Whether you’re a powerlifter, weightlifter, CrossFitter, strongman athlete, or just trying to open a jar of pickles, you’ll never progress if you can’t hold onto the bar (or kettlebell, or log, or that damn jar). Though grip strength can be improved by regularly lifting heavier weights or adding more reps, it takes a long time to develop and train the muscles, ligaments, and tendons in our hands. There are 35 muscles in the forearms and hands that are involved in grip, and a the same sets of pull-ups every week isn’t going to work them all. A little accessory work can go a long way when it comes to grip strength, and who better to analyze for grip strength than rock climbers?
Rock climbers pretty much live at the top of the grip-strength food chain. They literally hang from the tips of their fingers and regularly work on their grip in order to traverse mountains and avoid falling to their death. While climbers work for years to become super grip ninjas, strength athletes who normally only grip a bar will benefit greatly from incorporating even just a few reps of these exercises into their regular routine. After all, one man’s boulder is another man’s kettlebell.
One Arm Hang
To ease yourself into some of the more complicated exercises, just start with hanging from one arm. The trick with one armed static hangs is to hang until failure, not just to hang on until it gets uncomfortable. Working to failure increased endurance and mental strength, and will quickly improve forearm and grip strength. According to Indoor Climbing, “When your muscles fail, you literally peel off the bar through lack of ability to hold a second longer without giving up. You must give it your most intense effort to hang on. Once you “peel” off the bar, shake out for 5 minutes. Then get back on and do it 3 more times.”
Regular ‘ol pull ups are great for strength, but they don’t always translate to real-life climbing scenarios. Nature doesn’t create rocks that are perfectly level, so climbers get stronger with accessory work that forces their arms and grip to get comfortable working at various distances. If you don’t have a dowell ladder (or a roof beam) to work on these climbing pull-ups, you can also drape a towel or band over a pull up bar and work on an uneven grip pull up.
Static Finger Hold
If you’ve ever peeled off a pair of rings during a muscle up or had a heavy deadlift slip out of your hands, you know how frustrating it is when your fingers just can’t hang on. Often, we spend so much time trying to properly grip with our palms that we forget about how much work our fingers are doing to keep us lifting heavy and swinging like a monkey. Give your digits their own workout with some static finger holds. Using a pull up bar, hook just your fingers around the bar and hold on for as long as you can…even if it’s just a few seconds. Try holding on with different combinations of fingers. You’ll be shocked at how hard this is.
Finger Pull Ups
Once you’ve gotten comfortable with the static finger hold, level up and work on some finger pull-ups. Like the static holds, play around with your grip. Try using two or three fingers instead of all four, or even try a few sets on the rings. Just make sure you’re not kipping the pull up, otherwise you could risk a finger injury. This is a time for slow, controlled reps — even if that means you’re only completing one or two reps.
Featured Image: @sarasjoberg