You need to train your grip. A strong grip will help you hold onto to heavy weights for exercises like dumbbell single-arm rows. More grip strength will also help you dominate your sport — be it Jiu-jitsu, rock climbing, CrossFit, powerlifting, or any sport really.
Below, we’ll go over the six best grip exercises to help you develop a strong and effective grip. We’ll also tell you what you need to know about working grip strength training into your current workout routine for optimal results.
The Best Grip Exercises
The farmer’s carry is a simple, effective grip-builder. You pick up something heavy and walk for time or distance. Not only does the farmer’s carry and its variations strengthen your grip, but they also improve your conditioning and mental toughness. Another benefit is that your shoulders will become stronger as you hold a dumbbell at either side of the body without letting them rest on your thighs.
Benefits of the Farmer’s Carry
- This move strengthens your grip in a way that carries over to everyday tasks, such as carrying groceries.
- The farmer’s carry taxes your core as you stabilize yourself in motion.
- Your shoulders will get strong as you carry heavy dumbbells.
How to Do the Farmer’s Carry
Choose dumbbells that weigh about 25% of your body weight in each hand. Grip them in each hand, and keep your shoulders down and chest up to maintain good posture. Walk slowly and carefully in a straight line for at least 40 yards. Do not rest the dumbbells on the sides of your legs.
The reduced range of motion for rack pulls allows you to use more weight than regular deadlifts, which is great if you’re looking to improve your grip strength and lockout strength for standard deadlifts. Start with a double overhand grip first and when your grip starts to fail, go with a mixed grip, making sure to switch sides to maintain balance and symmetry.
Benefits of the Rack Pull
- Deadlifting from a reduced range of motion allows you to use more weight. As a result, you’re able to challenge your grip even more compared to regular deadlifts.
- You’ll also improve your ability to lock out a deadlift.
How to Do the Rack Pull
Load a barbell with weight and place each end of the barbell on either deadlift blocks or a single 45-pound bumper plate. Set up as you would for your regular deadlift, ensure your chest is up and upper back is engaged. Pull up and squeeze your glutes at the end of the movement. Slowly lower the weight to the blocks (or plates) and repeat.
This exercise not only strengthens your grip in three different positions but helps you to achieve your first unassisted chin-up and improves your strength and performance with regular chin-ups. The isometric holds in each position will improve your core strength, as your abs fire to maintain stability in a mid-chin-up position.
Benefits of the 3-Way Chin-Up Hold
- You’ll build grip strength and more muscular forearms as you load the muscles with your own bodyweight.
- Your core will work harder to stabilize your body in a mid-chin-up position.
- This move has tremendous carry over to your standard chin-ups.
- If you can’t do a chin-up, this move can help you get your first rep.
How to Perform the 3-Way Chin-Up Hold
Either use a box to elevate yourself or jump up and grab the bar to get the top lockout hold position. Hold for 10 or more seconds and lower yourself until your arms are bent at 90 degrees. Hold for 10 or more seconds. Then lower to an elbow slightly flexed position and hold. That’s one rep. You can also reduce your time holding a position if you’re new. Five seconds is a good starting time.
Your fingers can be incredibly strong — strong enough for some people to climb mountains while supporting their entire weight with a few fingertips. While a lot of grip exercises use a crush grip, the plate pinch trains the pinch grip, getting the fingers and thumbs strong in tandem. This is a great exercise for football players and wrestlers to improve sport-specific grip strength.
Benefits of the Plate Pinch
- Improves your finger and thumb strength simultaneously.
- This move has direct carryover to sport-specific grip strength for football players, climbers, and wrestlers.
- When performed unilaterally, this move will allow a weaker side to catch up to the stronger side.
How to Do the Plate Pinch
There’s a couple of ways you can perform this exercise. You can pinch a single 25- or 45-pound bumper plate, since these are both thicker than standard iron plates, and hold for time. Or, you can squeeze two iron 10-pound plates, smooth side. Make sure you have your chest up shoulders down to maintain good posture. Time yourself to see how long you can hold the plates, and aim to improve your time.
