can also perform more repetitions than someone whose weak hands are a liability. This means you will be able to perform more repetitions per set of an exercise, thus burning more calories, losing more fat, and building more muscle.

Stronger Grip = Better Later Life Quality. Research has now shown that grip strength has proven to be a reliable indicator for quality of life at an older age. For instance, in 1999 a study concluded the following:

“Among healthy 45- to 68-year-old men, hand grip strength was highly predictive of functional limitations and disability 25 years later. Good muscle strength in midlife may protect people from old age disability by providing a greater safety margin above the threshold of disability.”

Stronger Grip = Better Injury Resiliency. Muscles and connective tissues that are strengthened are more injury-resistant, and if injury does end up taking place, stronger tissue can usually recover faster so that you are back on top of your game. This is particularly important for athletes who play contact sports, especially when the hands play such a major role in success. For instance, while players of football and basketball are highly dependent on the strength of their legs and core, their performance is hindered substantially just by jamming a finger or developing pain in the wrist or forearm. And breaking or spraining the wrist will land an athlete on the bench to watch the game from the sidelines.

Now that we have established that there is a lot more involved in grip training than just using our hands, and now that we know just how beneficial it can be to have a strong grip, let’s take a look at some of the many defined movement patterns that exist with grip training.

Types of Grip Strength

There are many defined forms of gripping. Some involve primarily the hands while others involve action from the wrist and forearm as well. See below.

Hand Specific Movements

Crushing — Crushing is the action of closing the fingers against resistance. Similar in nature but often forgotten are clamping (wrapping the fingers around something and squeezing it toward the palm) and crimping (directing force with the fingers toward the callous line).

Pinching — Pinching involves grasping something with the thumbs in opposition to the fingers. This can be static (no movement, such as gripping a board) or dynamic (such as squeezing the handles of a clamp).

Supporting — Support grip entails lifting something with the fingers taking the brunt of a load — normally in an isometric fashion, like deadlifts, rows, and kettlebell work. It should be noted that true support grip entails the fingers wrapping well around the bar. If the handle is large enough that there is a space between the fingers and thumb, it is referred to as open hand support.

Extension — Hand extension is the opening of the fingers and thumb (antagonistic action to flexion of the fingers and thumb).

Wrist & Forearm Postures

Ulnar / Radial Deviation — Angling the wrist toward the inside or outside edges of the forearm. Shown above is ulnar deviation. Movement toward the thumb side would be radial deviation.

Flexion / Extension — Flexion is the bending of the wrist so that the palm moves toward the front of the forearm — shown above. Extension, then, is the antagonistic movement pattern and involves moving the wrist so that the back of the hand moves toward the back of the forearm.

Pronation / Supination — These are the terms given to forearm rotation. Pronation is the turning of the forearm so that the palm faces down (similar to prone, as in lying face-down), while supination is turning the forearm so that the palm faces upward.

Circumduction — This is a combination of all of the above movement patterns, where the hand moves in a circular fashion about the wrist. It can also be done holding something, such as with the shot device shown above, as a leverage move.

Elbow Movement Patterns

Flexion (with Pronation) – Bending the elbow so that the forearm nears the bicep with the palm facing downward (like a reverse bicep curl motion). Shown above, this is a very important movement for preventing and getting rid of inflammation injuries like tennis elbow.

Flexion (with Supination) – Bending the elbow so that the forearm nears the bicep with the palm facing upward (like a normal bicep curl motion, not shown).

Extension – Straightening the elbow, such as in the bench press. Any weakness or liability in the surrounding musculature can decrease your numbers on the bench and other movements.

Common Grip Training Exercises

Grippers (Crush Grip)
There are many types of grippers on the market. The objective is to squeeze them so that the handles touch together. Some companies have certifications for closing their grippers. Grippers are probably the most popular form of grip training. Everyone should have a set. If you can close the number 3 from IronMind, you are considered to have a great crushing grip, and you can get certified (women can now certify on the number 2).

Plate Pinching (Pinch Grip)
This is done by setting up two or more plates smooth-sides-out and then lifting them off the floor in a pinch grip. Common combinations include 4-tens, 2-25’s, and 7-fives. If you can pinch 5-tens, 2-35’s, or 8-fives, then you have an excellent grip. If you can pinch 6-tens, 2-45’s, or 3-25’s, then you are world class.

Block Weights (Pinch Grip)

These are really any block-shaped device, but most often are broken or cut-off heads of a dumbbell that are lifted off the ground in a Pinch Grip. The most popular goal in grip training is to lift the 50-lb Blob, a half 100-lb dumbbell produced by York Barbell.

Thick Bar Lifting (Open Hand Support)
As the handle of a dumbbell thickens it becomes much harder to lift. The most widely recognized feat of thick bar strength is the Thomas Inch Replica Dumbbell, weighing roughly 172 lbs and having a nearly 2.5-inch thick handle. All one unit with non-rotating globe heads, as soon as the bells leave the ground the entire unit starts to spin, peeling your grip open. This dumbbell is named after a challenge dumbbell used by the strongman performer Thomas Inch in the 19th century.

Ways to Increase Grip Strength

There are many ways to develop your grip strength, beyond just using the equipment shown in the section above. However, it should be noted that while the classic hand and forearm work done and taught in gyms usually includes wrist curls, these really do not have anywhere near as big of an impact as other exercises.

Drop the Straps. In order to start challenging your hand strength and to start building a grip that will enable you to crush other mens’ hands (when so inclined) as well as to produce the lower arm strength that will be a huge asset in other forms of strength and fitness training, sports, and manual labor, the first thing you should do is to drastically reduce the use of lifting straps and other gripping aids in the gym. Sure, when you reach the upper levels of your pulling strength in movements such as deadlifts and rows, by all means strap in so that you can get your repetition goal, but on the lighter sets, there really is no need to use straps.

Open Hand Training
As far as grip-specific exercises go, the easiest thing you can do is to choose implements that force you to lift with your hand in a more open position. One simple way to do this is to use Fat Gripz or Grip4orce handles when performing your pulling and curling movements. These go right onto the handles of the implements and require more of your hands during the movement because your fingers cannot wrap completely around the bar or dumbbell.

