This was hastily written over the course of a few workdays that stretched into the early morning hours, so it isn't overly complex, but for anyone wanting to get started in grip work it'll provide some ideas and places to get equipment!
For almost every lift, power starts with the hands, so if you neglect this important aspect you're going to hold back your overall progress. Just as well, your hands are used in everything else outside the gym, and it never hurts to strengthen that which gets the most use. Besides, when have you had to rely on using your rear deltoid strength to open a jar with a stuck lid? This article will focus on the different types of hand and wrist work that you can do to increase your strength in what might just be the most important area that often receives the least amount of direct work.
Crushing Grip Work
The most common area that most people seem to possess interest in working, it is easy to train, but in all honesty it is not the most effective grip work you can do for carryover strength to other lifts. Having a strong crushing grip is fantastic, but it won't really help you hold a weighted barbell longer or hold more weight than you're used to. If you want to crush things in your hand or hold a tight grip on something it can't be beaten, but that's the majority of the extent it has for application. Also, it typically is believed that a crushing grip equates to a powerful handshake (and vice versa), but this also is not necessarily true. Your best bet for work on crushing grip is to purchase some quality grippers and work up progressively to reach higher and higher levels (most people working to close the Ironmind #3 gripper as a final goal), though other implements such as the Ivanko Super Gripper will do well for working to improve crushing strength as well. There are a few places that you can find great high-quality grippers at, including the following:
- Ironmind, makers of the popular Captains of Crush grippers
- Makers of BeefBuilder grippers (similar to Ironmind grippers, but with a wider range of difficulties to work with)
- home of the Baraban grippers, these are excellent quality grippers in a wide range of strengths, and not only that, you can choose materials for your handles and even customize to have them engraved if you'd like!
One of the best overall grip strengths you can work on, pinch gripping has great carryover appeal to holding onto odd objects and can even assist to some degree with a better hold on barbells and dumbells, so I cannot stress enough that you'll want to work this one. Pinch gripping can be trained on many everyday items (I've used square rocks, narrow width packages that come into my warehouse filled with books, etc.) Though, the most common items used are either weight plates pinched together smooth side out or something like the IronMind pinch grip block which allows you to vary the weight easily. If you can pinch a pair of 25 lb. plates you've got a good grip, 35s and you've got a very good grip, and if you can manage a pair of 45s you're among the top pinchers out there. Don't miss out on training this one!
Static Hold Grip (endurance grip work)
Here's one that will work to improve your gym lift grip considerably! For example, I used to struggle to hold 225 for 20 seconds without straps before my grip would die out and I'd drop the bar, but consistent work on static holds took me to new levels, up to the point where I've been able to hold 500 lbs. for over 40 seconds. Work them hard and heavy, striving to add weight or time to each workout and you'll see your holding grip shoot up considerably. I recommend starting with the weight of your max deadlift to try and hold for 10-15 seconds for 3 sets. Once you've got that, either tack 10 lbs. on the next workout or try to add a few seconds to the time - whatever suits you better. Be prepared for the brutal effects on your hands, but the payoff will be fantastic if you train it hard for a few months.
Thick Bar Work (grip and wrist work)
Thick bar lifting is extremely valuable and can be applied anywhere you'd normally use a barbell or dumbbell. Just be prepared to be humbled when you find that by using a 2" or larger diameter bar that your poundages will be almost guaranteed to be cut down considerably as holding on to the bar will be tough enough. But, keep at it and eventually you'll be surprised at the weight you can handle. The best part is, once you go back to regular-sized dumbbell handles, the weight will seem light as a feather.
Levering (forearm/wrist work)
There are many ways you can do levering - with a sledgehammer (or similarly weighted object), a kitchen chair, or anything else that you can use your wrist to tilt something forward or back to strengthen it. You can easily make your own leverage bar by taking a broomstick and taping off one end (so plates can't slide off and stay secure on the end), slide a light plate down to the end (start with 2.5 lbs just to learn the feel) and secure it in place. If you want to start really like, take a common household broom and use that - if the handle is long enough, even a 1 lb. head on it will provide a challenge to someone trying this for the first time. My wrists used to be in terrible shape from spraining them over the years, but doing levering and other wrist work has brought them to be in better shape than when I was far younger. This type of work will be especially valuable for those of you who spend a lot of time in front of a computer by helping stave off things like carpal tunnel syndrome through additional strengthening of the wrists.
Bending (wrist work)
Definitely not my own strong point, but if you want to build some powerful wrists, bending will definitely get you there. Start with some thin round stock (3/16" is best) that's around 7" long, roll it up in a towel, grip tight and bend that thing! There are a few different techniques that work well, so take a look at http://www.geocities.com/ltgodfrey/home.html
for more info on bending. If you can do a 1/4" piece of round or square steel at 7" or shorter you're a force to be reckoned with and have some solid wrists, if you can get to where you can bend a piece of 5/16" round steel stock of 7" or less you've got world-class wrist and bending strength. Best way to train cheaply is to find a local hardware store that carries long sections of round or square bar stock in the diameter you need, cut them down with your own saw and make your own stock to train with. If you can't find a location near you that supplies round and square stock, check out htt://www.fatbastardbarbellco.com
as they sell cut stock in varying diameters and lengths.
This should be a fair overview on some of the major types of training that you can do to build up your grip and wrist strength. There are hundreds of exercises out there that can be done with improvised equipment (pick up a copy of John Brookfield's Mastery of Hand Strength for tons of ideas, or check out Ironmind.com's monthly Grip Tip!) so there's no excuse for not having the equipment you need to train with. Now, get out there and start gripping!