Pull-ups on their own are a great grip-strengthener. After all, you’re supporting your own bodyweight with nothing but your hands. That said, when regular pull-ups become easier, gripping a towel is an easy (and cheap) way to make the more far more challenging — specifically on your grip. This version focuses on the forearms because of the neutral grip and the difficulty of pulling yourself up and lowering yourself from a towel.
Benefits of the Towel Pull-Up
- Trains your gripping strength like with most pulling movements and builds crushing grip as you squeeze a towel.
- All you need is a towel to do this variation, so it’s cheap and accessible.
How to Do the Towel Pull-Up
Drape two towels over the top of a pull-up bar and set them shoulder-width apart. Grip one towel with either hand and then allow yourself to hang fully. From there, perform normal pull-ups. These are harder, so don’t expect to perform your normal amount of pull-up reps.
Flip a kettlebell upside down, so the heavy portion sits above the handle and the horn sits on the meat of your palm. This forces you to recruit additional muscle fibers in your shoulders and forearms to control the unstable load. When you add a press, the instability slows your lift down, improving time under tension, and overhead pressing technique.
Benefits of the Bottoms-Up Kettlebell Press
- You don’t need as heavy of a load to get a training effect because of the additional muscular tension needed to support the kettlebell.
- Strengthens your fingers, wrists, and forearms
How to Do the Bottoms-Up Kettlebell Press
Choose a kettlebell in the 15- to 25-pound range to start. Clean it up so that arm is bent at 90 degrees, and the horn of the kettlebell is sitting in the meat of your palm. Take a moment to steady the weight, and then slowly press it overhead. Hold the top position for a beat and then slowly lower it back down with control.
Why Grip Strength is Important
As humans, we have had the pleasure to evolve with opposable thumbs, allowing us to grab, rip, and carry great loads. When looking for maximal strength and even power output, your 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 sessions can benefit immensely from some grip-specific training. With improvements in grip strength, lifters will set up better, contract harder, and stay stronger throughout a lift.
We’ve established grip strength is important for performance in and out of the gym, but it turns out that it’s a measure of health, too.
The Lancet published a study in 2015 that covered the health outcomes of nearly 140,000 people across 17 countries who were tracked over four years via various measures — including grip strength. Grip strength was not only “inversely associated with all-cause mortality” — every five-kilogram (kg) decrement in grip strength was associated with a 17 percent risk increase. (1)
How to Train Your Grip
The muscles responsible for your grip are just that — muscles. Like you’d train your arms (or any other muscle), your grip muscles will respond to being overloaded over time. Your gripping muscles are small compared to other muscles in your body, so they don’t need a dedicated day of training. You can tack on two moves from the list above onto two days of training. Aim to perform four sets per grip session so that you accumulate eight total sets. This is a good starting point for most folks.
Here are two ways you can progress your grip training workout to workout.
Increase Your Reps, Distance, or Time
If you’re performing pull-ups, a plate pinch, or farmer carries, an easy way to improve each workout is to increase your reps, time, or distance. Your body only knows that stress is being applied and that it needs to recover and adapt to the stress you’re inflicting on it. Even if you increase your number of pull-ups by one rep, your plate pinch by three seconds, or your farmer’s carry by two yards — that’s more stress for your body to adapt to.
Record your best rep/time/distance, and then strive to do more, only by a little, each workout.
Add More Weight
The same is true for how much you lift. If you can’t or don’t want to carry dumbbells further for farmer’s carries, then you can increase the load. Say you’re performing three sets of 40-yard carries with 50-pound dumbbells. Next week, perform two sets of 40-yard carries with 50 pounds and your last set with 55 pounds. The week after that, do two sets of carries with 55 pounds and one with 50 pounds. After you’ve completed all three 40-yard carries with 55 pounds, repeat the process with 60 pounds. And so on.
More Grip Strength Training Tips
Now that you’ve learned the basics of grip strength and the best grip exercises, further your grip-training knowledge even more by reading these articles.
- 6 Foolproof Ways to Improve Your Grip Strength Today
- 15 Kettlebell Moves to Improve Your Grip Strength and Stability
- 4 Barbell Complexes to Improve Grip Strength and Lifting Stamina
- Leong, D.P., et al. Prognostic value of grip strength: findings from the Prospective Urban Rural Epidemiology (PURE) study. The Lancet 386, 266-273 (2015)
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