This article is all about grip strength and how to gain serious, transferable, real-world strength. What you won’t find in here is wrist rolls, reverse barbell curls, or hand-gripper exercises. Additionally, I will assume that you are already are doing rows, pull ups, and not using lifting straps on deadlifts (while straps aren’t inherently bad, if grip is your focus, take them off and chalk up).
Instead, this article covers some of the top grip-specific strength exercises from across various fitness domains; powerlifting, strongman, weightlifting, and even bodyweight training. What’s even better is that these exercises not only get the grip stronger, they also can help you develop serious overall strength. Are you ready?
Why Is Grip Strength So Important?
As humans, we have had the pleasure to evolve with opposable thumbs, allowing us to grab, rip, and carry great loads. When looking at maximal strength and even power output, grip can play a critical role in neuromuscular activity and muscular contraction. When we grab an object forcefully, the nervous system receives a signal from the motor neurons in the hand, forearms, and up the body; reciprocating in greater voluntary muscle contractions.
Individuals who struggle with holding onto a barbell during deadlifts or snatches, pull-ups, or even grip-intensive training session can benefit immensely from some serious grip-specific training. With improvements in grip strength, lifters will be able to set up better, contract harder, and stay stronger throughout a lift.
The below list of exercises will not only improve your grip strength; the movements will better-relate to more sport specific movements. While these specific exercises will undoubtedly give you some serious grip strength, it is important to note the the forearm size may or may not grow, since they are not hypertrophy specific. For lifters looking to gain visual size for their forearms, feel free to hammer away at more traditional “wrist” exercises after you do these real-world lifts…
This exercise is as basic as it gets. Simply grab dumbbells, a barbell in each hand, farmer’s handles, or any object, and walk. The beauty of this exercise is that it not only strengthens grip, it also allows you to transfer that newly developed grip strength into practical movement. Whether you carry heavy weights for short distances or with moderate loads for time (see #8), this exercise reigns supreme.
Assuming you are looking to increase maximal grip strength (deadlifts) rather than grip endurance, this exercise will do the trick. I tend to suggest starting with double overhead reps first, until grip fails. Then, going mixed grip (be sure to switch up both ways to maintain balance and symmetry) can help to get some more volume in. Additionally, make sure to hold the weight at the top for a few seconds to increase the time spent holding onto a heavy object, as most PR deadlifts are in our hands for quite some time. If your goal is grip strength, don’t use straps.
One-Handed Hang from Bar
If you have mastered hanging from a bar with two hands (I would say for a least 1-2 minutes straight), try mixing in one-handed holds. Simply hanging from a barbell will increase strength and muscular endurance, both key for functional fitness athletes and strongmen. Shoot to accumulate 1-2 minutes per hand, transferring from one hand to another when grip starts to fail.
While coaching, many of our football players and wrestlers would perform these routinely to improve their sport-specific grip strength. Start by taking two plates and pinching them together in your fingertips, holding for time. When you are ready to progress, you can increase the load, increase the time spent holding the weight, or start doing a farmers walk while pinching plates.
Fat Bar Everything
If you have a fat bar, start doing some rows and deadlifts with it during accessory training. In the event you don’t have access to a fat bar, try out Fat Gripz. These little blue barbell/dumbbell accessories turn any movement into a grip intensive exercise. Sometimes the best way to increase real-world grip strength is to grab heavier and fatter objects. So the next time you are doing presses, single arm rows, or pulls, throw on a pair and get to work.
Stop Using Straps
As a weightlifter, weightlifting straps are common practice during training sessions. Personally, I try to refrain from using straps on light and moderate sets until my grip becomes a limiting factor. Only then will I throw them on. Additionally, performing clean and snatch pulls without straps (with hook grip or not) are amazing exercises for grip training. If you find your grip is limiting your performance in the formal weightlifting lifts, then throw them on. However, if you can handle the pulls without them, I personally feel your grip and performance will benefit greatly (specifically since you cannot use straps in competition).
Performing towel pull-ups, towel inverted rows, and towel curls are all part of my grip specific training. By using towels, you force the body to grip harder and contract in new ways. Have climbing ropes? Try doing rope pull-ups, sled drags with rope, or rope rows. Both can be extremely effective and simple means to improving grip strength and endurance.
Train Time Under Tension
Simply holding, carrying, or pulling objects for prolonged periods of time will increase strength and size of the forearm muscles. Time Under Tension (TUT) has been shown to increase muscle hypertrophy and strength capacities. While holding objects for time is not a specific movement, it can be applied to various lifts; such as deadlifts, barbell complexes, high rep rows, and farmers carries.
Climb A Rock Wall
Seriously. Go find a rock wall and climb it. Climbers has some of the most impressive grip strength and endurance in the world. If you aren’t about finding a climbing wall of scaling your apartment building, try doing pull-ups using different handles, grip widths, or even “rock climbing” pull-up attachments.
Poor grip strength and endurance can be a nuisance for any lifter. If you find you have issues holding onto bars and other objects, take some time to devote more training to these time-tested and widely practiced grip exercises. Don’t over complicate this issue. Just stay consistent, train heavier and longer (time under tension), and then start envisioning what holding a thunderbolt in your Zeus-like grip would feel like.
Editors note: This article is an op-ed. The views expressed herein are the authors and don’t necessarily reflect the views of BarBend. Claims, assertions, opinions, and quotes have been sourced exclusively by the author.
Featured Image: @mikejdewar on Instagram