This week’s article is very dear to my heart since I will be focusing on one of my personal favourite body parts to train; so sharpen your pencils, sit up straight and get your notepad ready, I am going to shed some light on the black sheep of arm training – your Grip.
The stronger your grip, the stronger you are!
If grip training has not been a priority in your training regimen then I am sorry to tell you but you have not even begun tapping into your strength potential. No matter what upper body exercise you perform; the force your body generates is going to be transferred through your grip. To exert the most force onto the weights will require you to grip the bar as tight as humanly possible. Before we begin exploring all the different exercises that will make Donkey Kong proud of your grip (if you do not know who Donkey Kong is I feel a lot of sympathy for your deprived childhood) we must first discuss the different variations of grip training. Grip development begins by embracing the Holy Trinity of Grip Training: The Support, The Crush and The Pinch Grip. These are the three fundamental movements that will take your training to the next level.
The Support Grip:
Support grip is the most widely used type of grip; it is used so often every day of your life that it has become second nature to you. Pub night on a Thursday? Why not train your grip while you are at it – pick up that beer and hold it by your side; your mind can now focus its attention on all the smooth lines you are going to tell that lady across the bar; while across on the other side she is sipping her martini hoping he is not looking at her. Support grip does just that, it supports whatever it is you are holding. If holding onto a dumbbell while curling is causing you trouble then a weak support grip is the main culprit. Okay – so you have never seen anyone struggle holding a dumbbell while they curl – how about this one? How many times have you seen someone deadlift using straps? Lifting straps are an excellent tool to use in your training; they allow you to move weight your grip cannot hold onto. However, all too often lifters begin using straps prematurely and are neglecting their grip. In the grand scheme of things:
You cannot lift what you cannot hold!
That right there should be the reason to start working on your support grip. Want to know what the best part of support grip training is? You do not need to focus on the training – kind of. Go about doing the exercises you normally do: deadlifts, walking lunges, farmers walks, shrugs – dumbbell and barbell and pull-ups (lots and lots of pull-ups). Revolutionary, isn’t it? What I do require of you is to try to use the weakest hand positions first and move onto tougher positions when your grip gives out. Below I outline the hierarchy of grips: start with number 1 for as heavy as possible and move onto the stronger positions when the weight becomes too heavy.
1. Double Overhand
2. Hook Grip*
3. Mixed Grip
4. Double Overhand with lifting straps
*Hook grip can be very painful on the thumbs so you can skip this and move on to Mixed Grip
To make all these grips more effective you will need to invest in lifting chalk – for a couple of dollars you will be shocked at how much stronger your grip becomes. Most fitness supply stores should carry lifting chalk, unfortunately they are overpriced – visit a camping or outdoor equipment store and check the rock climbing section; climbing chalk is the same as lifting chalk but at a fraction of the cost. Sweaty hands are a thing of the past. Lifting chalk or the technical name, Magnesium Carbonate absorbs the moisture from our palms and allows for a nice steady grip.
Want even more of a challenge? Try doing your pulling exercises on a fat bar – this will bring you Support Grip you never knew existed.
The Crush Grip:
We all remember the tough guy in all 1980s high school movies – to show his dominance he crushes an empty pop can with his bare hands – very intimidating. Crushing is the motion of closing your fingers into the palm creating a fist. Go on and squeeze as if your life depended on it, the harder you squeeze the more force you are transferring into the squeeze-ee – in our case the barbell or dumbbell. Think crushing grip does not have much relevance in pressing and squatting? Next time you attempt a max lift on bench press – have no mercy, grab onto that bar and show it who’s boss; imagine yourself squeezing so tight that the bar shatters into particles of dust – and guess what will happen, that weight will fly up. The same thing with squats; obviously your grip is going to have minimal contribution to your lift but that minimal contribution could mean the difference between a 495 pound squat and a 500 pound squat – which number looks better?
