Get a Grip (Grip Strength) by Jerry Babbage

Jerry Babbage, CSCS, PES

Ask a local gym rat, athlete or body builder how strong they are and you usually get a response about how much they can bench press.

When was the last time you ever heard them talk about grip strength?

Grip strength plays a huge role in the success of many sports but yet is highly neglected in most strength and conditioning programs.

Grip strength is the limiting factor of how much weight can be lifted, for example in the pull up.

Most people fail at pull-ups not because of back strength, but because their grip strength is insufficient. To compensate, many athletes use wrist wraps.


Reasons For Improving Gripping Strength

Enhance Marital Arts/Athletic Proficiency Developing gripping strength will assist in pulling and controlling an opponent in martial art or street fight setting. Want to know how to put the fear of God in a man? Crush grip his hand or grab his forearm and watch how he cries when he can’t get free. The same holds true for contact sports like football.

Enhance One’s Weight Training Program An improvement in grip strength will mean an overall improvement in the quality, as far as lifting bigger poundage’s in other movements are concerned. For example, the deadlift, a fundamental leg and back movement, will suffer if one’s grip is not strong. This can lead to a debate for the use of wraps, but these are controversial at best, and are thought to compromise technique.

When developing an athletes grip strength all aspects must be considered.

Crushing Strength
For example – shaking hands, squeezing a soda can or gripping an opponent’s football jersey.

Supporting Strength
Example: Hanging from a pull up bar or in the sport of MMA (Mixed Martial Arts) applying a rear naked choke hold.

Pinching Strength
Example: Holding a heavy plate between the thumb and fingers. Rock climbers know this special type of strength very well.

Support Exercises:
Grip Hangs: Hang form a pull up bar and hold on a set period of time. The hold time should be increased as grip strength increases.

Power hold: Take a bar and just hold onto it, like at the top of a deadlift. The key is to load the bar with enough weight that you can only hold for 20-30 seconds (you can experiment with duration).

Farmer Walks: Take two heavy dumbbells or kettlebells, grab them and hold them by your sides. Now, walk for 50-100 yards.

Chin/Pull ups using a towel: Wrap either on or two towels over the pull up bar and perform chin -ups. This can be considered both a suspension and crush grip exercises,

Crushing/Squeezing Exercises

Gripper Work: Get a set of athletic grippers and practice closing them for repetition, for example 3 sets of 12 repetitions per hand.

Bottom Up Kettlebell Presses. Clean a kettlebell so that the handle is facing down and the ball is pointing up. Hold it in this position and try to press it overhead without the ball flipping over. This is an excellent for explosive crushing strength and stabilization of the wrist.

Enter the Kettlebell!
Strength Secrets of the Soviet Supermen

Tearing/Pinching Exercises

Newspaper Tearing. This exercise is an extension of traditional strongman phonebook and deck card tearing feats. Take two pieces of newspaper, lay them on top of each other, and fold them in halves five times. Then begin tearing theses halves into halves. Begin with a few sheets and progress to the entire newspaper.

Pinch Grips: Get two plates, put them together so the smooth side is out, now grab it so your thumb is on one side and your four fingers are on the other. Start with two 10’s and work your way up to two 25’s, anything higher, and you don’t have hands, you have vices. (Watch your toes!! and be in a situation where you can drop the weights)

Miscellaneous Exercises for Grip and Lower Arm Strength

Fingertip or fisted push-ups: Great for developing finger strength and wrist stabilization.

More Russian Kettlebell Challenges-DVD
25 Evil Drills for Radical Strength and Old School Toughness

Plate Curls: This one comes from John Brookfield, author of “Master of Hand Strength.” Take some Olympic plates, grab them with a pinch grip (one in each hand) and curl them.

Wrist Curls/Reverse Wrist Curls: These can be done sitting or standing.

Wrist Rollers: You can buy one or find it in your local gym. Roll the weight up and down for a set goal of repetitions, for example 3 sets of 5 repetitions.

Rope Climbing: This has to be my favorite as it reminds me of Circus De Solei performers and infantry soldiers in physical training. Set a desired number of repetitions you want to accomplish.

The exercises listed are just examples; there are many others to choose from. The ones listed in this article are ones I have personally used and found to be effective in developing great strength in my lower arm and hands.

Developing gripping strength will enhance not only the ability to handle heavy objects, but assist in injury prevention due to increased strength, it will enhance your strength training due to increased grip strength and help with day to day activities. Include some of these exercises in your current strength program and become amazed as you blast through current strength plateaus.
The Naked Warrior-DVD
Master the Secrets of the Super-Strong-Using Bodyweight Exercises Only

Jerry Babbage is currently employed as a personal trainer and sports performance coach at the RDV Sportsplex in Orlando, Florida.

His educational background is a Bachelor of Science in Exercise Science, certified strength and conditioning coach from NSCA (National Strength and Conditioning Association), performance enhancement specialist from NASM (National Academy of Sports Medicine) and certified sports nutritionist from SCW (Sara’s City Workout).

He works with both athletes and general population to improve general fitness and sports performance. His specialty is kettlebell training for sports conditioning and grip strength. He trains clients individually and teaches small groups with kettlebells. He has given presentations on sports specific conditioning, program design and kettlebell training.

Prior to becoming a trainer, he competed in track and field (hurdler/sprinter), powerlifting, and wrestling. He can be contacted at



QUESTION: Coach, what do you like to add to your workout shakes?

ANSWER: I use Athletic Greens in our shakes. It’s got tons of great nutrition—vitamins and minerals. Plus it mixes up easy in milk or water.