Grip strength is one of the most important components in all areas of sports. Whether it be staying strong on the puck, handling a baseball bat, squeezing a ball or wrapping up a tackle—all of these require a strong grip. Younger and older athletes both can benefit from strengthening their grip, younger will build a base and older will build from what they’ve already developed (which might illuminate weak areas).
Grip is one of the limiting factors when it comes to lifting and performing. A limiting factor is something that will physically stop you from progress, even though other factors might have the ability to progress. In translation, you have an extremely strong back that will allow for a heavy deadlift, although your grip strength is lacking and you can’t hold the weight you’re trying to lift. While your back is willing and capable, you physically can’t because of your lack of grip strength. This is why it’s key to build your grip, your body can only progress if every part of it is in sync working together.
“What about using straps?”
While these are great for handling heavy weight, straps often play a role as a crutch to an athlete. While there are exceptions to using straps, avoid them when performing normal lifts, they shouldn’t be a go-to.
What we’ve done at Institute 3E is observe over the course of the years what exercises and movements build the best grips. These are movements we practice with our athletes and movements that will allow for growth at any age or athleticism.
1. Rope Climbs.
Why? Rope climbing is great because it requires a pulling movement, stabilization and coordination. Not only does climbing a rope require the strength to hold your body weight, but it requires a strong grip to stabilize on a moving object.
How? If rope climbing is out of the equation for you and you simply can’t perform the movement, perform rope holds. Work on holding your body weight up with a set count, for example holding your body up for a 30 second increment—work your way up until you’re able to climb.
Remember. When climbing the rope try to work your way up to climbing without legs, this is a true feat of upper body and grip strength. Also, when climbing use your feet as a tool not a crutch, the use of feet shouldn’t be the only reason you can climb. Lastly, don’t slide down the rope when at the top, this not only will burn your hands, but half of the battle is continuing the climb on the eccentric (down phase) part of the climb.
- Peg Board.
Why? While the peg board isn’t common at most gyms, it’s an amazing tool for building at athlete’s grip and upper body strength. It requires you to maintain a fixed grip on the peg that can support your bodyweight and upwards momentum.
How? Peg board like rope climbing is a skill that needs to be trained, it’s not east to perform your first try. If you can’t climb without risk of injury, do peg holds. Hold yourself up on the board with fixed arms and grips—do this for an amount of time until you can climb on your own.
Remember. To perform the peg board only when you’re ready and capable to climb on your own, it’s always a good idea to have someone with you as well. Keep your upper body tight so you avoid swaying and completely losing control of your position when climbing. Also, avoid using your feet to help push off and climb the wall.
3. Fat Grip Chin-up/Pullup.
Why? FYI: A chin-up is when your palms are facing you, pullups your palms face away and arms tend to be a little wider. These are a fundamental movement, but offer massive amounts of growth. When doing either of these movements with fatter grips your forearms and hands will be forced to do more due to the inability to wrap your hands and get a firm grip.
How? A primary goal for both of these movements is being able to do multiple reps with your bodyweight getting full ROM (range of motion). This means you have long arms on the eccentric part (down motion) and getting your chin above the bar when pulling yourself up. The full range of motion should be your main goal with this exercise, once you’ve achieved multiple reps with bodyweight move to adding weight around your waist.
Remember. This movement is useful when performed properly—don’t rush to adding weight around your waist if you can’t do reps with long arms and chin above the bar. Also, normal bars can be used to progress and build your strength to fatter grips, if you can’t do fat grips, don’t fret and start on normal bars.
4. Fat Gripz Deadlift.
Why? The deadlift itself is a feat of strength, when adding a fatter grip it changes the complete dynamic of the lift. It no longer relies on brute strength to pick up the bar off the ground, it requires a strong grip to even get the bar moving. If you’re curious about your grip strength with a heavier weight, try deadlifting with fat grips.
How? It’s key to remember when performing this deadlift that we’re going to have a “clean” grip. This means both palms are facing down, we’re not doing the offset grip—offset increases chance of a torn bicep and will hinder symmetrical forearm development.
Remember. Form matters. If you’re not comfortable with deadlifting to begin with, start without using fatter grips, once you’ve perfected the form you can begin to experiment. This movement isn’t about your ego, don’t be surprised if your deadlift drops a substantial amount when switching up to a fatter grip. Take it slow and make sure you’re performing the proper lifting mechanics—good form is the quickest way to grip progress with this movement.
5. Snatch Grip Deadlift.
Why? While this movement could be argued about it’s place on the list, there’s no denying that gripping a barbell snatch grip style requires a strong grip. With a wider grip we won’t have the same strength as something more conventional. The reasoning is our hands don’t have the same amount of surface area to apply force on the bar, along with the fingers having less ability to wrap in a hooking motion.
How? The snatch deadlift will force you to sit a little lower than a conventional deadlift, solely for the reason it wouldn’t be optimal to leave out your legs in the lift (your back would be to rounded). This being said, with the legs and back being able to work in sync the amount of weight that’s lifted can only match what the grip can handle.
Remember. If you can’t perform an obscene amount of weight, it’s okay. When you pair this exercise with other grip focused lifts you’ll progress quickly, the snatch grip requires a different dynamic when applying force to a bar. Along with the normal fatter grip deadlift, don’t let your ego dictate the mechanics of this lift!
6. Farmers Walks.
Why? Farmers walks are possibly one of the most effective ways to test your grip strength. You’re supporting a high amount of weight on each arm and walking a set distance. Not only do you have to have the strength to lift the weight, but you have to maintain good posture as well. The walk adds extra tension on the grip to maintain a fixed stable position during movement.
How? When performing farmers walks it’s key to remember that posture is important, if the weight is pulling your chest down or causing you to stumble—it’s too heavy. If you’re not used to this movement, start a little lighter and add weight/distance as you get stronger and more competent.
Remember. If the actual farmers walk bars aren’t a resource for you, use barbells or dumbbells they both can be used to achieve the movement. Progress at your own speed and don’t be afraid of calluses, they’re a small price to pay for building a beast grip!
These forearm building movements are great to add to any lifting arsenal. Keep your eyes open for another article featuring more grip based movements in the future. And always, if you have any questions or concerns ask away!