Tip: Supersize Your Dumbbells and Barbells

Here's how to make your barbells and dumbbells more effective and build more carryover strength.

Have you ever been pissed because you found out that your gym strength didn't carry over into real life as well as you thought it would?

Maybe you occasionally run into somebody who's hanging off the side of a cliff and you grab hold of their arm to pull them to safety, but find out your grip isn't strong enough and they slip free and fall screaming to a terrible death, causing you months of indigestion and night terrors.

Okay, maybe nothing so dramatic. "Carryover strength" often does come down to grip strength, though. And if we have to grab hold of something bigger than a dumbbell handle or an Olympic bar, our gym strength often disappears.

But what if we trained with bars that were thicker? We'd develop more strength, not only in real life, but also in the gym, and it wouldn't just be grip strength. The strength would transfer over to overall upper body strength, too.

That's at least the premise of "fat grip" training. It's something Coach Charles Poliquin has been yammering about since 1982 and there's at least a few studies to support the concept, the most recent one involving golfers.

Thick Grip Training

Not Just for Clown-Pants Wearing Freaks

Sure, it's nice that a bunch of Division 1 golfers did eight weeks of resistance training using fat grips and improved their ball speed, ball carry, driving distance, and left-hand grip strength more so than a control group that performed conventional grip training. (1)

But what about the rest of us who don't delight in traipsing around in clown pants and talking about stock dividends? Well, as mentioned, training with a thicker bar achieved through a wrapped up towel or some "fat grips" makes the grip much stronger, but it also has other valuable functions, as Poliquin has often pointed out:

1 – Faster gains in overall upper body strength

Poliquin insists that using a thick grip increases motor unit activation, especially in fast-twitch muscle fibers. Try thick-bar training for a few weeks (up to 6 or 8) and then go back to training with normal-sized bars and see how much your strength has increased.

2 – Elimination of any bi-lateral deficits

This one probably needs further investigation from research geeks, but Poliquin believes that doing some thick-bar training will fix any strength deficits between one arm and the other.

3 – Transfers well to sports

This one's probably a no-brainer, but training the grip will transfer over to grappling sports like judo and wrestling quite nicely. And, as Poliquin points out, most strength programs for sport chronically neglect forearm and grip training, so if you beef that up through fat-grip training, you'll automatically be able to do your sport better.

How Do I Make My Bars or Grips Fatter?

You can either purchase some Fat Gripz or any one of a number of knock-offs. You could also go the MacGyver route and go to the hardware store and buy some foam rubber pipe insulation and cut it to size. Lastly, you could use the poor man's approach, which is to wrap a couple of towels around a bar or pair of dumbbells.


  1. Cummings, Patrick M.; Waldman, Hunter S.; Krings, Ben M.; Smith, John Eric W.; McAllister, Matthew J. "Effects of Fat Grip Training on Muscular Strength and Driving Performance in Division I Male Golfers," Journal of Strength & Conditioning Research: January 2018, Volume 32, Issue , p 205–210