How many times has your grip betrayed you? The final few reps of those pull-ups are within sight, you know your muscles are ready to crank out those deadlifts, those kettlebell swings seem like no problem at all. But all of a sudden, you feel your fingers starting to slip as you let out a curse of frustration. What the hell!? You’re not tired, your muscles feel good—you’ve got this! Alas, once your grip starts to fail, there’s not a lot you can do. You drop from the bar, the barbell crashes to the floor, you need to put the kettlebell down. Oh, damn you grip. But unless you’ve actively spent some time working to build a stronger grip, you may ignore this part of your physical fitness and hope that repeatedly showing up to the WODs and plugging your way through the various movements will be enough to develop a better grasp of things—pun completely intended. Truth is that training to develop a vice-like grip equates to bigger lifts, better endurance in WODs, preventing common hand and forearm injuries and a number of everyday life skills.
There are several different exercises you can find to help improve your grip, but here are a few to get you started.
1. Plate pinches (pictured above)
As the name suggests, this is a great exercise for developing pinching power and your pinch grip. Grab a pair of 10lb. plates (the steel kind, not the bumpers) and place them together, with the smooth side facing outwards. Wedge them into your palm and use your fingers to pinch them together. Keep a log of how long you can hold the plates together, and always try to grind out a few more seconds each time you try the exercise. If it starts to get easy, add another pair of 10’s and go from there.
2. Farmer carries
Pick your equipment of choice—be it a pair of dumbbells, kettlebells, sandbags, etc.—and place them by your side, close to your feet. Deadlift the weight up, taking care to ensure that your arms and back remain straight, and that your head is held in a neutral position. Pinch your shoulder blades together and lock your upper torso into a tight position—no rounding or wobbling. Taking short, choppy steps, walk in a straight line to your target destination. Drop the weight, and repeat.
3. Train the extensors
The extensors are the muscles on the back of the hand. You can target them by wrapping rubber bands around your fingers and thumb, and then trying to pry your hand open. If it starts to become easy (i.e. you can do more than 20 repetitions) then make things more challenging by adding another band or holding the open position for a few seconds before doing the next repetition.
4. Bar Hang
Jump up to a pull-up bar and hang there until you fall off. If you can hang for over a minute, increase the difficulty by putting a dumbbell between your ankles, wearing a weight vest or using a dipping belt. If you’re up for a real challenge, try hanging with only one arm.
BONUS: Towel chin-ups
Grab a (tough) towel and sling it over the top of a pull-up bar. Grip the ends with both hands and pull them tightly together. Let the towel take your weight and bring your feet off the floor. Perform as many chin-ups as you can until failure, then simply hang from the towel until you have to drop.
Since you are going to be focusing on your grip, make sure you start out light and put technique at a premium. Lastly, you might want to consider eating more fish! A 2008 report in the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society showed a correlation between eating more fatty fish — a rich source of omega-3 fatty acids — and better grip strength among 2,983 men and women age 59 to 73.
Article from the April/May 2015 issue of BoxLife Magazine