This is something that has come up a lot recently, both in the gym and with some of my athletes, so I thought I would address it here.
There are several ways to train grip strength, and in fact a few different aspects to grip strength itself. I like to break grip strength into three areas:
Grip – The ability to keep your hand closed against force.
Closing grip – The ability to close your hand against force.
Thumb grip – The ability to manipulate your fingers or an object using just your thumb.
Lets look at some of the methods I incorporate to develop a vice like grip!
This one of the most simple, and most effective methods of training your grip. Set up a loaded bar in a rack or stands just below your deadlift lockout height, take hold, lift the bar and hold it! This is effective as both a double overhand grip training tool, or as in the picture, a thumbless ‘monkey’ grip for specific finger strength. Ideally this will be completed with heavy weights, often up to and exceding your max deadlift. I suggest completing 3 sets of 30 seconds and aim to increase the weight used in a linear fashion.
Behind the Back Barbell Curls:
One of my favourites, and immensely useful for training closing grip strength. Set a barbell up in a rack or stands, lift the barbell out behind your back and lower the barbell until it is just resting in your fingertips. Then curl your fingers until the barbell is located in your palm, clench your fist and then continue the curl into your wrist, all in one smooth movement. Ensure that you return the barbell right to the fingertips, using a full range of motion as always. These are best done with relatively high repetitions as you will struggle to use heavy loads, so reps in the 15-25 range is what I would recommend.
Fat Bar Holds:
These can be done with an axle as per the barbell holds, or single handedly with a bar end, as in the picture, if you don’t have access to a fat bar. These are superb for emphasizing thumb grip, and are so effective as the hand is forced into the much weaker position of more open grip.
These are great again for thumb strength, and are best done with steel plates rather than rubber coated plates as they are much slippier and therefore much harder! Use two or three plates, or even four if you have hands like shovels! Really focus on squeezing your thumb into the plates with this one, and I prefer to do timed holds, either for set segments or to momentary failure. If you have access to a good selection of steel plates this can also be quite fun when done for maximum weight.
My personal favourite for training grip endurance, and a great exercise for overall hand and forearm strength! You’ll need a piece of pipe, stick or as I have, an old rower handle. Attach a piece of rope to the handle, and a weight to the other end. Set your forearms up supported on a shoulder height barbell in a rack, as in the picture. Then begin the slow and torturous process of winching the plate all the way to the top, and all the way back down again! Use precise and controlled movements, trying not to use your bodyweight and focussing on the entire movement coming from the wrist and hand. Don’t let it drop to the floor as you want to train both curling your hands both forwards and backwards. This is an absolute monster!
As with all training, balance is important, so having trained grip or closing grip so extensively it is important to include finger extension in order to avoid injury. This can be trained using strong elastic bands around the fingers and opening them for repetitions or, as I prefer, using a sand or rice bucket and repeatedly opening your hand. As this is typically a weak movement, and using light resistance, high repetitions is the order of the day, again in the 15 to 25 range. This is a very important aspect to hand strength so don’t neglect it!
So there we have it! How to turn yourself into a human vice! I would look to include one or two exercises a couple of times a week, as grip is quite hard to recover from if you really hammer it, so be aware that grip training is about stimulation not annihilation!
Dave is a strength and conditioning coach at the University of Birmingham, runs his own business for group and individual training, and is a successful strength athlete in his own right. Before recent retirement through injury Dave qualified for and competed in the England’s Strongest Man Final in 2011 and 2012, along with numerous national level competition performances and podium finishes. Standing 188cm tall at 130kg bodyweight he boasted such lifts as a 325kg deadlift, 290kg squat and 180kg bench press. He can be contacted via his website, GorillaPT.com or @TheGorillaPT