Two Hands Pinch

World record in the Two Hands Pinch, December 2009: 256.04 lbs

Place two plates together smooth-sides-out, such as a pair of 35’s or 45’s. Then, run a pipe through the center hole and add more weight to the pipe. Grip the set-up in an overhand grip and try to lift it to lockout. You can go for maximum weight lifted or just perform repetitions or holds for time. The implement shown above is the adjustable device used in grip strength contests. The Two Hands Pinch is one of the staple events.

Towel Training
Towels can be used for instant thick and dynamic gripping surfaces (make sure it is a strong towel that won’t rip). For instance, you can loop a towel over a bar and perform pull-ups (similar to the rope pull-ups below), attach one to a cable machine for pull-downs and rows, or around a kettlebell (shown above) for an even more dynamic and metabolic method of training the grip.

Plate Curls
Hook your thumb over the edge of a 25-lb plate and support it with your palm and straight fingers. Next, try to perform a curl with the plate, trying to keep your wrist and fingers from buckling under the pressure. This is one of the most basic grip training methods, yet one of the most difficult.

Inverted Dumbbell Lift

Stand a 30- to 40-lb dumbbell up on its head and try to lift it with one hand by the top in a claw grip. Use the number for a grip aid if you need to. Once you get it this way, try it without using the number. All dumbbells are different and vary in level of difficulty based on their shape, finish of paint, and more, but it is a very good training method.

Rope Training
Rope training is awesome for cardio and conditioning, but many do not realize how hard it hits the grip and forearms as well.

Grip Training Guidelines for Beginners

While everyone can benefit from including regular grip training in their workout routines, not everyone is at the same level of strength and some people may be more susceptible to injuries. Because of this, keep these tidbits in mind as you begin and progress.

Start out light: Begin by modifying some of your regular lifting so that it is more grip-intense and then from there add more work. For instance, you can use a towel as the handle on rows for a couple of weeks to get the hands used to working harder, then you can begin adding other implements and techniques into the training as well.

Move up slowly: For those just starting out with grip training, I like to suggest one or two grip-intensive lifts per session once per week for two weeks. After two weeks, move up to two workouts where you include grip-specific lifts. After a month, shoot for workouts where you train the grip with serious intentions up to 3 times a week. This is usually enough for just about everybody.

Watch the volume: When performing grip lifts separate from the rest of your routine, keep an eye on the volume. Think of training volume as the number of sets and reps in a workout. Most people progress very well with grip strength if they stay in the 3 to 5 sets of 3 to 5 repetitions range when performing lifts like the Two Hands Pinch. That is a total of roughly 9 to 25 total attempts in a workout. It’s not that much.

Jedd Johnson is a strength coach and competitive grip sport athlete. He holds the World Record in the Two Hands Pinch, a staple event in many grip strength contests and loves spreading the world about Grip Sport and the importance of strong hands for athletes. For hundreds of free articles on Grip Training, check out his website at, and for a free 8 weeks of Grip Training workouts, sign up here: Grip Program.

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8 Exercises for Incredible Grip Strength

(Originally published on the Spartan Blog.)

From endurance to strength to precision, most athletes’ performance will improve with an increase in grip strength. At one point or another, the majority of sports involve holding onto something at one point or another. In the sport of obstacle course racing, grip strength can be the deciding factor between winning or losing a race due to the failure of obstacles that require hanging from apparatuses or traversing difficult objects.

During a Spartan Race, your grip strength will be tested on obstacles such as the Multi-Rig, Rope Climb, Farmer’s Carry, Tyrolean Traverse and Monkey Bars. Regardless of your bodyweight, the muscles of the back, arms, hands, shoulders, and core all contribute to successfully being able to hold on to or squeeze things. That said, the important factor with these muscles aren’t their size — it’s their strength and endurance — and although sometimes bodybuilders may be able to muscle their way through rigs without any grip training, it’s best to prepare your body for high grip demands to avoid failing obstacles and prevent injury. Try these eight exercises to improve grip strength and never fail a Spartan obstacle again. Plus, these moves will boost your other gym lift numbers too.

1. Dumbbell Farmer’s Walk With Towel

How to Do It: This exercise requires two small towels (For example: 14 inches wide and 22 inches in length). Loop one towel around the handle of each dumbbell and hold onto the end of each towel while standing upright with shoulders back. Walk 25–50 yards around your gym floor or outdoors. You can also use weight plates for this exercise. If the plate has more than one opening, such as a top and middle hole, loop the towel through the top opening and hold onto it from there. A longer towel may be required to loop through the center hole of a 25, 35, or 45lb weight plate.

2. Dead Hang

How to Do It: Grip a pullup bar or any sturdy overhead structure with a pronated (overhand grip). Slightly elevate the scapula to engage your core and activate the back muscles. Hang from the bar as long as possible. Aim for 15 seconds, then 30, 45, and 60 seconds. Once you’re able to hang for 60 seconds, you can get creative and move your hands horizontally during the hang, traversing from side to side on the bar.

3. Fat Gripz Dumbbell Curl

How to Do It: You can use a Fat Gripz, Harbinger Big Grip or any branded rubber tool that adds thickness to a barbell or dumbbell or this exercise. These grip-enhancing tools can be used for a variety of strength training exercises but using the Fat Gripz on a dumbbell curl emphasizes the importance of biceps and forearms strength for Spartan Race.

Place one Fat Gripz over the handle of each dumbbell and hold each dumbbell using a supinated (palms facing forward) grip. Standing with feet shoulder-width apart and shoulders back, curl the dumbbells to chin height, keeping the wrists flat and palms up the entire time. Return hands to starting position. That’s one rep.

4. Barbell Shrug

How to Do It: You can shrug a straight barbell, a trap bar, dumbbells, or even a machine to increase grip strength but the barbell shrug is the exercise you should definitely incorporate into your strength and conditioning routine for better grip.

Hold a barbell using a pronated (overhand) grip at shoulder-width in front of your hips with arms straight. Stand holding the barbell with your shoulders back and head facing forward. This is the starting position. Keeping your arms straight, raise your traps and shoulders towards the ceiling, pause for 3 seconds, then return the weight to the starting position. When the weight gets heavy, you can use weightlifting straps such as Schiek Lifting Straps or Versa Gripps to avoid the bar from rolling out of your hands.

