You need to train your grip. If you can’t hold onto your barbell in the first place, how can you expect to make gains in the gym long-term? A strong grip will help you pull better on rows, cycle faster in a CrossFit WOD, or roll better on the mats.
Although training your grip seems simple at a glance, there’s more to it — and more ways to progress — than you might think.
Below, we’ll go over the 10 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.
Best Grip Exercises
- Farmer’s Carry
- Rack Pull
- 3-Way Chin-Up Hold
- Plate Pinch
- Towel Pull-Up
- Bottoms-Up Kettlebell Press
- Reverse Curl
- Deadlift with Pause
- Dead Hang
- Wrist Curl
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.
Benefits of the Farmer’s Carry
- Strengthens your grip in a way that carries over to everyday tasks, such as bringing in the groceries.
- Taxes your core as you stabilize yourself in motion.
How to Do the Farmer’s Carry
Grab a pair of dumbbells in each hand. With your shoulders down, chest up, and spine neutral, walk slowly and carefully along a straight line for time or distance.
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. You can utilize a variety of grip and stance widths to customize the rack pull to your body and training needs.
Benefits of the Rack Pull
- Overloading your body with a reduced range of motion challenges your entire posterior chain.
- Improves your ability to lock out your deadlifts.
How to Do the Rack Pull
Set a heavily-loaded barbell on deadlift blocks or the pins of a squat rack. Take your standard deadlift setup, with your chest high and upper back engaged. Lift the bar off the pins to a standing position. Squeeze your glutes and pause at the top for a moment for some extra-credit grip work.
3-Way Chin-Up Hold
Holds are an excellent way to double-dip your training stimulus and improve grip strength while also boosting your capability to perform chin-ups or pull-ups. The isometric element throughout each repetition will also improve your core strength as your abs contract to keep your torso rigid and locked.
Benefits of the 3-Way Chin-Up Hold
- Builds grip strength and more muscular forearms as you load your muscles with your entire body weight.
- Provides a great isometric core workout.
- If you can’t do a chin-up, this move can help you get your first clean rep.
How to Do the 3-Way Chin-Up Hold
Stand on a plyo box or bench and jump up to the top of a chin-up position. Hold yourself up with the bar at your chin for five to 10 seconds and then lower slowly until your arms are bent at a 90-degree angle. Hold again, and then lower until your arms are nearly straight. Hold in that position, and then relax. That’s one rep.
Your fingers themselves can be incredibly strong — professional climbers scale mountains while supporting themselves on just the tips of their fingers. While many exercises train the ability to crush something, the plate pinch is great for practicing the pinch grip, which also has benefits to field sports and wrestling.
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
Stand tall and place a weight plate in your hand, with your fingers somewhat straight on one side and your thumb compressed on the other. Press against the plate as if you were trying to touch the tip of your thumb to the tips of your fingers. Holding a heavier or thicker plate is an easy way to scale up the difficulty.
Pull-ups on their own are a great grip-strengthener. After all, you’re supporting your own body weight with nothing but your hands. That said, when regular pull-ups become too easy, gripping a towel instead of a bar is a great way to make them far more challenging — specifically on your grip.
Benefits of the Towel Pull-Up
- Provides a unique grip to work with while performing standard pull-ups.
- 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.
Bottoms-Up Kettlebell Press
By turning a standard kettlebell upside down, it becomes far harder to control and stabilize. Since the only thing keeping the bell in place is how hard you can squeeze the handle, bottoms-up movements are a unique way to refine your grip strength.
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
Place a kettlebell bottoms-up such that the horn is sitting in the meat of your palm. With your arm raised in front and elbow bent at a 90-degree angle, slowly press the weight overhead. Hold at the top position for a beat and slowly lower it back down.
Similar to the bicep curl, the reverse curl requires the same curling motion but with your wrists facing downward. You’ll find it’s more difficult to use heavier weights with this exercise because there is more load on your wrists. The wrists and forearms both contribute to grip strength, and the reverse curl works both especially well.
Benefits of the Reverse Curl
- The reverse curl activates your bicep which is responsible for elbow flexion. Strong biceps contribute to a strong upper body and as studies suggest, are essential for shoulder stability. (1)
- Since your hands are in a more vulnerable position, the reverse curl is great for building grip strength. Your wrists, fingers, and forearms must work harder to not only pull the weight but also hold onto it.
How to Do The Reverse Curl
Grab a dumbbell or a barbell with a lighter weight than what you might normally bicep curl. Keep your elbows tight to your body and imagine they are glued to your sides. Using your biceps, curl the weight up towards your shoulders, stopping before your elbows start to leave your sides. Extend your arms back to the starting position.
Deadlift with Hold
You may be used to powering through your deadlift reps, but there are benefits to holding onto the weight a little bit longer. By adding a pause at the top of the rep, you can squeeze in some bonus grip strengthening as well.
Benefits of the Deadlift with Hold at Top
- Adds some time under tension to the deadlift for extra hypertrophy and strength stimulus.
- Activates the glutes, hamstrings, back, hips, and core simultaneously.
How to Do the Deadlift with Hold at Top
Set up for your standard deadlift. Push through the floor with a rigid back and tight core up to a standing position. Instead of immediately returning to the floor, hold for five to 15 seconds at the top. Let your shoulders hang down and squeeze the bar hard the whole time.
Hanging from the pull-up bar might seem simple enough, but the dead hang is harder than it looks. It takes more than just holding on; it requires strength, endurance, and determination.
