Grip training is always an interesting topic in strength sports. For starters, it’s a limiting factor in lifts and sports, which mean you’ll always capped to what your grip can handle, even if something like your back is strong enough to handle the load. Additionally, it’s a training concept that can be approached from multiple angles with different styles of training: Specialization, total volume, etc.
On the never ending conquest to learn the best grip-training practices from all over the world, I recently got the opportunity to interview Mark Haydock. Currently, Haydock holds the Dinnie Stones World Record for time with a very strong 38.61 seconds. In July, Haydock completed this epic feat, which made him one of only six athletes in strength sports history to ever hold the stones for longer than 30-seconds, and that includes professional strongman athletes.
The stones have a cumulative weight of 332.5kg/733 lbs with each stone weighing 144.5kg/318 lbs and 188kg/414 lbs respectively. Needless to say, Haydock knows what it’s like to hold heavy weight. To learn more about Haydock’s natural grip strength and his training practices, read on!
On Natural Grip Strength
BarBend: Have you always had a naturally strong grip? At what point did you realize that your grip was slightly above your peers (whether it be through training, sports, etc)?
Haydock: To be fair my grip has always been at a good level. When I started powerlifting, I never gave grip a thought whilst deadlifting, it was always part of the lift which wasn’t a problem. I remember back as far as primary school, being 7, 8, and 9 years old and being unbeatable at “peanuts” or “mercy”, games where you interlock hands with your opponent and wrestle to invert their hands and make them submit!
BarBend: Stemming from that point, do you train grip often now, or has it changed over the years?
Haydock: I still don’t class myself as a grip specialist, although, nowadays I do implement a grip exercise in most training sessions. I often run them as a second lift in a superset style, i.e. back squats followed by Napalm Nightmare, or Strict press followed by 2″ bar bent over rows.
[Leight Holland-Keen becomes the second woman ever to lift the Dinnie Stones!]
On Training Grip Specifically
BarBend: If someone wants to improve their grip over everything else, how often would you recommend doing so, and do you have any tips for a beginner + intermediate strength athletes just starting extra grip work?
Haydock: If grip is a main focus, then ideally you need to give it the best attention and train it fresh as a main part of your training routine. I would think 3 days per week is a good start and would aim for a thick bar barbell exercise such as deadlift, rows, or cleans, then a thick bar rolling handle, and a pinch block exercise. Then, a good finisher could be sets of reps with grippers, I say more reps rather than max effort singles because reps would give a beginner good volume work for their hands.
A big tip I would offer for the beginner is to not use lifting straps! On normal bar exercises try warming-up with say two finger grip, add weight, go to three fingers, add weight, go four fingers, add weight, go to full grip, add weight, then go to hook grip, etc. This way you can get the most out of every set you do and build the workload through the smaller weaker muscles of the hands and fingers.
BarBend: What are your favorite 3 grip exercises? And what’s your favorite + why?
At the moment i am enjoying doing 2″ barbell bent rows, it hits grip and is a good accessory exercise for upper body. The Napalm Nightmare from Jedd Diesel is a great tool and so versatile with the optional handles, plus you can shift a fair bit of poundage on it, which is always nice.
My favorite, for now, has to be the Dinnie rings. I have training rings and some actual Aberdeen granite stones, which my great friend Brett Nicol got for me. There is magic in the whole Dinnie Stones experience, for me, I like the old strongman challenge that comes with it, the weights are uneven, the heights are different, and the rings make it a huge challenge on the hands and grip, then that’s all coupled with all of that is the shear poundage to be lifted.
[Want more grip exercises? Check out these 9 exercises to build a monster grip!]
On Dinnie Stones
BarBend: Speaking of the Dinnie Stones, you currently hold the World Record, which is amazing, what’s your next plan & how long did you spend working towards that record?
Haydock: The next plan is to walk the stones side by side, I missed this year’s Gathering with an aggravation to an old achilles injury, but I am back in full training again.
The timed hold was something I had my eye on for a while, I didn’t actually run a specific training program to hit that. I was training Dinnies anyway, very heavy, and simply threw in a timed hold to finish the session off each week. I have actually done 42-seconds in training with 193kg/152kg. I think with a serious focus on the timed hold I might be able to push closer to the magic minute!
BarBend: Do you have any tips for other strength athletes who may want to take a swing at lifting the Dinnie Stones or similar feats focused on that realm of strength?
Haydock: The way I see it the key to the Dinnie Stones requires three basic things, if any one of them is missing, then they will give you trouble;
- You need to be training straddle lockouts or deadlift lockouts from 18″ in the range of 320kg-350kg as a minimum, bare handed!
- Be aware that the load is uneven in height and weight, this throws a lot of people off.
- GRIP! Rings are so much more tricky than a nice round knurled bar, learn to hook and get used to the uncomfortable feeling in the thumb, or if your grip is up to it train open hand grip on the rings.
BarBend: What’s been the greatest lesson learned & setback you’ve encountered over your strength career?
Haydock: Greatest lesson is patience, strength is a long-term thing, it has to be built and nurtured — there is no real fast track way to be truly strong, it becomes a way of life and part of your everyday routine.
Injuries are always the nemesis of any athlete. Last year at the first Dinnie Gathering, I managed to get the two Dinnie Stones across the width of the bridge at Potarch. Unfortunately, with about 5 feet to go the smaller back stone crashed against my standing leg and snapped my achilles tendon. With great determination and stubbornness I finished the crossing with only one good leg.
After 8-weeks in a supportive boot the tendon had re-attached and was ready to be rehabilitated. Three months to the day after snapping the achilles tendon, I returned to Potarch to lift the Dinnies once again. Then, a further 5-months down the line, I was up at Potarch and broke the timed hold World Record at 38.61 seconds. Always have a plan, stay focused even in dark times, and never give up.
The Dinnie Stones are fascinating because they’re rooted in history and offer a unique approach to test one’s maximal grip limits. Haydock is one the few active strength athletes who continually sets new feats with these stones. The main question that comes to mind is, is could we call Haydock the modern father of the Dinnie Stones?
Feature image from @haydockmark Instagram page.