Improving Grip Strength
Q. I have just begun training with weights in the hope of becoming bigger and stronger. My weakest area seems to be my grip. I have small forearms and hands, and my grip often fails when using dumbbells and barbells. How can I improve my grip?
A. Improving ones grip requires muscular training to strengthen the muscles and tendons responsible for gripping. The hands are typically required to make many low force movements during the day as we perform daily actions such as; handling objects, typing, playing a music instrument, or tying our shoe laces. Rarely do we require a lot of force to grip onto items, so the majority of people will not have a high level of gripping strength unless their job involves some form of heavy carrying or lifting.
Weight training should build up grip and forearm strength effectively. Gripping onto the barbell or dumbbells during an exercise will enhance your grip over the long term as the poundage you lift increases. There are a number of exercises which especially require a decent level of grip strength; deadlifts, bent over rows, and shrugs. These exercises are typically performed with a relatively high load, therefore placing a high demand on grip strength. Trainees sometimes opt for wrists straps to aid them during such lifts. These straps wrap around the persons wrists and the bar to aid the trainers grip.
For those looking to improve their grip it would be wise to not use any wrists straps, or limit their use as much as possible. This may result in your grip failing before the target muscle groups during the exercise, but for the sake of muscular balance we must try to build up proportionate strength. Using straps will do little to improve grip strength as the load on the grip muscles is diminished, leaving the gap between what weight you can grip and what weight you can perform the exercise with to rise.
As well as general weight training there are a number of specific exercises which can be performed to directly target the gripping muscles. Although most people will only perform exercises which improve their closing hand strength, it is considered wise to also implement some exercises which work the extensors (muscles which open the hand). This will ensure muscle balance. Muscle imbalance can cause possible issues down the road, such as carpal tunnel syndrome.
Exercises to improve grip
Plate pinches – grip onto a 20kg weight plate (one in each hand whilst standing erect) using your fingers. Grip the plates for a set period of time, and improve your grip by gradually increasing the time you hold the plates for during each session. This will improve grip endurance.
Static holds – Grasp onto a set of dumbbells and hold them for a set period of time. Again, improve your grip by gradually increasing the time you hold the plates for during each session, and/or increase the weight of the dumbbells. This will improve grip endurance and strength.
Thick bars – thick dumbbell and barbell handles can be very demanding on the grip. Perform thick grip deadlifts, shrugs, rows and static holds.
Grippers – grippers can be purchases which improve your crushing grip.