To have a strong crushing grip you will have to train for a strong crushing grip and the best way to do that is to get a set of hand grippers. I am not talking about those grippers you get at Wal-Mart; I am talking about the stuff the World’s Strongest Man uses, grippers that will make you cry: Ironmind’s Captains of Crush Grippers. Before you begin thinking this article is a sales pitch, I would like to express that I am not sponsored by any company and any recommendations made for any product are based on my experiences using said products. There are many other reputable companies that offer heavy grippers but the Captains of Crush are the Rolls Royce of hand grippers – and we work out with class. The chart below shows the resistances offered by the Captains of Crush*:
Guide: 60 pounds
Sport: 80 pounds
Trainer: 100 pounds
CoC No. 0.5: 120 pounds
CoC No. 1: 140 pounds
CoC No. 1.5: 67.5 pounds
CoC No. 2: 195 pounds
CoC No. 2.5: 237.5 pounds
CoC No. 3: 280 pounds
CoC No. 3.5: 322.5 pounds
CoC No. 4: 365 pounds
For you big boys out there Ironmind has a strength certification for any male who can close the number 3, 3.5 and 4 and any female who can close the number 2 under their specific guidelines. Think you have what it takes? Only 5 people have officially closed the number 4 – EVER. The certification is no joke: there is an application process and a referee will oversee you close the gripper. I would like to reiterate that there are other companies who manufacture heavy grippers but Ironmind has built the best reputation.
Captains of Crush Trainer to 4
Training your crushing grip is like training any other muscle; would you attempt to squat a personal best without warming up? I didn’t think so, and hand grippers are no different. Do a few warm-up sets and then move to your working sets. Give your forearms the same respect that you give your chest – allow ample time to rest, vary rep ranges and most importantly have pride when you hit a new personal best.
The Pinch Grip:
The Pinch Grip is the most under-developed variation in grip training; why? Pinch Grip is ugly duck; it is overlooked, ignored and forgotten about. But not us – we believe in equality – we know that having a strong Pinch Grip will carry over to stronger Support and Crush Grip. Pinch grip can be trained in two ways: bringing your fingers together and by spreading your fingers apart. There are special tools and gadgets you can buy and make specific to pinch grip but I do not believe they are needed. You can find all you need in any gym and even in your kitchen drawer. Depending on the type of weight plates your gym has there are two ways you can work on the fingers together aspect.
Method 1: Grab two weight plates – I should hope that it goes without saying, grab the same size weight – and place them face to face to create a weight sandwich. Using the tips of your fingers and thumb hold the weight together; Start off using both hands to squeeze the plates together and then work your way up to supporting the weight with one hand. You have a world class pinch grip when you can hold four 45 pound plates for time (two plates per hand).
Method 2: This can only be done if your gym has the fatter style weight plates. Place the plate on the ground and wrap your finger tips around the centre lip. While holding on tight try to lift the weight off the ground. This exercise is A LOT harder than it looks – 25 pound plate is an achievable strength level – lifting a 45 pound plate is elite.
The opposite of fingers together is spreading your fingers apart – obviously. The simplest way to strengthen your fingers is to perform finger tip planks or finger tip push-ups. By supporting your weight on your finger tips will strengthen your finger extensor. Be warned if you are new to this it WILL hurt your fingers until you get stronger. Start by holding the position for a couple of seconds and build up from there. Eventually, you can build up enough strength to start using fewer fingers.
I can understand if some of you are hesitant to try finger tip supports as it is painful; however, all is not lost. This method requires nothing but an elastic band. Place the band around your finger nails and open your hand as wide as possible; the elastic band will provide resistance. If one band does not provide adequate resistance double or even triple it up.
Arm training should encompass your entire arm; do not get caught up with your show muscles and neglect your grip. Most of the exercises I outlined above can be done at home or even at work so there is no excuse for you to have a lackluster grip. I recommend you train each of the three variations on different days of the week adding in a couple exercises at the end of your workout.
Until next time,