You Need To Grip It If You’re Gonna Rip It

Grip is immensely important when it comes to weightlifting (and daily life for that matter). We have covered it somewhat in Gavin’s post on Focusing On Weakness: Plate Pinchers. A member of our group on Facebook went into a little more detail recently and we wanted to share.

By: Nigel Blackburn

I was asked a question on how to improve grip strength–specifically for deadlift; I figured this information would be very useful to many peers, so I decided to post it separately for all to read. For starters: the deadlift is a lift that utilizes crushing strength. Crushing strength is essentially classified as it sounds: a specific strength involving anything you can completely fit your hand around and “crush,” like a tennis ball or a normal barbell.

For the purpose of the deadlift, I would train crushing strength and a little bit of open-hand strength (something you can’t fit your hand all the way around) for maximal-effort grip strength rather than grip endurance (i.e. train heavy for less reps, and on timed reps such as static holds, go heavy enough to where 10-12 seconds will be close to failure. On warm-up sets, always try to go standard double overhand–this will help quite a bit over time. Obviously, on heavier sets it is perfectly fine to go over-under or hook grip (after all, the point is to pull as much as you possibly can). As far as grip work: only train grip specifically and intensively twice a week, as they are small muscle groups and fatigue very easily. Try to ditch lifting straps as much as possible if you are aiming to improve grip strength.

As far as accessory work I found useful for crushing strength (deadlifts), there is a lot, but I will narrow it down to the exercises I found most useful for both feats of strength and gripping the hell out of a barbell.

Finger Curls:

When you grip a barbell, the weight should be resting in your fingers with your thumb assisting in keeping those fingers closed (on whichever grip you use). That is why it is essential to have strong fingers! I prefer to use a standard barbell for these. Basically you will set the barbell so it rests on your fingers, which will be supporting the barbell but not gripping it. The rep is completed by curling your fingers until the bar is completely in your grasp, like it would be on a set of deadlifts. You may use your thump to wrap around at the end of each rep to simulate what the weight would feel like in your hand normally, but be sure to only use your thumbs at the end of each rep.

Axle Bar Deadlifts:

Admittedly, I do not do these enough because I have small hands, and it frustrates me to do any open-hand grip training. These axle bar deadlifts will produce strong fingers AND thumbs, assuming you are squeezing the bar with all your might. The lift itself is pretty self-explanatory. If you do not have access to an axle bar, I have seen many DIY axel bars which work fine. You may substitute these as your warm-up sets for deadlift or do them separately. You can also do static holds with the axle bar, which, like stated before, I would not hold for more than 10-12 seconds since the goal here is max-effort grip strength. Be careful not to cheat the static holds by leaning back and holding the bar against your body. This will make the reps far too easy, and you won’t get as much out of it.

Tennis Ball Isometric Squeezes:

This involves squeezing the hell out of a tennis ball for 10-12 seconds as hard as you possibly can. Very simple and accessible, but very beneficial.

Heavy Farmer’s Walks:

We all know these, as they are beneficial for just about everything. Ideally you want a free weight for each hand. Rather than walking for 100 or more yards, aim for 20 yards for something as heavy as you can carry. Again, avoid straps—we want to train grip as hard as possible.

Extensor Work:

If we train any type of grip strength, we must also train the opposite muscle group: the extensors. For these, you can be creative. Use a rubber band, a wristband, or better yet—an iron mind extensor band. For these, we want to have the band around our fingers and push our fingers out to extend the band. The difficulty will differ based on what you are using and how far the band is on your fingers. Obviously the farther we move the band up our fingers, the hander it gets. Don’t kill yourself on these; just do 3×10-12 at the end of every grip workout, and you’ll be golden. This will assist with injury prevention and dexterity.

For all these exercises, I would do anywhere from 3-5 sets twice a week. The reps scheme is variable, as it depends on what you want to accomplish. Remember that training heavy helps us lift heavy!