Grip Strength Woes

One of the most underrated performance indicators, grip strength has oftentimes been overlooked as a key to success in most major performance lifts. In this article, we will break down everything you need to know about grip strength, including why it is so important to most important lifts. Read on for more.

What is Grip Strength?

For our purposes, grip strength is defined as the force applied by the hand to pull on or suspend from objects. In simpler terms, it is the muscular force and power you can generate with your hands. Grip strength tends to be higher in men than in women, and averages for each person will vary, depending on hand/arm position. Grip in general will be classified by position, and grip strength will be quantified based on the way a hand is being used (for example, to pull something up versus supporting a suspended object).   

Grip strength is utilized in 5 major types of strength exercises, with different muscle groups being trained in each. These are:

  • Crush - closing your hand around something and squeezing
  • Pinch - holding an object between your thumb and another finger, and just squeezing with your fingertips
  • Support - supporting an object with a crush grip, while your fingers support most of the load
  • Open crush - a crush grip where your fingers don’t overlap (as in opening a jar)
  • Extend - the opposing force in all grip strength exercises

Diagnosing Grip Strength Issues

Grip strength is utilized in everything from deadlifts, to opening stubborn jars, and even carrying groceries. It is a function of cooperation between (relatively) strong hands, wrists, and forearms. In the strength training arena, poor grip strength can be the predominant cause of failure in a wide ranges of exercises including but not limited to: deadlifts, pull-ups, bench press, lunges, rows, curls, and the list goes on and on. If you’ve ever not been able to properly execute a deadlift because you just couldn’t wrap your hand around the bar at the given weight, poor grip strength is most likely the culprit. If you’ve ever slid off a pull-up bar, a weak grip is most likely to blame there, too.

Beyond causing failure in certain tasks/exercises, poor grip strength can often lead to conditions of the hands, wrist, and forearms, such as tendonitis, and carpal tunnel. Bad news, indeed.

How to Improve Your Grip Strength

The good news is that if you lift regularly, you are well on your way to increasing grip strength, just by using those muscles. However, grip strength training requires a different type of training regimen than other muscular training. The reasons are primarily based on the interactions between tendons and muscles, and the fact that you can’t really rest your hands, since you are constantly using them. That being said, there are different types of exercises that will strengthen your various hand grips, and I am not just talking about those hand-grips the old school bodybuilders used to use back in the day. Here are some of my favorites:

Barbell Holds: Set a loaded bar up in a squat rack, with the height of the bar being just a few inches under where you would lock out in a deadlift. Grab the bar with a double overhand grip at shoulder width, stand tall, and hold for 5-10 seconds. Repeat for sets and reps.  

Farmer’s Carry: Grab two kettlebells or dumbbells (one in each hand), and walk for distance and time. Keep your core tight, and your body straight, and feel the burn.   

Plate Pinches: Sandwich together two barbell weight plates, flat side out with plates perpendicular to the floor. Lift and hold these plates up off the floor with your hands in a pinch grip, for time.  

Band Extensions: Place a thick band around all 5 fingers, and extend your hand (fingers pushing outward) for reps.

Improve your grip strength to improve your lifts, period.

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