5. Deadlift

How to Do It: Check out how to do the deadlift HERE. To use the deadlift for grip training purposes, try not to use an alternated (right hand over with left hand under grip) AT ALL during your sets. If the weight is getting too heavy and you have to use a mixed grip, your goals have now become absolute strength and not grip strength. Also, you can deadlift in the 8–10 rep range when training the grip. On the final rep of each set (aim for 4–5 sets in any given workout), hold the bar at the top for as long as possible before lowering it to the start position.

6. Reverse Barbell Wrist Curl

How to Do it: This exercise is solely to increase muscular endurance of the forearms muscles which should transfer into the ability to perform the aforementioned Spartan obstacles. Hold a barbell with an overhand grip behind you, so it’s 2–3 inches away from your lower back. While keeping an upright posture, let the barbell roll onto your fingertips then while keeping arms straight (not bending them). Next, make a fist and contract the forearms to grip the bar again with a closed grip. That’s one rep. Do this exercise slowly and be sure to not use momentum by shrugging the shoulders or swinging the body forward. Do this close to a barbell rack so you can safely place the bar back when you’re done.

7. Resisted Hand Opening

How to Do It: Touch all of the fingertips together so thumb is touching the tip of the other four fingers. Place a rubber band around the DIP joint (the bendy part of your finger closest to the fingernail). Push fingers against the band until the hand is open, as if you were giving someone a high five. Bring fingers back together. That’s one rep.

Hand X Band is a great tool for this exercise as it allows you to insert each of your fingers into a rubber hole prior to opening your hand against the interconnected rubber holes. This exercise trains the forearm extensors and finger joints which are essential to opening and closing the hand, which when strengthened, allow you to actually grab things faster and with more force. So, it’s less about holding onto something and more about gripping it correctly in the first place.

8. Pinch Grip Plate Holds

How to Do It: This exercise trains the ability to hold onto something for extended period of time. Place a 10lb-plate (or heavier for more advanced athletes) flat on the ground. Keep a bench or box nearby. If the plate is able to stand on it’s own, have it stand up. Grab the plate with right hand using just your fingers, so without wrapping your thumb around the plate. This means the thumb is one on side of the plate and the other four fingers are on the other side. Stand straight up with the plate so it’s at your side. Pause for 5 seconds then place the plate on the bench/box. Repeat for 5–10 reps. To increase difficulty, pinch two plates, hold one plate for longer (30 seconds), or do a snatch with the weight and hold it above your head with arm extended.


Then get off your phone and exercise.

Increase Your Grip Strength With These 6 Forearm Workouts

You might focus the bulk of “arm day” on your triceps, biceps, and shoulders, but that really only encompasses about half of your actual arm. What about your forearms, hands and wrists — don’t you want those to ripple with lean muscle tissue as well? Working on your grip strength is going to help you substantially, especially if you want to make sure you’re not missing any muscle groups.

If you’ve thus far overlooked your hand, wrist, and forearm strength, it’s easy to work some simple lifts and exercises into your routine. A lot of the following exercises are a bit unorthodox, but if you get a few reps in, you’ll definitely feel your muscles at work. It can be hard to gauge your muscle strength in your hands and forearms, but if you want to have a Superman-esque crushing handshake, this is the place to start.

Here are six exercises and lifts that will help improve your grip and forearm strength.

1. Pinch plate holds/dumbbell holds

This is as simple of an exercise as you can find, and as you do it, you’ll easily see how it’s building your grip strength. As you’ll see in the short video tutorial above, you’ll be taking two plates and pinching them together. Let gravity do the work, and do your best to keep the pinch together. You can also do it with a hexagonal dumbbell by using your fingers and thumb to hold the dumbbell out in front of you. The goal is the same: Don’t drop it.

2. Finger curl

One of the most popular and easiest lifts — which should be a staple of your forearm workouts — is the finger curl. Again, you’ll see how to do it in the above video tutorial from Buff Dudes. Do the exercise in the seated position, with a barbell or two dumbbells. It’s similar to a curl in a way, except that you’re letting your fingers do the work. You’ll feel it after only a couple reps.

3. Rice bucket squeeze

Rice can be used for a wide range of things. | Bay Ismoyo/AFP/Getty Images

Strangely enough, a bucket of rice is a fantastic way to improve your grip strength and give your forearms a workout. All you need is a bucket of rice. Dig your hand into the rice, and squeeze. Imagine you’re crushing the rice grains in your fist. There are a few other ways you can work out your hand in the rice, so try it out and see what it does for your forearms and grip.

4. Seated dumbbell wrist curl/reverse

If you’ve tried out the finger curl, this is a step up from that. Again, check out the video tutorial from Livestrong to get the gist of it. You’ll start by holding dumbbells in each hand, with your arm resting on your leg. From there, just lift the weight using your wrist, utilizing your forearm muscles. Then, you can flip your grip and do them in reverse to get a full arm workout.

5. Towel pull-ups

Really want to put your grip strength to the test? Try doing some towel pull-ups. It’s like a regular pull-up, only you’re adding some towels into the mix. Throw a couple of towels (not your wife’s nice towels, you cro-mag) over a bar, and hold onto them to hoist yourself up. See how many you can do before losing your grip.

6. Climbing

Climbing a mountain will definitely test your grip strength. |

The ultimate test of forearm and grip strength is climbing. If you’ve never tried it, expect your arms to be absolutely shot by the time you finish. Climbing puts your entire body to the test, but in particular, forces you to use your grip and arms to find holds and hoist yourself up. Check out a local climbing gym, or try some easy hikes in the area to get started.

Follow Sam on Twitter @Sliceofginger

Previous research also suggests muscle strength, as measured by grip, is associated with long-term mortality risk, regardless of body mass index (BMI). Though more research is needed to determine why, one thing is certain: If you have a vice grip, chances are you’re used to moving weight around on a regular basis, and lifting weight contributes to health in many ways (like keeping your bones healthy and strong, for one).

Ready to test your grip strength? Try this straight-arm hang test that Nelson uses with clients.

Grip a pull-up bar with your palms facing away from your body. Hang from the bar with your arms fully extended, shoulders down and feet off the bench or floor. Hold for as long as you’re able. According to Nelson, if you can hold on for at least 30 seconds, your grip is in good shape. If you slide off before hitting that 30-second benchmark, it’s time to incorporate some grip exercises into your routine.

