One of the most underrated components of fitness is grip strength.
A strong grip is applicable to many situations. Beyond being a reliable indicator of overall muscular strength, grip allows us to deadlift heavy weight and perform pull-ups for reps. It also allows us to fly through challenging obstacles at popular courses like Tough Mudder and Spartan Race. Even in regular life there are benefits to a strong grip, such as when carrying grocery bags for a distance or helping a friend move. Moreover, a strong grip helps prevent inhibiting physical issues like tennis elbow, golfer’s elbow, and carpal tunnel syndrome.
For all the benefits, however, many fail to target grip strength specifically. This is a mistake. A strong grip is necessary to perform powerful compound movements that are essential to your fitness journey regardless of goals: bodybuilders, athletes, and beginners alike should dedicate a portion of their training program to increasing their grip strength.
A weak grip can cause one to fail at a movement before other muscles of the body have been fully exhausted, which negatively affects training progress. Here’s how to fix that.
Five Methods to Increase Grip Strength
Dead hangs. Perhaps the simplest way to increase one’s grip strength is a dead hang. Requiring only a pull-up bar, the dead hang is grip training in its rawest form: grab onto a bar and hang from it until you no longer can.
A beginner may struggle to hang for 30 seconds, while an intermediate lifter will typically be able to hold on for at least a minute. Once you reach two minutes, it’s time to add chains, ankle weights, or a weighted vest to increase the difficulty—though perhaps the best way to boost difficulty is by adding Alpha Grips (read below).
Start with three to five sets for time to failure, resting one to two minutes in between, and be sure to switch between pronated and supinated grips each set (a mixed grip is also appropriate). Note that it’s imperative to perform all dead hang sets to absolute failure—even if your fingers are begging you to let go earlier.
Thick cylinders. Most exercises you perform in a gym involve a barbell, dumbbells, or a machine with some sort of handle, right? An easy way to train grip strength using the exercises you already perform is by thickening the girth of these handles so that your thumb can no longer hook onto your fingers; this forces you to squeeze the bar harder to maintain control of it, immediately boosting grip engagement throughout the entire movement.
To thicken a bar, I recommend purchasing either Alpha Grips or Fat Gripz. They are readily available online for around $30 a pair and will probably outlast you. You can add them to any standard dumbbell or barbell in a matter of seconds and they will instantly transform your workout. Add them to virtually any movement, including deadlifts, rows, and shrugs—but drop your load weight by about one-third to begin as fatter bars will make the exercise considerably more challenging until your hands and forearms can adjust to the new demand.
Pro tip: if you’re on an extreme budget, towels can work too.
Plate holds. Dead hangs and fat bars will boost what’s known as your “support grip,” but to increase your “pinch grip,” you’ll need to take your palm out of the equation. A simple way to achieve this is by using plates. Squeeze a barbell plate—or the head of a hexagonal dumbbell—with your fingers and hold until failure. Find a weight you struggle to hold for a minute or less.
Rope work. Ropes are naturally thick and unstable, which makes them a great tool to build grip strength. From dead hangs to climbs to sled pulls, spending time with ropes is sure to bolster your grip strength. If you’re a beginner, you may want to put rope exercises near the start of a workout, while an advanced athlete may be better off using rope movements as a fun challenge to finish off their workout.
Rock climbing. An enjoyable hobby that can improve both grip stamina and strength is rock climbing. Whether you prefer top-rope or bouldering, rock climbing activities can increase both support and pinch grip strength. You don’t need a lot of gear, and most climbing gyms typically offer a variety of beginner-friendly routes to learn on.
Look no further than free soloing phenom Alex Honnold to observe what powerful hands can accomplish.
Lift raw. Chalk is fine, because sweat can quickly make heavier lifts impossible. But if you rely on straps, stop that bad habit. Try to deadlift raw—even it means humbly dropping your load weight until your forearms catch up to the rest of your body. Only once your grip is totally faded should you consider utilizing straps to squeeze out a final set for your hamstrings and lower back.
How to Incorporate Grip Work into Your Program
Grip strength training should be incorporated into your program in two ways.
First, you should include a workout specific to grip. This workout does not need to be long—half an hour is plenty—and can be completed on its own or at the end of another workout (I would suggest leg day or a push day so that the hands are still relatively fresh). A grip-specific workout could include three to five sets each of dead hangs, plate carries, and fat-bar rowing or curling movements with roughly one-minute rests. Perform this workout at least once per week for optimal results.
Second, you should include grip training during workouts. This can include one dead hang set to failure after your pull-ups routine; a half-weight bonus set of fat-grip hammer curls after your biceps have already been fried; or a minute-long plate carry to finish off your regular trap-focused farmer’s walks.
What Not to Expect from a Stronger Grip
There is a reason you don’t hear much about grip strength training or even forearm isolation movements from traditional weightlifters and bodybuilders: these methods do not promote hypertrophy. Unless you’re competing on Ninja Warrior, there is no glory in a strong grip. Burn though they might, your forearms will not grow, and unless you rock climb you will rarely be able to show off your newfound ability.
Grip strength is strictly functional. There is beauty in that. Its myriad practical applications—and its power to remove the weak link in so many other crucial movements—should be glory enough.
Train smart. Get a grip.