In my latest experiment I intend to dramatically increase my crushing grip strength.
I’ve been humbled in recent weeks by a broken ankle that has required me to hobble around on crutches while keeping as much weight as possible off my left leg. It seems that my wrists have not really been up to the job and can’t adequately support my bodyweight through the full range of motion required for day to day life. Getting in and out of the bath without using my injured leg has been difficult and that makes me feel way more vulnerable than I would like.
So my latest experiment is driven by a desire to eradicate a few weak spots and increase my resilience. It is also likely that there will be some significant crossover into general strength performance. I suspect that by training for increased grip strength I will also note more general strength increases for example being able to perform a heavier deadlift. As they say, if you can’t grip it, you can’t lift it.
Pavel Tsatsouline is a former Soviet special-forces instructor is a no nonsense kind of fella, who uses simple methods to deliver uncompromising strength gains.
When in doubt, train your grip and your core
Pavel Tsatsouline – episode 55 of the Tim Ferris podcast
He has a strong preference for maintaining a grip and core focus during training because of something he refers to as ‘irradiation’. Certain areas of the body generate significant spillover of muscle activation. Where tension in one area (say the fist) can be felt through the arms, shoulders and back, dramatically increasing efficiency and power of the initiating movement.
Make a fist, and feel the tension in your forearm. Now make a tight fist. You’re going to feel tension in your biceps and triceps. Now make a white-knuckle fist. You’re going to find that tension is spreading into your shoulder, your lat, your back, and so on
Pavel Tsatsouline – episode 55 of the Tim Ferris podcast
It’s the reason why, when performing a military press for example, you are encouraged to squeeze or rip the barbell.
How I plan to train Grip Strength
My goals are to generate a pair of functionally very strong wrists, which means being able to hold, lift and hang my body weight. I’d also like to have an objective measure of my grip strength that confirms that I am significantly stronger than most women in my age bracket. Most of my focus will be on crushing exercises rather pinching or rotating movements.
I am going start by performing daily sets using hand grippers and also dead hangs for time.
I have my set of hand grippers on my desk so I break regularly through the day to knock out a set. Initially I am aiming for 10 reps at 60 lbs with a hold to failure on the 10th rep as a warm up and then repeat at 80 lbs for 5 reps.
The dead hang is currently a very short lived affair while attempt to hold on to a pull-up bar bolted to a door frame.
I’m also conscious that I don’t want to develop overuse injuries or create imbalances so I will also be training the extensor muscles by spreading my fingers outwards under tension. You can use rubber grippers, elastic bands or just apply some resistance from your other hand. Also some wrist extension and flexion stretches to relieve pressure. I’m using the rubber band that Sainsbury’s use to put a price label on the broccoli floret.
How to Monitor Grip Strength
I am using an electronic hand dynamometer and taking readings following this approach:
- use a chair with arms for each reading
- feet flat on floor
- arms resting on armrest with wrists just over the end of the chair’s arm, thumb facing upwards.
- hold grip and squeeze as hard as possible for a few seconds
- Repeat 3 times recording the max reading each time
I record my 3 max readings from each arm on my grip strength monitoring spreadsheet. You can see my progress (If you are on a desktop) as it unfolds on the chart below, which is a publication from the spreadsheet I linked to above.
I’m also recording my max hang duration as I would like to see some improvements here if I’m ever to approach a pull-up. My 5 second record just doesn’t cut the mustard.
Best Exercises for Grip Strength
I am going to defer to this excellent article by BuiltLean that explores grip types and the different exercises to maximise strength.
If you want to see some excellent advice on grip crusher technique, check out this video from jujimufu where they learn some cool grip tricks from the experts.
Equipment for Grip Strength Training
Captains of Crush from IronMind are clearly the best hand grippers you can buy. Excellent quality and total reliability. These are the grippers you are going to want if you get to the heady heights of grip strength accreditation and record breaking.
They are reasonably expensive though at around £30 per gripper and you are going to need a few to cover warmup, training and max attempts.
As I’m in the early stages of my grip strength career (I’m writing that tongue in cheek), and also initially was unsure how much I could crush, I opted for a much cheaper and adjustable hand gripper from fitbeast. The first model I went for was the Fitbeast Hand Gripper 40 – 100 lbs (18-45 kg) which has 4 settings 40 – 60 – 80 – 100 lbs in just one gripper.
Interestingly I can close this at it’s max setting (45 kg) despite my max hand dynamometer reading being only 32 kg at the moment. That’s is perhaps due to my controlled method for gathering recordings.
Extensor Training Bands
If you don’t want to give yourself tennis or golfer’s elbow from too much crushing you should attempt to balance your program with some extensor training as well.
These ripper bands provide 5 different resistance levels to work against.
If the Gripedo was available in the UK, I would definitely get one.
Looks ideal for rotational and pinch training, along with wide grip farmer’s carries. You should go and check out their demo videos because it looks so versatile.
Electronic Hand Dynamometer
If you want to have an objective measure of your strength gains then you should use a hand dynamometer. Providing you take measurements in a controlled and methodical way, you will get consistent readings that can be used to plot progress. See my grip strength monitoring template for more details.
I am using this hand dynamometer model from GripX which goes up to 200 lbs or 90 kgs.