Thankfully, shoring up your grip strength doesn’t require separate workouts or a huge time commitment.

In fact, you can integrate grip work into your regular strength routines, like Nelson and Dellanave do with their clients.

If you do a lot of barbell work, you can easily challenge your grip by switching to an axle bar if your gym has one available. Also known as a “fat bar,” these are thicker versions of the traditional barbell, and are often used by strongman competitors. Or, you can thicken any barbell, dumbbell, kettlebell, or pull-up bar with some Fat Gripz (which are clip-on attachments that increase the diameter of any bar).

You’ll also want to add supportive grip exercises like the straight-arm hang to your repertoire. Essentially, these exercises help develop your ability to support your own bodyweight, which will help when you add external loads or hoist yourself to the top of the pull-up bar. Add two to three sets of the straight-arm hang to your strength routine at least once per week. Once you can hold the straight-arm hang for at least 30 seconds, progress to the scapular pull-up.

Scapular pull-up

  • Grip a pull-up bar with your palms facing away from your body.
  • Hang from the bar with your arms fully extended and feet off the bench or floor.
  • Brace your core and squeeze your shoulder blades (i.e. scapulae) toward each other to raise your body a few inches. Then, allow your shoulders to relax so your shoulder blades move away from each other.
  • Begin with two to three sets of five to eight reps and progress to sets of eight to 12 reps when you can.

To correct any weakness in thumb strength, you’ll want to incorporate exercises that overload your thumb compared to your other fingers. One of the best ways to do this is through pinch grip exercises, Dellanave says. Try the three exercises below.

One tip for pinch-grip exercises: Imagine you’re gripping a book in between your thumb and four fingers.

Pinch-grip deadlift

  • Take two weight plates of equal weight (say, two 25-pound plates) and pinch them together in one hand, holding them down by your side. Your thumb should be completely flat against the plates on the side closest to your body and your fingers completely flat against the opposite side.
  • Initiate the movement by pushing your butt back and hinging forward at the hips.
  • Keeping your back flat and chest open, lower the weight to the floor.
  • Then, stand up with the weight and squeeze your glutes at the top.
  • Do two to three sets of five to eight or eight to 12 reps. You can perform this move in place of another deadlift variation or lower-body exercise.

Pinch-grip carry

  • Grab two small weight plates (try five- or 10-pound plates) and pinch them together in one hand, holding them down by your side. Your thumb should be completely flat against the plates on the side closest to your body and your fingers completely flat against the opposite side.
  • Walk while pinching the plates down at your side, stopping when you feel you’re about to drop the weight.
  • Switch sides.
  • If you’re able to carry the plates more than 50 feet, find a heavier or thicker combination. Perform this drill during rest periods in between other exercises.

Pinch plate curl

  • Hold a small weight plate (try a five- or 10-pound plate) in one palm with your thumb wrapped over the edge and your fingers flat against the opposite side.
  • Extend your arm straight out in front of your body so your thumb faces toward the ceiling. Then, curl the plate up until your thumb faces toward your body.
  • Lower the plate back down with control, making sure to keep your wrist flexed the entire time.
  • Do three sets of eight to 10 reps per arm. You can perform this move in place of another curl variation or arm exercise.

One last note: If you’ve been working on your grip strength and find that you experience tingling, loss of sensation or profound weakness, note where the issue originates. If the weakness or tingling is on the pinky side, it could indicate an issue with the ulnar nerve. Meanwhile, if the weakness or tingling is on the thumb side, it may be related to the radial nerve. In either case, you should see a physical therapist for diagnosis and treatment if this happens, Nelson says.

You May Also Like: This Woman Is Incredibly Strong, Just Look at Those One-Arm Pull-Ups!

6 ways to get a better grip on your phone

When upgrading to a phone with a bigger screen, buyers often overlook one important consideration: A bigger screen is harder to navigate one-handed.

Indeed, back in the days of small screens, your thumb could probably reach all corners without much trouble. But today’s 5- and 6-inch models just don’t allow for thumb-powered operation — not without a little help.

Fortunately, help is at hand, so to speak. There are numerous products designed to give you a better grip on your phone, to hook your fingers so your thumb is free to roam farther. This improved grip also makes it less likely your phone is going to fly out of your hand and have an unfortunate encounter with the pavement. I’ve also found it helps with selfie positioning and stability: no more uncomfortable “claw-hook” gripping.

Look, ma, no thumbs!


There’s a trade-off or two, often in the form of reduced pocket-friendliness and increased dork-factor. But if you spend a big chunk of your day holding your phone, doesn’t it make sense to hold it smarter and safer?


The Lazy-Hands is a finger-loop gripper thingie you stick to the back of your phone. (It’s available for ereaders and tablets as well.) I’ll be blunt: It’s the dorkiest of the options here, in part because it requires sticking some Velcro to the back of your phone.

(Personally, I’d never do that, but I would stick it to the back of an inexpensive case.)

If you leave the loops on full time, you’ll sacrifice a little pocketability. If you remove them, now you’ve got an ugly black square of Velcro back there — and loose loops that could easily get lost.

All that being said, this makes for the single most comfortable finger-powered phone grip I’ve ever tried. And if you squish the loops together a little bit, they can double as a kickstand. Lazy-Hands comes in a variety of styles, with the 2-loop versions priced at $9.99 (converted to £7.50, AU$12.50) plus shipping.


The LoveHandle, shown here in all black, relies on a stretchy band to give you a secure grip.

Photo by Rick Broida/CNET

In between the Lazy-Hands and Ninja Loop (below) lies the LoveHandle, a small, self-adhesive plastic strip with a stretchy band attached. It’s available in a huge variety of colors and patterns and is priced at $9.95 (around £8, AU$12). That’s for the regular size, which can accommodate one or two fingers; there’s also a longer “XL” version that costs $13.95.

You can also create your own, complete with custom text and/or images along the band, for $14.95.

I like the LoveHandle because it’s less obtrusive than Lazy-Hands and doesn’t span nearly the full length of your phone like the Ninja Loop. The stretchy band gives you a secure grip, but I found it a little constricting after longer periods; my fingers got a little uncomfortable when I was reading a book, for example.

