If someone were to ask you which muscles you used the most during last hour, day, or even week, what would be your answer? Lots of people might think core muscles, back muscles, or even something to do with your legs.
But, the real answer is your hands, wrists, forearms, and fingers.
Think about it. In every single sport, from tennis to basketball, to climbing and golf, and even in lifting, the thirty-five small muscles in your forearms and hands are required to do a lot of work.
Not only do you use your grip in sport and lifting, but it’s also pretty much a requirement for everyday life. Typing, scrolling, moving a mouse, dishes, laundry, the list goes on.
A stronger grip means a stronger handshake, and since most people equate a firm handshake with confidence and trustworthiness, you owe it to yourself to work on your grip.
Let’s take a look at why grip strength is so important and the top ways to enhance your grip and eliminate wrist and elbow pain.
What is Grip Strength?
Contrary to what you might think, grip strength has as much to do with hand strength as it does with all of the muscles from the elbow to the fingers. Many of the forearm and hand flexor muscles originate above the elbow. So gripping muscles pass through the forearm and wrists into your hands, fingers, and thumbs. There are many movement patterns that can only be successful if you have good grip.
Types of Grip Strength
|Hand movements||Wrist and forearm movements||Elbow movements|
|Crushing – closing fingers against resistance||Ulnar/radial deviation – wrist angles toward inside/outside edges of forearm||Flexion with pronation – bending elbow, so forearm is near bicep, palm facing down|
|Pinching – grasping something with thumbs in opposition to fingers; can be static or dynamic||Flexion/extension – palm moves toward front of forearm; extension moves back of hand toward back of forearm||Flexion with supination – bending elbow, so forearm is near bicep, palm facing up|
|Supporting – isometric movements where fingers take the brunt of the load||Pronation/supination – forearm rotation, either turning forearm, so palm faces down or turning forearm, so palm faces upward||Extension – straightening elbow|
|Extension – opening the fingers and thumb (opposite action of flexion)||Circumduction – combination of all movement patterns; hand moves in a circular movement around wrist.|
Why Is Grip Strength so Important?
You’re only as strong as your grip.
When your grip fails, you’re unable to complete a lift.
If you can’t make the lift, your training doesn’t progress.
If your training doesn’t progress, you stall, lose motivation, and end up eating crisps and curry takeaways instead of focusing on fitness.
Conditioning your grip and forearm muscles with mobility, strength, and endurance are key, indicating factors for success in the gym.
Athletes from all modalities deal with issues stemming from weak grip. From CrossFitters who have medial epicondylitis (which is pain anywhere on the inside of the elbow and forearm) to golfers and tennis players who develop golf or tennis elbow, all of these injuries could be prevented if you spend a little time working on your grip strength.
These kinds of injuries are often caused by improper strength ratios between your elbow and your forearm. If the elbow flexor is too strong for the forearm flexor, you’ve got an imbalance. Imbalances lead to tension in the soft tissue, and that ultimately results in pain.
That means that all the traditional arm training you might be doing as a bodybuilder could actually be setting you back – if you don’t incorporate grip training into your programming.
This isn’t just gym science that’s encouraging grip training. Countless studies have shown that grip strength can often be an overall indicating factor in overall body strength and health.
Grip strength has a significant correlation to the muscle strength of shoulder abduction and external rotation. That means that if you can’t grip, you can’t press. MRIs show that there’s an increase in the prevalence of rotator cuff weakness and injury on the same hand. Translation – if your grip isn’t strong, all of the joints you rely on for lifting and everyday movement are going to suffer.
In his book Poliquin Principles, fitness trainer Charles Poliquin notes, “When grip strength improves, there’s less neural drive needed for the forearm and hand muscles to perform exercises.”
Improving your grip can lead to breaking plateaus, which is always good news for anyone chasing big lifts.
4 Real Benefits of Grip Strength
- Bigger lifts – A strong grip helps you pull more weight. This is especially true of deads, cleans, and snatches that require a solid grip on the bar.
- Improved endurance – Focused grip training means you’re not going to fail on your reps if you’re working on hypertrophy lifts or in a functional fitness class.
- Injury resilience and prevention – When muscles and connective tissues are strengthened, they become less likely to be injured. If an injury does occur, stronger tissue can recover more quickly. A strong grip increases bone density in the wrists and elbow joints. Since so much is involved in gripping, this is instrumental in helping prevent injury.
- Later life quality improves – Some research suggests that a strong grip in midlife can protect against injury in later life.
Top Grip Strength Exercises
There are three types of grip training exercises, and each has its place in your programming.
Crush grip – this is what’s most commonly thought of as a grip. The object being gripped rests against your palm.
