Grip Strength Workout
Whether you’re having a hard time opening a jar of pickles or can’t lockout that 600+ lb deadlift, your grip is an essential component to your overall strength. Instead of buying a pair of straps or the most technologically advanced chalk, the best practice is to develop a grip that can crush apples and tear phone books. These exercises will help you develop stronger hands and have a direct practical application to competitions such as powerlifting and strongman since you’re simulating the same technique. Even if you’re a martial artist who grapples or throws, being able to hold onto a gi is key and no matter what your goal, this routine will push your mind (and forearms) to the limit every set.
It’s important to note that in between every set, I will stretch the muscles that are being contracted for such a long amount of time. For example, I might use a thick rubber band (like the one from broccoli at the grocery) to expand my hands so they and my forearms are not in a state of constant flexion. I train many lab workers, nurses, and bakers who have developed the equivalent of a shin splint in their forearms because they’ve created such an extreme muscular imbalance. We want to avoid that in our effort to strengthen our grip. We don’t want to cause injury when trying to squeeze that level 3 Captain of Crush.
(I will mention that you’ll notice Captain of Crush work is not included in this workout. I generally superset every exercise in my bodybuilding upper day with my CoC so I avoid using them in this workout.)
1. Barbell static holds (four different grips) – Load up a barbell with weight that is significant enough to primarily engage the muscles in your hands and forearms. We want that to be our limiting factor here as opposed to our lower back, traps, or any other body part. You don’t want to feel stress in your joints so even though I used 795 lbs for my last set, the reason I dropped the bar was my hands gave out. I start with a double over grip without using my thumbs, a suicide grip. Then I move into using my thumbs for a closed grip. As I increase the weight load, I mix my grip and go back to suicide. As I get into my heaviest sets, I use a mixed grip anchoring the weight with my dominant side as the over grip. As I go back to the starting weight in my descent, I use a double under grip.
The key here is holding that bar as long as possible and not resting it on your legs as you hold. You want that force to be falling downwards and your hands being closed is the only things preventing it from hitting the rack. This one is a grind and arguably the most challenging exercise of the day, which makes it even harder moving forward. There should be little effort in moving the weight up, you’re not going for a modified rack pull or shrug here (or with any exercise in this workout), you’re going for a static (or isometric) hold.
2. Parallel static hold – As the picture shows, this parallel grip utilizes a plate-loaded shrug machine. At this point, I go strictly with a closed grip, but from time to time will release the pressure on my thumb and then reapply it during the static hold. The same principles apply as the first exercise, but I start with the weight shown below and aim for 15-20 second holds for 4-6 sets.
3. Overhand weighted pull-up static hold – This one is extremely important and if you’re going to push yourself mentally on any exercise, this is the one. Set yourself up for a pull-up and hold. I am for a minute on my first set and as I increase the weight load by adding a dumbbell in between my legs, that time goes down, although I try to maintain it. A set at bodyweight, a set with 20 lbs, a set with 45 lbs, another set with 45 lbs, and an instant drop set to bodyweight. Mind over body for this one.
4. Dumbbell static hold – Back to a parallel grip to switch it up. In this workout, I used an extremely heavy weight (120s) for each of 4 sets. I held every set for 30 seconds making sure use a neutral grip and avoid a thumb or pinky offset grip, which would allow you to rest the load on your wrists.
5. Front bar hold – Here’s one I took from Patrik Baboumian. Use a reverse grip on a barbell and create a 90 degree angle between your chest and extended arms. Your arms should be parallel to the floor. Hold that out trying to maintain neutral wrists. You’ll see in the pictures something I want you to avoid. Don’t turn this into any kind of wrist curl. Hold it. After every hold, I superset this with the next exercise.
6. Plate Hercules hold – Depending on the plates you have at your gym, you want to find one with the fewest grooves, lips, and holes possible. Stack the plates within your expanded hand, grip like you have a crab claw, and hold. I used 4 2.5s here but you can even use a heavy Pendlay plate if you have them. Hold for as long as possible.
7. Finger pull ups – At this point, your mind is fed up with having to hold things for as long as possible and then immediately stretch those muscles out, so we do something a little different. I do 5 pull-ups with 4 fingers and a thumb, then 4 with 3 fingers and a thumb, then 3 with 2 fingers and a thumb (pictured below), and then try to do a one finger pull-up, which I failed. The quality of the pull-up should be the same as your normal ones. Take your time with it and don’t kip or use any extra swing because you’ll probably lose tension in your hands and most certainly increase your risk of injury. Then I finish with 5 with 4 fingers and a thumb for good measure.
8. Reverse wrist curls – Our only other exercise that isn’t a static hold. I use the other dumbbell, as you can see in the picture, to stabilize the lower arm to help me isolate the forearm muscles. You don’t want to turn this into a shoulder exercise, which can easily be done. We do shoulder stability on another day of the week. Imagine you have a strong rope tying your knuckles to your elbow and they’re being pulled back for every rep. 10-12 reps for 4 sets.
9. Dumbbell hand hold – This one is classic. Grab a dumbbell from the top and hold. These dumbbells were extremely slippery so I used a smaller one to ensure a longer hold. I wanted at least 30 seconds a hold. I tried the 30s but couldn’t hold them for more than a second so I went back to these and held for longer. This really builds those monster finger tips. Four sets and then I hit the Stairmaster to elevate my heart rate.
Grip training is crucial. I’ve had the opportunity to use it in countless competitions and this routine has helped my performance in multiple sports. Make sure you’re focusing on your muscle fibers in your forearms and hands. Like I said before, no shrugs and no movement for most of these, they’re isometric or static. My workout partner was fascinated by what ten plus years of grip training can do so get started now! Do grip training to stay hungry and fit!