I suspect more users would be happier with the Ninja Loop, but if you don’t mind a slight bump on the back of your phone and do want a ton of color/style options, this is worth a look.

Ninja Loop


I’ve been a fan of the Ninja Loop for a long time, mostly because it solves my grip problems without adding any weight or bulk. Oh, yeah, and because it’s all of five bucks (£8, AU$14 with shipping).

Which makes sense, because the Loop is little more than a strong strip of fabric. It works like this: You stick one end of the strap to the inside of your case, then feed it out the camera hole, down the back side and back in through any available opening in the bottom. The other end affixes to the inside of the case, same as the first.

These two ends rely on strong adhesive to provide the necessary tension, yet I had no trouble peeling up one end to adjust the fit — and it left behind no residue. Then you just slip a couple fingers in between the strap and case and presto: a solid one-handed grip.

It comes in a variety of colors and styles, and you can even order custom designs. Yes, it’s almost ridiculously simple, but it’s also one of my favorite smartphone accessories.


You can order a custom PopSocket for just $15.

Photo by Rick Broida/CNET

A very popular “write-in” candidate from the earlier version of this roundup (see the comments section), the PopSocket is a flat, self-adhesive plastic disc that “pops” out to give you a two-fingered grip and a stand, the latter always a welcome perk.

Like the LoveHandle, it’s available in a wide assortment of colors and styles, and you can customize your own. (The photo at right shows one I had made up for my business.) Prices range from $10 to $15 (around £8-£12, AU$12-AU$19).

The PopSocket feels very flimsy, though, made of the cheapest, thinnest plastic I can imagine for something like this. I also have a feeling that constantly “popping” the gripper will eventually make the adhesive let go of your phone — though I haven’t done enough long-term testing to know for sure. But user ratings on Amazon average to around 4.2 stars, so it’s definitely a well-liked product. It’s just not my preferred choice.

Spigen Style Ring


The Loop requires a case. The Lazy-Hands sort of does as well, unless you’re OK with Velcro stuck to the back of your phone. No go? Prefer to keep your phone “naked”?

Try a Spigen Style Ring. This is one of those picture-is-worth-a-thousand-words products, so I’m not going to bother with a lengthy description. Just see the photo to instantly understand how it works. The bottom line is the Spigen gives you an easier, safer one-handed grip for your phone.

But, wait, there’s more. Unlike the Ninja Loop, the ring doubles as a kickstand — nice for those who like to read or watch videos hands-free. It also comes with a hook-mount so you can hang your phone on, say, your dashboard. (It comes with an adhesive hook-mount for that very purpose.)

The downside, of course, is that your phone won’t lie completely flat when you set it down.

The only real problem with the Ring is the price: $25 (converted to around £19, AU$32) when purchased directly from Spigen. But Amazon currently sells them for $15, a little more reasonable.


This is the Ungrip, which provides a soft fabric loop into which you insert a finger.

Photo by Rick Broida/CNET

Kind of a cross between the Spigen ring and the LoveHandle, the Ungrip consists of a small plastic plate that attaches to the back of your phone and a fabric loop attached to that plate. It’s not rigid like the ring and not as tight as the LoveHandle — and therefore a bit more comfortable than either of them.

The downside is that you finger doesn’t quite so easily work its way into the loop: It’s harder to “catch” by touch alone. What’s more, Ungrip adds a bigger bump to the back of your phone, but doesn’t afford the ring’s kickstand capabilities.

Ungrip comes in a variety of colors and patterns, and the loop is actually removable from the base, so you can change it out if you want a different look. Unfortunately, you can’t buy just replacement loops; it’s the whole kit or nothing.

As of this writing, the solid-color Ungrips sell for $10 each (around £8, AU$12). Patterns cost $12, and “specials” run $16.

The car question

One thing to keep in mind as you shop for a grip is how it will affect your car-mount situation. For example, I currently use a magnetic mount that requires a metal plate stuck to the back of my phone case. This precludes the use of just about every product here except the Ninja Loop, which is flat enough and thin enough that it doesn’t interfere with the magnet.

However, LoveHandle offers an optional mounting clip (though, annoyingly, provides absolutely no information about where or how it can be used), while PopSockets sells the similar PopClip, which would allow your phone to mount to a dashboard. And the Spigen ring, as noted, comes with something similar, so it’s car-friendly right out of the box.

You could probably rig up something — perhaps one of the various 3M Command hooks? — for the other products as well. Just keep in mind the design and depth of the grip and how it might affect any car mount you already own. A change might be necessary.

Have you found a one-handed grip option you like better than these? Name it in the comments!

Editors’ note: This article was originally published on December 26, 2016, and has since been updated.

Quick question: which of your muscles did you use the most over the past hour? The past day? The past week? If you’re like most people on the face of this planet, the answer is this: your fingers, hands, wrists and forearms.

Just think about it: not only does nearly every sport that exists, from swimming to wrestling to golf to tennis to football to basketball to baseball to climbing to obstacle course racing and beyond require extremely high activity levels of the thirty-five tiny gripping muscles in your forearms and hand…

…but most common activities of daily living also rely upon adequate strength and endurance in these muscles too, including typing, moving the trackpad or mouse on your computer, doing the dishes, carrying laundry, turning a doorknob, vacuuming, driving, and even sex (seriously, just try to get it on in the bedroom with your hands tied behind your back or your fingers clenched in fists the whole time).

So in this article, you’re going to learn more about why good grip is so important, the top techniques for not enhancing grip but also eliminating wrist and elbow pain, and some of the top grip strengthening secrets from my personal fitness coach Yancy Culp.


Why Good Grip Is So Important

If your grip and forearm muscles are not conditioned with mobility, strength and endurance, then the result winds up being the frustrating chronic repetitive motion injuries that plague both office workers and athletes alike. For example, without adequate grip and forearm strength, tennis players develop tennis elbow (lateral epicondylitis), which is debilitating and disabling pain on the outside of the elbow. Golfers, climbers, CrossFitters and obstacle racers who don’t have adequate grip and forearm training often develop the opposite issue, a problem known as golfers elbow, climbers elbow and medial epicondylitis, which is basically pain anywhere on the inside of the elbow and forearm. People who work on a computer often get one or both of these same issues. And you can undergo all the deep tissue work, injections, massage, and anti-inflammatory remedies on the face of the planet, but until you address the underlying issue of grip and forearm conditioning, these problems will continue to plague you.

