The stronger your hands are the more weight you can lift and the more muscle you can build. MAXIM fitness guru ALEXA TOWERSEY shares some essential tips on grip training…
You can tell a lot about a guy from his handshake. Does he give it to you or does he lay it in your hand like a dead fish? I know which one I’d do business with – both at home and in the office. Do me a favour – make a fist. And no, I don’t mean just gently curling your fingers in and wrapping your thumb around them – I mean, make a fist like you’re preparing to punch some smug bastard in the face. Now, keeping your fist tight, notice how your arm feels. Your wrist should be straight and rock solid, your forearm should be tense, veins could pop out and your biceps, triceps and deltoids are ON. As you can see, making a fist activates everything from your hands to your arms to your shoulders and even your back.
The hands are the weak link in nearly every athlete or lifter, and grip training is the missing piece in most strength programs, not to mention being a stronger predictor of death than even systolic blood pressure. Every time you pick up a weight, you have a choice – you can either pick up that sucker, squeeze the life out it and recruit motor units and muscles you weren’t even aware of OR you can just lift it up. The stronger your hands, the more weight you can lift and the more muscle you can build. The more muscle groups you can contract, the more stability you have, the more motor units you engage, the stronger you get. But grip strength doesn’t just mean working on your hands. Here are the five components to take you from zero to hero in no time…
CRUSH: No, not the latest MAXIM Cover Girl – instead your ability to squeeze the shit out of something. You can either train this by actively practicing your gripping skills (think grippers, squeeze balls) in isolation, or by integrating a more dynamic exercise into your session where you have to adapt. Try swapping out a regular bar for a towel when doing vertical and horizontal pulls.
* DB Crushers – 3 x 10 at the end of your session: Grab a DB and let it roll to your fingers. Wrap your fingers around it and squeeze it to get it back to your palm.
* Towel chin-ups – 3 x AMRAP (as many reps as possible) as your main set: As much rest as needed between sets.
SUPPORT: Any exercises where you’re supporting the lift with your fingers – think deadlift and carrying variations as part of your main training set.
* Rack Pull to 10 second hold: 3-4 reps, 5 sets.
* Trap Bar Deadlift to Farmers Carry: try a 10-1 ladder with 30m carry between.
* Farmers Carry: 60 secs on/60 secs off, 6 rounds.
* Dead Hangs: try 30 secs Dead Hang/30 secs Kettlebell Swing x 6 rounds.
PINCH: A static contraction that focuses on the strength and endurance of the digits. This is one way to ensure your fingers can do the walking – mind out of the gutter lads, I’m talking a strong text game here.
* Plate Pinch: with thumb on one side and four fingers on the other, hold and squeeze the plates using your fingertips. 4 x ALAP (as long as possible) at the end of your session.
WRIST STRENGTH: I’m always yelling at people in the gym, especially when it comes to exercises using Kettlebells, to, “Stop letting the weight just hang off your wrist!” This is something you’re probably doing without even realising it. If you’ve ever swung a sledgehammer or gripped a hockey stick, then you’ve used wrist posture. This is great for solid forearm growth gains.
* Dumbbell Reverse Wrist Curls: 3 x 10 at the end of your workout.
HAND HEALTH: Just like the foot is your proprioceptive HQ from the ground up, your hand leads the way when it comes to what the rest of your upper limb is doing in space. Soft tissue work on the hands and forearms (if you’ve got a lacrosse ball, you’ve got a trigger point ball) and increasing your finger dexterity is key – try rolling golf balls around in your hand. You can do this anytime including in the comfort of your own living room while watching Animal Kingdom.
WHAT ELSE YOU NEED TO KNOW:
A RUBBER BAND A DAY KEEPS THE PHYSIO AWAY: The muscles in your hands and forearms need balance just like the rest of your body. For every flexion exercise, you need one for extension. Grab a handful of rubber bands, loop them around your hand and splay your fingers resisting the tension. Hold for two seconds and relax. A couple hundred reps a day should do the trick, so pop some in your pocket next time you get the chance.
UNDER OR OVER: In my opinion, too many people switch to a mixed grip when deadlifting, either through bad habit or when the volume kicks in and the going gets tough. The more you pull double overhand, the more gains you’ll make in the long run, and not just in your deadlifts. Strength in the double overhand grip translates more effectively over into your other main lifts like pull-ups and rows.
YOUR MAIN SQUEEZE: Every time you lift a weight, hang from a bar or carry an item is an opportunity to crush it – as opposed to just holding it. A strong grip translates to more tension, more strength and more muscle – but only if you actually use it. So, grab the weight like you mean it. It’s literally all in your hands now.
FAT GRIPS: Do your usual exercises, but wherever possible – fatten the grip. The fatter the grip the more motor units recruited. You can buy specialised fat grips or you can simply wrap a towel around the bar/weight.
For the full article grab the March 2019 issue of MAXIM Australia from newsagents and convenience locations. Subscribe here.