Benefits of the Dead Hang
- This isometric exercise works the muscles in fingers, forearms, and wrists, making them stronger and increasing your grip strength.
- The shoulders are challenged in the dead hang as they help to hold up and stabilize your body weight. Therefore, performing the dead hang can improve shoulder strength, stability, and mobility.
- If you’re working on your pull-up game, the dead hang can help improve strength and endurance in your shoulders, lats, and biceps.
How to Do the Dead Hang
Grip a pull-up bar with an overhand grip and your hands slightly wider than shoulder-width apart. Hang from the bar with active shoulders, meaning your lats are engaged and your shoulders are pulled down and away from your ears. Maintain a tight core as you hold this position for as long as possible.
The smaller muscles in the wrist contribute to your ability to hold onto heavy weights, but are not often exercised directly. Studies suggest that isolation exercises like the wrist curl contribute to muscle growth and to the health of the joint. (2) Although this exercise may not be popular, it’s definitely worth doing.
Benefits of the Wrist Curl
- Stronger forearms developed through wrist curls help support more time under tension in every single upper body movement.
- Provides some targeted hypertrophic stimulation for the forearms themselves.
How to Do the Wrist Curl
Sit on a stable surface like a bench and lean forward. Grab a barbell or a pair of light dumbbells in each hand with an underhand grip. Rest your forearms on your thighs such that your palms are facing the ceiling and your hand is “hanging” off your knee. Let your wrist bend backwards with the weight in the fingertips and curl it up to a neutral position.
The musculature of the hand and forearm is comprised of many tiny, delicate tissues that perform extremely discrete functions. There are close to ten individual muscles responsible for closing the fingers and many more control the rotation and flexion of the wrist.
You may be able to bias certain areas of the forearm through exercise selection, such as beefing up the brachioradialis — the superficial muscle that inserts near the elbow — via reverse curls, but there isn’t much in the way of targeted training for the individual muscles of the hand.
Why Grip Strength is Important
Your hands allow you 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 you grab an object forcefully, the nervous system receives a signal from the motor neurons in the hand and forearms, resulting in greater voluntary muscle contractions.
Individuals who struggle with holding onto a barbell during snatches, pull-ups, or even grip-intensive training sessions can benefit immensely from some grip-specific training. With improvements in grip strength, you can set up better, contract harder, and stay stronger throughout a lift.
Benefits of Grip Strength
Beyond a memorable handshake, grip strength has several benefits that contribute to performance in the gym and everyday life. A strong grip can be a predictor of upper body strength and even cardiovascular health. Below are just a few benefits of a strong grip and why it’s important.
Improved Cardiovascular Health
It’s no surprise that regular exercise can help improve your cardiovascular health, which may lower your risk of heart disease. Research suggests that those with a greater grip strength have a lower risk of death if cardiovascular disease develops.
Grip strength is associated with muscle strength, therefore those with greater muscle strength may have lower mortality rates. (3)
If you want to lift heavier weights, you have to be able to hold heavier loads. The heavier you lift with proper form, the more ability you have to grow and strengthen your muscles. Muscles dictate your metabolism, and the more muscle you have, the more calories you can burn at rest.
So who wouldn’t want to lift heavier? Studies suggest that the greater your grip strength, the less force is required to move a barbell or dumbbell. (4)
Better Quality of Life
Muscle strength and bone density is especially important as we age because they can prevent injuries and can even help with daily tasks like opening a jar or putting on your shoes. As studies suggest, greater grip strength has a positive correlation with cognition, mobility, function, and lower mortality risk, specifically to those 60 and older. (5)
The more you take care of your body now by resistance training, the greater quality of life you may create for yourself long term.
How to Train Your Grip
The muscles responsible for your grip are just that — muscles. Like you’d train your arms, your grip muscles will respond to being overloaded over time. The structures of the forearm and hand are small, so they don’t always need a dedicated day of training.
You can tack on one to three moves from the list above onto a regular workout. Aim to perform up to eight total sets per week. This is a good starting point for most athletes.
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
If you don’t want to perform more and more reps to make gains, it’s always a safe bet to jack up the intensity. Increasing intensity — the weight or resistance you use — is the most straightforward means of progression.
Instead of increasing the distance you walk on your farmer’s carry, grab a heavier set of dumbbells. If you don’t have access to heavier weights, you can even switch up the implement — a trap bar makes for a new way to perform the same movement, and you can really pile on the weight to boot.
More Grip 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. You’ll be squeezing the most out of your workouts in no time.
- 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
- Rodosky, MW, Harner CD, Fu, FH. The Role of the Long Head of the Biceps Muscle and Superior Glenoid Labrum in Anterior Stability of the Shoulder. Am J Sports Med. 1994; 22(1).
- Gentil, Paulo, Soares, Saulo, Bottaro, Martim. Single vs. Multi-Joint Resistance Exercises: Effects on Muscle Strength and Hypertrophy. Asian J Sports Med. 2015; 6(2)
- Mearns, Bryon M. Hand Grip Strength Predicts Cardiovascular Risk. Nature Reviews Cardiology. 2015. 12.
- Ambike, Satyakit, Paclet, Florent, & Latash, Mark L. Factors Affecting Grip Force: Anatomy, Mechanics, and Referent Configurations. 2014; 232(4).
- Rijk, Joke M., Roos, Paul Rkm., & Deckx, Laura. Prognostic Value of Handgrip Strength in People Aged 60 Years and Older: A Systematic Review and Meta-analysis. National Library of Medicine. 2016; 16(1).
Feature Image: BLACKDAY/Shutterstock