It actually baffles me why many physical therapists, physicians and chiropractors don’t more often prescribe grip strengthening strategies for recovery from issues such as tennis elbow or golfer’s elbow or carpal tunnel syndrome. For me personally, the elbow pain that I’ve gotten from the combination of copious amounts of pull-ups and rope climbing combined with ungodly amounts of time spent typing away on my Macbook Pro has only really been remedied with the type of grip exercises you’re going to get later on this article, and not via remedies such as injections or topical ointments or curcumin or ginger or anything else that would normally work for injuries on other parts of my body.

Fitness training legend Charles Poliquin backs this up when he says…

… “these ailments are often caused by improper strength ratios between the elbow muscles and the forearm muscles. If the elbow flexors, like the biceps and brachialis, are too strong for the forearm flexors, uneven tension accumulates in the soft tissue and results in elbow pain”.

Yep, that means that all the bicep curls, preacher curls, barbell curls, tricep extensions, and any other “traditional” arm training exercise you may be doing could actually make your problem worse not better if you’re not training and mobilizing your grip at the same time.

Heck, issues with your grip can even radiate out to other areas of your body and cause even more injuries that you’d never guess would have had anything to do with your grip. For example, the health of your shoulder and rotator cuff has been correlated to the strength of your grip. One study found that grip strength has a significant correlation with the muscle strength of shoulder abduction and external rotation, and another study has revealed increased prevalence of rotator cuff weakness and injury on the same side of a hand injury or disorder.

But grip strength goes above and beyond just injury prevention. For example, it’s been proven in multiple studies that grip strength is a fantastic predictor of overall body strength. In his book Science of Sports Training, sport scientist Thomas Kurz recommends the measurement of handgrip strength using something called a grip dynamometer (you can get one for home use here) to reveal the strength and physical readiness of an athlete. For example, if grip strength is fallen below baseline or before where it was before the previous day’s work out, it can actually be an indicator of fatigue or lack of optimal recovery.

Back to the wisdom of Charles Poliquin, who also says that…

… “when your grip strength improves, less neural drive is needed for the forearm and hand muscles to perform other exercises. That is why many trainees report breaking training plateaus in a host of lifts, ranging from dead lifts to curls, after doing a grip specialization routine.”

In my Get-Fit Guy episode “How to Train like an American Ninja Warrior“, I talk about why grip strength is paramount in an obstacle-style event, especially for obstacles in “American Ninja Warrior” like the Arm Rings, Salmon Ladder, Devil Steps, and the Pipe Slider. In that episode, I mention that some of my favorite grip strengthening activities include doing pull-ups or assisted pull-ups with as many different grips as possible, wrapping a towel around a bar and hanging from the towel, walking while holding some kind of heavy rock or a bucket filled with water, pinching two weight plates together with one hand, and even bouldering at my local rock climbing facility.

But you don’t need to be training for a TV show to benefit from these type of movements. As you’ve just learned, you can be a writer with wrist pain or a golfer with elbow pain and these same exercises, when performed properly and combined with a few other tips you’ll get towards the end of this article, can banish your frustrating pain.

I detail many of these grip-strengthening strategies in my answer to a rock climber on the podcast episode “The Best Ways To Increase Grip Strength”. The reason I go out of my way to find so many different ways to train my grip is because there are so many tiny muscles in your fingers, your hands, your wrists and your forearms that the greater the variety of ways you can train your grip, the greater the likelihood that your grip isn’t going to fail when you need it the most. And the less the likelihood that you’re going to develop chronic repetitive motion injuries from things like typing, housework or other activities of daily living.

It’s also important to understand that (as I also detail in the podcast “The Best Ways To Increase Grip Strength”) some of your grip work should be heavy, short and explosive to build grip strength and the ability to grasp a variety of objects, while some of your grip work should be light, long and slow to build grip endurance and the ability to “hold on” for long periods of time.


Enter Yancy Culp

Last year, I hired a fitness coach to help me personally stay motivated, stay accountable, to reduce my own “decision-making fatigue” when it came to planning my own workouts, and to also get faster and more proficient in the sport of obstacle course racing. My coach’s name is Yancy Culp, and since hiring him, the grip strength and the mobility in my fingers, hands and wrists have absolutely exploded. So to give you even more insight on the nitty-gritty of how to increase your grip strength, I turned to Yancy to get his thoughts in to gain more insight into his techniques.

Here’s what Yancy had to say when I asked for his best grip training secrets:

“I grew up on a farm where I was required to work with my hands literally seven days a week, performing various tasks from hauling hay, to chopping wood, to building fences, to working livestock, to a variety of other farm duties. When I began competing in obstacle course racing (affectionately known as “OCR”), I quickly realized that these many years of working with my hands played a key role in my ability to complete the various upper body obstacles (note from Ben: Yancy was actually one of the few athletes during the entire racing year to be able to complete every single obstacle with zero failures).

The moment I left the farm, I stayed active in various sports such as such as powerlifting and weightlifting and football – sports that required me to continue using my grip, so I rolled right in to the world of obstacle course racing without every going through a period of time where I allowed my grip strength to significantly decline.

Once I began to hit obstacle course races, I realized that the same grip strength and grip endurance that helps you prevent nagging elbow and wrist injuries, helps you with activities of daily living and helps you maintain overall body strength can also help you with rope climbs, monkey bars, rigs containing numerous types of hand holds you must traverse such as balls, pipes, ropes and rings, herculean hoists, sandbag and bucket carries, Tarzan swings, sideways wall traverse, upside down rope traverse, cargo nets, walls, and a huge variety of other obstacles you might encounter in a Spartan race, a Tough Mudder, a BattleFrog or any other obstacle race.

But even if you didn’t grow up on a farm, or have never done much weightlifting or powerlifting, or you have never trained your grip strength and currently feel as if you have terrible grip strength (and, if you’re an OCR athlete, you struggle with every upper body obstacle on an obstacle race course), you can still develop epic grip strength faster than you’d think.

