Getting A Grip On Your Strength Training

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The Arnold Schwarzenegger Classic weekend in Columbus Ohio, is always quite the event for fitness enthusiast.  There are always tons of things to partake in and observe. It is headlined by a huge trade show and expo with hundreds of vendors and booths. Any person interested in powerlifting or strength should definitely check out Universal Nutrition’s Animal cage. You are guaranteed to see some guys and girls performing some pretty amazing feats of strength.



Each year there always seems to be some underlying theme to new fitness trends and products for a lot of the vendors, this year was no different. This year the theme seemed to be about developing grip strength. There were quite a few exhibitors displaying and selling products to help someone improve their overall strength by developing grip strength. There were tons of venders who seemed like their main focus was on this. There were also quite a few booths that had games and challenges that a person could test their strength or endurance and win prizes.  I personally competed in one of these challenges and was about 45 minutes from holding the record for the day until someone came along and took my record down. What bothered me the most about the loss was, I didn’t loose because the weight was too heavy but because my grip strength gave out first. While I can be pretty strong in some lifts, let’s just say I won’t be crushing any doorknobs with my grip. This got me thinking about how important grip strength is, especially with someone’s “big three” lifts.

There is an old saying “You’re only as strong as your weakest link!”  This statement has so much application to powerlifting sometimes it is crazy. Often improving a weak area can be the difference between missing a lift and blowing a personal record out of the water.  Grip strength is often a “weakness” that gets very over looked.  One of the problems why grip strength gets overlooked is because people automatically assume that if they get stronger their grip strength will automatically get stronger too.

Importance of grip strength for powerlifting-


“Man I would have done more, but my grip just couldn’t hold on!” sound familiar?

One of the main reasons grip strength is so important is because grip strength is actually your strength applicator. The amount of force you apply to an object is directly controlled by you’re ability of being able to hold that object. With a tighter grip a person will be able to generate more explosive power. In other words no grip strength, no big pulls. Huge grip strength will give a person more pulling power because they don’t have to worry about the hands coming loose on a big lift. When legendary deadlifter and powerlifter Andy Bolton moved his deadlift up to 1008 pounds from 1000 pounds the only aspect of his training that he said he changed was focusing in on more grip work.

When he did his 1008 pound deadlift, he also held onto it for about 10 seconds at the lockout position. Two words….GRIP STRENGTH!!!


However don’t think that grip strength is only important for pulling movements. Grip strength also plays quite a pivotal role in pushing movements. Since we are talking powerlifting and strength movements, let’s looks at the Bench Press. Grip strength here is applied in a slightly different manner. It is not so much about the ability to hold but more about the ability to squeeze. Squeezing is important in pushing movements because the harder you can squeeze the bar the more you can recruit more muscles into play. For example, the harder you squeeze the bar the more your triceps come into play. A second benefit of the squeeze is it creates stability. The more stability you have the easier it will be to perform a pressing movement; this is very beneficial on exercises like overhead shoulder pressing where stability is key. Even on squatting the ability to tightly hold and squeeze a bar is very critical to balancing a bar on your back.

Tools and Exercises-

Now let’s look at a few exercises and tools that may come in “handy” when trying to improve your grip strength. Aim to do some sort of direct grip work at least twice a week.



Hand Gripper- The hand gripper is an easy convenient way to work on your grip strength. The basic look of the hand gripper is usually a spring wrapped with two hand grippers. Handles can vary from being wooden, plastic, metal, or foam wrapped.


The primary movers with a hand gripper are the four fingers mostly leaving the thumb out.  Hand Grippers help develop finger, hand, and forearm strength. Because Hand Grippers use mostly the fingers and not the thumb, they help a person develop crushing and contracting strength.

Hand Grippers can vary in resistance anywhere from 60 pounds to a whopping 350-400 pounds of resistance. Hand Grippers are convenient and can even be used while you’re sitting around watching TV.


Bar Gripping Pads- If your lucky enough to belong to a Powerlifting gym, you may have access to thick barbells. The diameter of these bars is a lot thicker than what you would find commercially or at your typical local gym. The thicker bar is harder to hold and will build up grip strength, If you don’t have access to a thick bar, that is where bar gripping pads come in. What bar gripping pads do is increase the diameter of a dumbbell or barbell so a person has to squeeze tighter to hold onto the dumbbell or barbell much like the fat bar. These are great for working on thumb, hand, forearm and grip strength. They also help increase wrist, shoulder, and elbow stability due to the fact that a tighter squeeze will cause more joint flexion and extension causing more recruitment and stability.


Wrist Roller- While the forearm roller is actually more geared towards developing endurance and strength in the forearms, forearm strength is a key component of grip strength. The stronger your wrist and forearms become the less work your hands muscles will have to do. Stronger wrist and forearms will also provide more shoulder and elbow stability. Using the wrist roller you will experience a burn in your forearms like you never felt before.



Here are some exercises that you can use in conjunction with the tools above to work on building up your grip strength.


Bar Gripper Heavy Static Holds- This one is pretty simple, take your bar gripper pads and attach them to a heavy ass barbell. Squeeze the barbell really tight, pick it up like a deadlift and hold for 20 seconds. If you don’t have the bar gripper pads you could try wrapping a towel around the bar to make it thicker. This one will make your hands and forearms burn!!!



Pinch Grip Lifts- Pinch grip lifts are great for developing thumb strength. Thumb strength is important because due to the position of the thumb it is always at a leverage disadvantage with the other fingers. This one is very difficult however. Grab a pair of weights (start very small like 2 pounds each) and place them together. Place them between your thumb and other fingers in a pinch grip. Lift the weights off the ground and hold for 10-20 seconds. If this is too difficult you may want to start with a phone book.

One Arm Deadlifts- This exercise is the same concept as a regular deadlift but you’ll only be lifting with one arm at a time. By doing a one arm deadlift, not only will you develop tremendous grip strength but you will also build stability by having to balance the bar on the lift. The true key to these is gripping very hard and not using straps for support. Try and hold your one arm deadlift for at least 10 seconds at the top of the lift.


Handing Things Off-

One often overlooked part of powerlifting and strength training is grip strength. True grip strength is what enables a lifter to pull big amounts of weight. Not only does grip strength help with explosive power but also provides stability to tendons and joints. Look to do some sort of grip training at least two times a week. Some stuff can be done in a gym setting but some stuff can be done just as easily at home. Once your grip strength goes up it will be no time before the rest of your overall strength goes up.