Keep Holding On – Why Grip Strength Matters!
Have you ever seen someone tear a deck of cards in half, fold a frying pan, or bend a nail? What about rock climb up the sheer side of a mountain? All impressive shows of strength that require an iron grip! Even if you have no desire to tackle any of these feats yourself, you should still care about training your hands to be stronger.
For starters, if you train, it won’t take long to think of all the exercises you might regularly perform (or want to perform) where your hands are the connection point: they crush the kettlebell handle as you military press, they “break” the barbell in your deadlift, they squeeze the bar as you do pull ups, they grip the ground as you push up. It’s easy to see how an improved grip would help you lift a heavier weight, do more reps, or perform a more challenging variation of an exercise – which means more strength and more results!
Additionally, there is a connection between a strong grip and strong and healthy shoulders. This connection actually begins at the neck in a group of nerves called the brachial plexus that branch from the cervical spine. The brachial plexus travels under the clavicle (collarbone) and through the armpit to control the muscles of the shoulder, arm, forearm and hand. The shoulder and grip communicate through irradiation, so a stronger grip can actually result in a stronger shoulder!
There are all sorts of grippers and grip training tools you can invest in, but the good news is that you don’t even need to do that! There are lots of ways to start strengthening your hands for a better grip using tools you already have and exercises you already probably do to some extent. Here are some ideas:
- Practice getting the handle of your bell wedged deep in your palm and really squeeze when you are doing exercises like a military press. Make sure to have good alignment of your wrist and elbow. You can check out this video for an example!
- Farmer walks are probably one of the most underestimated strength builders out there, not just for grip, but core training as well! Mix up your practice so you sometimes work with a bell in each hand, and sometimes only one. Stay tall, stay tight in the core and lats, and crush that handle!
- Go bottoms up with your kettlebells! You can do this with cleans, squats, presses and get ups. It’s a practically foolproof way to improve your grip and practice optimal joint stacking – the bell will flop over if you aren’t squeezing tight or lining up your wrist and elbow correctly. Check out a video here!
- Practice hanging from a pull up bar. When regular hangs become second nature, mix things up by using a towel with one or two hands.
Of course all grip work should be balanced out with some mobility practice… Here’s a video of some quadruped rocking patterns to mobilize and strengthen the wrists. And here’s another with a quick way to practice expanding your hands and fingers to counter the gripping.
Pretty much all our physical efforts would be benefitted by a stronger grip… whether we find ourselves hitting a new PR in our training, hanging off the side of a building in a Mission Impossible style action sequence, or opening a pickle jar!