The Best Grip Strengthening Exercises

Let’s first start with some of the more common, traditional methods of developing grip strength, and then I’ll provide you with a few methods and activities and sports you may not have considered.

1) Do a farmer’s carry (also known as a farmer’s walk) using as many different type of weighted objects as possible, including sandbags, kettle bells, dumbbells, barbells, milk jugs, cinderblocks, tires and just about anything else you can get your hands on. What’s a farmer’s carry? You guessed it: just pick up the weights and start walking for as long as you can. When you get tired, set the weight down, shake out your hands for a few seconds (note from Ben: it takes approximately eight seconds for your hands to replenish their creatine levels and begin producing ATP energy again), then pick up the weights and start walking again. You can go up hills, down hills, upstairs, downstairs, around your backyard, stepping up and down off benches, you name it.

2) Do pull-ups using various grip positions from a front, overhand grip, to a neutral, sideways grip, to a reverse, underhanded grip. On the same type of objects that you do pull-ups from, you can also do static hanging using various grip positions. So, for example, you can do three pull-ups, and then do a static hang, which means you simply hang for as long as you can until your grip gives out. Do this over and over again as a set worked into one of your workouts. If you’d like, you can do things like cardio and core work in between your pull-ups and your hangs. And here’s a quick tip: the thicker the bar, the better training for your grip. If the bar is too thin, just wrap a towel around it and do your pull-ups or your hangs from the towel instead of the bar. Once you’ve conquered the pull-up, grab a weight and put it between your feet, put on a weighted vest, or wear a weighted belt and being to do resistance hangs and resistance pull-ups.

3) Pick heavy stuff up – specifically by using deadlifts and deadlift varieties. Using a variety of handgrips and a variety of bar shapes (again, the thicker the bar the better) and a variety of objects, simply practice picking a heavy weight up and off the ground over and over again. Shock your body by using low reps with high weight on some days, and high rep with low weight on other days. If you don’t have a barbell to do your deadlifts, you can do deadlifts with a sandbag, a couple of kettle bells, dumbbells, heavy rocks, logs, you name it.

4) Use handgrip strengthening devices. One of the best handgrip strengthening devices out there is made by a company called “Captains Of Crush”, and comes in a variety of levels from easy all the way up to several hundred pounds of resistance. The same company also has little elastic bands for your fingers called “Hand Expanders”. When you combine regular use of a handgrip strengthening device with these elastic bands for your fingers, it’s not only a perfect way to train grip, but also an extremely effective way to get rid of issues such as tennis elbow and golfer’s elbow (pain on the outside or pain on the inside of your elbow).

5) Hit the playground. On a playground, play around with as many different methods of traversing the monkey bars as possible: sideways, front-to-back, back-to-front, one arm on a bar at a time, both arms on a bar at a time, etc. Throw in other moves on the playground equipment if other equipment is around, like climbing up the swingset chains, shimmying up poles, hanging upside down and doing pull-ups from the jungle gym, and even bouldering back and forth on kid’s rock climbing walls. You can easily spend an entire workout at a playground, and throw in sprints, skips, bounds, hops, burpees and other moves in between your playground time.

In addition to the tips above, when working with Ben and my other clients, I also implement a few of my lesser-known grip-strengthening methods that allow you to have fun at the same time you’re getting a better grip, including Jiu Jitsu, Judo, other martial arts, wrestling, climbing trees, working with hand tools such as shovels, hoes, rakes (pretty much anything and everything associated with landscaping and gardening), cutting and chopping wood, swinging sledgehammers against giant tires, hauling hay, water skiing, wakeboarding and other water sports where you have to hold a ski rope. Other activities qualify too, such as playing a guitar for long periods of time, walking through airports carrying your luggage in your hands rather than rolling it on wheels or slinging it over your shoulders, and yes, even the extremely macho activity of kneading bread.

So as you can see, there are a huge variety of ways to train your grip. However, I’m often asked what my “bread-and-butter” grip training exercises are. So, in no particular order of importance, here are seven of my favorites.

7 Top Grip Strengthening Exercises

  1. Sandbell rows
  2. Sandbell snatch & throw
  3. Sledgehammer swings
  4. Tire flip
  5. Horizontal and vertical pull-ups and hang
  6. Farmer’s walk
  7. Hand grip strengthening device

In the video below, I demonstrate each of these exercises:

When I incorporate these strategies with Ben and my other clients, I work grip strength training into the training program a minimum of three times a week, sometimes as part of a bigger workout and sometimes on its own as part of a “mini-workout”. For an OCR athlete, or anyone else who wants a better grip fast, a huge key is to include as much variety in a single workout as possible, because in many cases you’ll have to deal with two, three, four or five grip strength obstacles within a very short distance out on course (in a Spartan race, a series of obstacles like this all lined up in a row tend to be called a “Burpee-maker”, due to the high rate of grip failure and the ensuing burpees you must do if you fail any of those obstacles).

Performing higher rep count sets that get you a forearm and grip burning feeling (which means lactic acid is building up in those muscles), then resting, and repeating while using many different types of devices as possible can go a long way in helping you out on a race course, and in building grip endurance.

A Sample Grip Strengthening Workout

Here’s what a very basic and easy-to-implement sample workout I’d program for Ben would look like:

-Run for two minutes at race pace

-Do sandbag farmer’s carry for thirty seconds

-Do ten pull-ups, then hang until forced to drop

-Continue repeating for ten rounds but drop pull-ups down to 9/8/7/6/5/4/3/2/1 for remaining nine sets.

The reasoning behind training like this is it’s easy for many to step up to a pull-up bar and knock out pull-ups when they are fresh, but hitting that bar with a high heart rate and after hammering the grip with the farmer’s walk is a whole different story. Completing workouts like this will start to build a lot of confidence as you approach obstacles out on a course, and even if you never plan on doing an obstacle course race, developing a strong grip will help you reduce risk of elbow and wrist injuries, increase overall body strength, and reduce your propensity for shoulder injury.

Oh, and one final thing: try not to wear gloves. Rather than relying on the tacky grip of a glove, it’s better to build up callouses and tough skin on your hands and fingers. Plus, if you are indeed an obstacle course racer and your gloves get wet or muddy, you’re going to find that you slide off obstacles quite quickly. In other words: ugly, beat-up hands with big old muscular sausage fingers make for a great grip.



