Our hands are one of the major traits we possess that separates us from other primates. They come with a high level of dexterity and control that allows us to make incredible tools by hand, draw, weave, and perform a myriad of other actions that are unique to humans.
A side effect in this increase of proficiency came at a loss of strength. Compared to a chimp our hands are as weak as a toddler’s. The good news is that we can drastically improve this strength at little or no cost to the other skills, and a great grip is necessary for the demands of strongman. Far too many times I have witnessed an athlete lose multiple events because their hands were not up to the task. It doesn’t take a ton of time to correct that, and it won’t impact recovery too much if done as part of regular training.
Ditch the straps (most of the time)
If your grip is weak to begin with, there is a temptation to start using straps from the get-go in movements like rows, pull-ups and deadlifts. Leave them in your bag until you actually need them for the final work sets.
You want to get your hands used to working in conjunction with the rest of the body. While most athletes can’t get through a full deadlift session without them (and still pull near their top poundages or reps) you should be training it on the way up. You don’t want to be pulling too light and not challenging yourself, but don’t forget about the hands altogether.
Be mindful of the hands while you are working every other exercise.
Many athletes will spend plenty of time getting set up correctly by planting the feet, getting the knees and back in proper position, taking a deep breath then quickly grabbing the bar and hitting it. Take the time to slowly put your hands around the bar and getting it completely set in your palms. Then consciously warp each finger around the steel tightly. During the set squeeze the bar and don’t allow it to sloppily rock around in your hands. Squeeze it hard and activate the forearms.
Add direct grip training a few days a week at the end of the session.
I never recommend training the grip at the beginning of the session as you need it fresh to effectively perform most exercises. Just take a few sets at the very end of your sessions and do some of the following movements:
- Dead hang from a bar: Simply hang from a bar as long as you can. Even one set of these can be effective.
- Farmers deadlift and hold: A great challenge during group days to see who can last the longest.
- Reverse curls, weighted bar roll ups, and plate pinches: Any one of these will blast the hands and forearms. Brian Shaw has a plate pinch that boggles the mind.
Get a set of grippers.
No matter what brand you decide to use, a good set of grippers can change downtime into a superior mini session. You can get these pocket sized hand strengtheners from 50 to over 350 pounds, giving you a great choice for reps, static holds, or testing a maximum. Doing sets of 10 can build size in the fingers and forearms and low reps will build strength to maintain your hold on a deadlift bar.
Don’t forget recovery! The hands get used often and the muscles are small by nature. Self massage of the hands and forearms is something everyone can do every day. Since you use them every workout it’s a good idea to take a few minutes at the end of the day to help them get ready for the demands of the next day. You can just as easily use alternating hot/cold treatments on them by using a hot water bottle and a cold pack.
The mistake of having weak hands is just that. If you weren’t blessed with huge hands (and a natural grip) you have to fix it to be one of the greats. Take this excuse off the table and see how much better you can be.