By Brandon Richey
A lack of grip strength can be a killer to your strength gains.
As the old saying goes, a chain is only as strong as its weakest link. Over my 17+ years of coaching I’ve found that grip strength is usually the weakest link in a student’s strength training.
You can have a strong upper back, arms and shoulders—but if your grip is weak, your hands and wrists will fail first, long before those muscle groups do.
Eliminate Your Reliance on Wrist Wraps/Assisted Lifts
A common mistake I see a lot of people make when lifting heavy weight at the gym is getting too reliant with using grip assists.
A grip assist can be fine to use from time to time when you’re really trying to push for super-heavy lifts.
But you first want to make sure your overall, unassisted grip is strong as that’s a necessary foundation for heavier lifts, even if you’re using a strap.
While the video below discusses mainly options for deadlift grips, it first covers how to address increasing grip strength, how to ensure heavy lifts can be done (without straps), and then gets into when straps are appropriate.
I’ve witnessed some people over the years using grip assist straps for everything from deadlifts, to pull-ups, to rows, and nearly every other exercise that involved their grip and some version of a pull.
That means you want to try to eliminate, or drastically minimize the use of the straps when performing the majority of your lifts so that you can maximize the strength of your natural grip.
If you’re pretty advanced with your push-up routine, then one variation of push-ups you should start experimenting with are fingertip push-ups.
They will train many of the same muscle groups as your standard push-up. However the obvious difference of doing these push-ups will advance the strength of your fingers and forearms, which are vital in creating grip strength.
Fingertips push-ups can be challenging at first so if you’re unable to do them on the ground in a normal push-up position then try elevating your hands up onto a bench, or plyo box to redistribute more weight to your feet.
This variation will allow you to progress the movement further until you can eventually work you way back down to doing them on the ground.
So you can probably visualize your normal grip like you would use if you were gripping the handle of a baseball bat, or a dumbbell.
This is often the more common gripping style for many activities.
However, if you want to strengthen the thumb portion of your grip you’ve got to practice doing some pinch grip technique as it involves you being able to create force with pinching between your four fingers and thumb.
One great way to train this is if you can get your hands on a couple of bricks, put them together, and hold them in place with the grip of your hand.
Once stacked together, the bricks should be just wide enough that the task is somewhat challenging and you can hold them for a designated amount of time.
This is a simple, cheap, and effective way to enhance your pinch grip.
One of the best things you can do for your grip, shoulders, and core stability are farmer’s walks, or carries. This involves you having to pick up a weight in each hand and walk for a designated distance, or until your grip gives out.
I personally program farmer’s walks into my training as a good finisher to end the day’s training.
The great thing about farmer’s walks is that you can perform these using a number of different implements to challenge your grip and your attempt at stabilize yourself during the carry.
You can perform farmer’s walks with dumbbells, kettlebells, sandbags, cinder blocks, or even use a heavy wheelbarrow.
You’re already using that pull-up bar to do pull-ups which are great for helping to improve your grip strength, but to take this further you can simply practice hanging from the bar after you complete your pull-ups.
That’s right, after smashing your pull-ups, or to just close out your day’s training you can jump up to grab the pull-up bar and just hang there for a designated amount of time.
If you happen to have a pretty solid grip you can intensify this by trying to hang from the bar by using only 4 fingers at a time, 3 fingers at a time, etc.
Additionally you can also work towards trying to hang from one arm as a more advanced form of this drill.
If you want to improve your bigger lifts then you can’t ignore your grip strength.
Developing greater forearm strength and stronger fingers will enhance your other big lifts including the ones that don’t even require significant grip strength such as bench pressing and shoulder pressing.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
SEALgrinderPT coach Brandon Richey is a certified strength and conditioning coach, author, and founder of Brandon Richey Fitness. He has worked with thousands of athletes over his 17 years of experience, developing fitness training programs for beginners to professional and D-1 level collegiate athletes at the University of Georgia. He also trains MMA and Muay Thai athletes, both professional and amateur.
This website is a proud sponsor of the Navy SEAL Foundation.
QUESTION: Coach, what are some pull-up tips you can give me? I can’t seem to knock out as many as I’d like.
ANSWER: Check out this article: Top 10 Tips to Improve Your Pull-Ups.
QUESTION: My hands feel tired all the time when I’m lifting and doing pull-ups, even with doing grip strength training. Do you have some tips for more things I could be doing?
ANSWER: Yes; here is an article that covers ways to increase your grip strength.