A big thanks to coach Yancy Culp for these tips!

There are a couple extra quick take-aways I want to throw in before bringing this article to a close. In a recent podcast I recorded with an award-winning author about avoiding elbow and wrist pain by dictating rather than typing on a computer, I mention two other strategies – strategies that you should highly consider implementing if you type a lot, have wrist or elbow pain from any other activity, or if you’re doing plenty of the type of grip strengthening exercises you’ve just learned.

1) Get Yourself An “Arm Aid” Device. This is a device that looks like some kind of a medieval torture device but that actually works better than anything I have found for deep tissue work on your wrists, forearms and elbows. Here’s a video of me demonstrating what it looks like and how to use it.

2) Try The “Elbow Cure” Program. At first glance this website appears to be selling a cheesy, internet marketing slang-filled e-book, but it’s actually one of the most innovative programs I’ve ever used for eliminating my own elbow pain fast. It involves things like a hammer, rubber bands, big wooden sticks, and other easy-to-find tools for banishing elbow pain. It’s a very simple, easy-to-follow program.

Do you have questions, comments or feedback about getting a better grip, your own grip strengthening tips to add, or anything else? Leave your thoughts below and either Yancy or I will reply!

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Why It’s Important to Have Good Grip Strength

Frank Barthold/thelicensingproject

The strength of your body starts with your hands, so grip strength is not just important, it’s “tremendously important,” says Julien Pineau, a strength expert at Strongfit, an online resistance-training resource. “It affects most muscle groups you use and most exercises you do.”

Ultimately, if you strengthen your grip, you strengthen your entire body (and reap the benefits of lifting heavier weights). There are three basic grips: overhand, neutral (palms face each other), and underhand. You probably use the overhand grip (in fitness and life) way more than the others, says Pineau, “and that means you’re strengthening your forearms in only one direction.” Over time, that imbalance can set off a chain reaction, he explains, restricting your shoulders’ range of motion-which in turn prevents your lats from kicking in during exercise. “That adds up to you being weaker during pressing and pulling exercises that you’ll do in everything from lifting weights to yoga,” says Pineau.

We have good news, though. It’s easy to boost and balance your grip strength: Just switch up your grip on exercises. For example, if you’re rowing, do the first set overhand and the second neutral (these moves will also make a difference). “Also, once a week, do pinch-grip training by grabbing a weight plate or the end of a dumbbell between your thumb and fingers and walking around the gym with it as long as you can,” he says. These small tweaks will make a huge difference in your overall power, he promises.

  • By By Jaclyn Emerick

A strong or weak hand grip carries more than just social cues. It may also help measure an individual’s risk for having a heart attack or stroke, or dying from cardiovascular disease.

As part of the international Prospective Urban and Rural Epidemiological (PURE) study, researchers measured grip strength in nearly 140,000 adults in 17 countries and followed their health for an average of four years. A device called a dynamometer was used to assess grip strength.

Each 11-pound decrease in grip strength over the course of the study was linked to a 16% higher risk of dying from any cause, a 17% higher risk of dying from heart disease, a 9% higher risk of stroke, and a 7% higher risk of heart attack.

The connections between grip strength and death or cardiovascular disease remained strong even after the researchers adjusted for other things that can contribute to heart disease or death, such as age, smoking, exercise, and other factors. The findings were published online in The Lancet. Interestingly, grip strength was a better predictor of death or cardiovascular disease than blood pressure.

“Grip strength could be an easy and inexpensive test to assess an individual’s risk of death and cardiovascular disease,” said lead author Dr. Darryl Leong, from the Population Health Research Institute at Hamilton Health Sciences and McMaster University in Canada, in a news release.

Is grip strength a measure of biological age?

The findings from the PURE study aren’t new. Previous research has also linked grip strength with future disability, death, and the onset of cardiovascular disease in adults. But this is the largest study to have made the connection. The fact that grip strength was a relevant measure across high-income, middle-income, and low-income countries lends credence to the findings.

An individual’s age in years (chronological age) can be quite different from his or her biological age. Although there’s no exact definition for biological age, it generally indicates whether the body is functioning better or worse than its chronological age.

Many things influence biological age. Key factors include overall physical fitness, the presence or absence of certain medical conditions, and muscle strength.

The PURE study suggests that simply measuring one’s hand grip strength could be a good way to assess biological age. In an editorial accompanying the PURE results, Avan Aihie Sayer and Thomas Kirkwood of the University of Southampton and Newcastle University, both in the United Kingdom, suggest that “grip strength might act as a biomarker of ageing across the life course.”

One intriguing finding was that a weaker hand grip wasn’t associated with an increased risk of developing type 2 diabetes, cancer, or other chronic conditions. So why would it be linked with a greater risk of dying? The researchers suggest that weaker muscle strength makes it more likely that a person will die sooner if he or she develops a chronic medical problem, compared with those who have more muscle strength. In other words, muscle strength could be good for survival.

Strong muscles need work, nutrients, rest

To build muscle strength, do resistance training two or three times per week. Give your muscles one or two days off in between workouts.

Most people turn to dumbbells and weight machines to build muscles. Resistance bands work just as well. They are flat or tubular rubber bands that provide resistance as you move your arms and legs through different ranges of motion.

You don’t have to limit muscle building to workouts. Take advantage of daily activities to challenge your muscles. For example:

  • Lift a carton of milk a few times before you put it back in the refrigerator to build your arm muscles.
  • Take the stairs whenever possible. This will build the muscles in your legs, hips, buttocks, and abdomen.
  • Get active while talking on the phone or standing in line by doing leg lifts and heel raises. This will help strengthen the muscles in your legs and buttocks.

It’s also important to get enough sleep. Sleep is critical for muscle recovery and proper healing of stressed tissues. Aim for seven to eight hours per night. That will give your body time to repair muscle tissue and replenish your muscle’s energy stores.

Finally, your muscles need healthy nutrients to get stronger. You don’t need protein supplements or lots of meat. Beans, nuts, and fish can provide plenty of healthy protein. Get your carbs from whole grains and foods made from them. And eat five or more servings of fruits and vegetables a day.

How to get grip strength?

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