Pinch grip – fingers are on one side of the object, thumb is on the other. Generally, this grip is used when picking up plates in the gym.
Support grip – holding something for an extended period of time. Farmer’s walks use a support grip to carry something over a long distance.
To train your grip, you should focus on short explosive moments first to build muscle. Then focus on endurance with long, lightweight slow movements.
The beauty of grip training is that it can be done both inside and outside the gym. Inside the gym, consider any of the following:
- Band extensions
- Deadlift with shrug
- Farmer’s walk
- Hammer curls
- Hex holds
- Plate pinches
A note on pull-ups. Not only are pull-ups one of the best exercises for total body strength, but they’re instrumental in grip performance as well. When you do pull-ups from various grip positions, you incorporate all of the muscles in the hands, wrist, and forearms. By strengthening your ability to do pull-ups from all different grip patterns, your grip will improve and so too will your bench and deads.
These movements all incorporate open hand training to some degree, and they’re easy enough to incorporate into just about any training program.
To help with this, you might consider using grip extenders. A grip extender fits over a barbell and forces your hands to be wider while you lift. This will help improve all aspects of gripping.
Weightlifting chalk is widely used in many gyms to help with grip stability and strength. Not only does it help keep your hands and palms free from sweat, but it enables you to hold your grip for longer, in turn allowing you to lift heavier and helps maintain proper form.
Stretches – and Why They Matter
Warming up before a lift is integral as it primes the body for the movements of the training session. An area that’s often overlooked in warmup are hands, wrists, forearms, and elbows. By spending some time on mobility, you can better prepare your body and prevent injury. Remember that your grip is only going to be as good as the muscles surrounding it are warm.
Stretches that help increase range of motion and that lengthen the muscles and tendons are instrumental and should be a part of your generalised warmup. For each athlete, this will look differently, since everyone has a different skill level.
At minimum, you should consider adding in one or two dedicated movements for your hands, wrists, forearms, and elbows. This might include some of the following:
- Wrist rolls along with extension and flexion drills
- Ulnar/radial deviations
- Thumb extension and flexion
- Elbow rotations
- Elbow plank rotation
Ways to Increase Grip Strength
Beyond utilising the movements listed earlier, there are other ways to improve your grip strength. Before we discuss grippers and hand training, a note on using straps.
Lots of people use straps in the gym, confident that the straps will help prevent injury and promote grip strength. The reality is that just like all other gear – weightlifting belts, knee sleeves, weightlifting shoes – straps are only as useful as how you utilise them in your training.
Straps can be useful if you’re trying to fatigue a target muscle without your grip failing future. But convention suggests that if you’re not able to hold onto your bar long enough to fatigue the target muscle group without straps, you probably need to address your grip before you try to grow you back or traps. Letting your grip dictate your lifting weight will be far more valuable in the end than relying on gear to help you pull.
Outside of the gym, one of the most useful ways to improve grip strength is by using a good hand grip strengthener. This compact device can be carried with you anywhere. It’s simple and easy to use, fitting inside the palm of your hand. By holding onto the clamps on either side, you squeeze and release. A spring controls the resistance and over time, improves your grip. It’s the most fundamental piece of gym gear to have that will produce serious results.
In addition to a hand grip strengthener, one of the most basic things you can use to improve your grip is by using a rubber band. By placing it on your fingers and working on flexing your hand open, you help engage all of the small stabiliser muscles in your hands and forearms, which will improve your grip over time.
Grip Training Guidelines
Grip training is a great way to incorporate more fitness into your day, and it helps you reach new weights. If you’re excited to get gripping, remember that grip training is just like all other training in the gym. It’s important to start out light. Simple modification of your current lifting so that it becomes more grip-intense will be far better than jumping into a big grip routine.
Move up slowly. You wouldn’t try to squat five times a week, so there’s no reason to grip train excessively. Especially if you’re just starting out with grip training, take it slow. Make sure you watch your volume. Just like building any other muscle groups, sets of 3 to 5 with five reps a piece will serve you best. As you progress with your training, remember to incorporate all muscle groups. That means using a hand grip strengthener and a rubber band along with pinching, crushing, and supporting grip exercises.
Remember that strengthening your grip is an integral part of overall fitness. Not only is a good grip required for deads and other pulling exercises, but it can help prevent injury and keep you in better shape later in life.
Building a strong grip is more than just getting a solid grip on your bar. It’s about improving endurance, overall strength, and an increased ability to recover more quickly from injury. Improving your endurance in the gym means you’re going to be able to lift longer and lift heavier. Overall, that increases your strength, which helps you stave off injury. Keep up your vitality marker and make grip strengthening a dedicated part of your training programming.