Improve Your Grip Strength, Improve Your Physique
Old time strongmen used to have a special test for grip strength. Let's try it. Take a ripe apple and squeeze it with one hand as hard as you can. If you open your hand and see what amounts to applesauce, then you can skip this article. For the rest of you mere mortals out there, read on.
Why should you care about grip strength? Well, because women like big meaty hands on a guy, with knuckles like mountain ranges and fingers like German sausages. Okay, maybe not. Actually, if your grip is weak then you're limiting your progress in the gym. Think about it, most people fail at pull-ups not because they've exhausted their lats, but because their girly grips have failed. Deadlifts? Same thing. From rows to reverse curls, if your gripping power is poor, so will be your workout.
First things first. Get rid of your crutches. That means limit your use of lifting straps or hooks. To wean yourself off, try this: If you normally use straps on three sets of a given exercise, toss them aside for the warm-ups and the first set. After a couple of weeks, avoid using them on the second set as well. Finally, leave them at home because you won't need them for any set, including the last.
For specific grip work, try these bad boys:
If you've never felt soreness in the muscles of your hands and fingers then you haven't tried towel chins. All you need is a towel, a chin-up bar, and a high tolerance for pain. Now, without tying any knots in the towel, throw it over the bar. Wad up each side into your hands and hang on tight. Now perform as many chin-ups as you can. (Obviously, this a great arm and back exercise, too!) After a few sets, when you can no longer pull yourself up, just grab the towel and hang off of it. Then call a cab, because you won't be able to steer your car home.
Grip strength isn't all about crushing power. It's also about finger power, or what some call "pinching" power. To improve finger strength, try doing plate pinches. Grab a pair of dimes (newbie translation: ten pound plates) and place them together, smooth side out. Hold them with your finger tips and keep them pinched together. That's probably easy, so now move up to a pair of quarters. Keep track of how long you can hold them and each time you try it, see if you can squeeze out a few extra seconds. You're a certified bad ass if you can do it with 45s!
The best way to do this is in a power rack. Set a barbell up at just above your knees. Load it up heavy and pull it off the pins. Now it gets technical, so pay attention: Stand there with it as long as you can. And then, uh, put it down. Then do it again. That's it. Use an overhand grip, not a mixed grip (palms facing different directions), and keep your hands outside of your legs. Again, have your partner time you and try to beat your time each session. Note: If the dumbbells in your gym are heavy enough, you can use them as well. (Just watch your toes.)
Jump up to a chinning bar and hang there until you fall off. If you can hang over a minute, add weight using a dipping belt or by holding a dumbbell between your ankles. If you're a real bad ass, hang with only one arm. (This is a great stretching exercise, too.) Ignore the monkey jokes and wear deodorant.
Fat Bar Training
Here's a favorite of guys like Charles Poliquin and Ian King. Do your usual exercises, but where ever possible, fatten the grip. While there are specialty companies out there that make fat barbells and dumbbells, those things can get pricey. We suggest you simply wrap a towel around the bar. Try fat grip bench presses, rows, deads, curls, extensions, wrist curls and chin-ups. You'll notice an extra pump in your forearms after the first set. Just keep in mind that you may initially have to lower the amount of weight you use. Another option is to use EZ-Grips.
The Handshake of the Gods
Here's one you can do with your training partner. This is especially fun if you don't like your partner. Reach out and grasp your partner's hand as if you were going to shake it (you know, one of those plain white guy handshakes.) You both should start gradually applying pressure. After about ten seconds, you should both be crushing down as hard as possible, teeth clenched, arms shaking, and all that good stuff. After thirty seconds, switch hands and do it again. Of course, this is a much better exercise if you and your training partner have about the same level of strength.
We've given you some suggestions, but how do you incorporate specific grip work into your training? The easiest method is to choose one exercise above and use it as a "finisher" at the end of each workout. After chest and back day, do some bar hangs. After leg day, throw in some power holds. They're easy enough to add into your current program and the rewards will be obvious when your reps increase in pull-ups and your poundages increase in everything else. Oh yeah, and you'll never have to buy applesauce again.