How to improve grip strength: 5 exercises that you can do to have a GI Joe Kung-Fu Grip

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When I was a kid, one of my favorite action movies was Cliffhanger, you know, the one with Sylvester Stallone as a shirt shredding badass. 

The opening scene is enough to suck you in and captivate you for the entire movie. Gabe Walker (Sylvester Stallone) is a Expert Mountaineering guide and rock climber who leads a friend and his girlfriend on a rock climbing adventure that soon ends in tragedy.

Watching this I can't help it that my hands start to perspire, my stomach gets a little tense, and I start to have a sense of impending doom. 

I recently watched another movie called "nerve", and this kid has to hang from a crane by one hand as he stares down at the city below.

I don't know that I have the grip strength or the guts to do something like that, but what I do know is how to increase grip strength, thus increasing my chances of survival should I ever be caught in either of these situations.

Why do you need Grip Strength?

Certainly you have shaken a mans hand who seemed to have an iron grip, or watched someone like Alex Honnold Free Solo Climb El Capitan, or how about any of the Crossfit Games athletes that can do 30 ring muscle-ups?

What about yourself...Carrying all the groceries in the house in one single trip is no easy feat and requires all the grip strength you can muster.

In all seriousness, it is important because you use it everyday. The better it is, the easier life will be for you and the more prepared you will be.


What is Grip Strength?

Grip strength is the force applied by the hand to pull on or suspend from objects and is a specific part of hand strength.

It is used by professional athletes, martial artists, rock climbers and in worlds strongest man competitions.

Grip Strength is tested by using a dyanamometer in which the subject holds the dynamometer in the hand to be tested, with the arm at right angles and the elbow by the side of the body.

The handle of the dynamometer is adjusted if required. The base should rest on first metacarpal (heel of palm), while the handle should rest on middle of four fingers. When ready the subject squeezes the dynamometer with maximum isometric effort, which is maintained for about 5 seconds. No other body movement is allowed. Maximum effort should be applied by the subject.


Types of Grip:

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  • Crush Grip - This is type of grip that is used for shaking hands, or crushing a soda can. Training focuses on working out the areas between your fingers and your palm.
  • Pinch Grip - Your grip that is used between the fingers and the thumb is called pinch grip. You train your pinch grip by working out each finger and thumb separately.
  • Support Grip - When you have to hold onto something for long periods of time you will use your support grip. This is commonly used when doing pull-ups, wall hang, or even carrying kettle bells for long periods of time. The support grip also comes in handy when you’re out shopping all day and you have to carry lots and lots of bags of fresh groceries.

Crush Grip

Want an amazing handshake that another man will respect, and that any self respecting man would want to have? Try using a torsion spring gripper, by far the best way to do it. When you are in a meeting at work just carry this with you instead of wanting to fall asleep, besides, people might not want to ask you questions when you are squeezing that thing.

Pinch Grip

This one is pretty self explanatory right? Just pinch something heavy and carry it. You can train this pinch grip a couple ways. One is to get plates and pinch them between your fingers and thumb and perform curls, or just hold them for as long as you can. You can also try the finger stretcher hand resistance bands. 

Support Grip

This is the never freaking quit grip. In order to develop this, do pull-ups, deadlifts, or carry a kettlebell in each and for 400m at a time. You're forearms and grip will burn.


5 exercises you can do to increase Grip Strength

1) Dead-lifts

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Hands down one of the best movements that you can do for your grip. Pick up heavy stuff and do it over and over again. Studies have proven that men and women who lift weights have substantially stronger grips than people who don't. No surprise there.

However, if you want to use the dead-lift to improve grip strength here are a couple specific ways to do it:

  • Don't use chalk - Lifting without chalk makes your grip stronger, it doesn't give you a false sense of having control of the bar. When you don't have chalk you will notice. Learn to lift without the chalk.
  • Perform Bar Holds - Once you get to the top of the dead-lift, hold that position for about 10 seconds. Try different hold times and different weights.
  • Deadlift the Barbell with one hand - Try lifting a barbell with one hand using either a normal dead-lift position or you can straddle the bar. It's easier said than done and you will most likely have to use what's called a hook grip. This is where the thumb lays down under the fingers and and is almost held by the rest of the hand, hence hook.
  • Use A Large Bar To Deadlift - or invest in something called Fat Grips, these fit on the bar to make the bar much larger and harder to grip. Working like this for a while will make a regular barbell grip feel like home.

The more normal your grip is, meaning as natural as it can be, without chalk or assistance, the better your grip strength will be built.


2) Pull-ups and Towel Pull-ups

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One of my favorite exercises is pull-ups or any sort of movement on a bar or ring. It's like being in a circus to me. Not only that but the better my grip strength is the longer that I can stay on the bar.

Pull-ups are almost a reverse deadlift in a way, instead of you holding on to something and picking it up, you are now hanging and pulling yourself to the bar. It has a lot to do with forearms, fingers, hands, wrists, and a lot of back muscles.

If you want to test your grip strength with right now, go and see how long you can hang from a pull-up bar, the first thing to go is going to be your grip. Whether it goes in 10 seconds or 60 seconds it doesn't matter, its all about grip.

If you want to do better with pull-ups and grip strength on the bar, here are a few tips:

  • Do towel pull-ups - Throw a towel over a bar, grab each end with one hand and hang for as long as you can. Rest, and repeat until your grip is shot.
  • Do static hangs from the bar - Same thing here except you are grabbing the bar like you are doing a pull-up but instead of pulling just hang. See how long you can hang. Repeat until grip is shot.
  • Do Normal Pull-ups - Just do pull-ups, eventually your grip will get better.
  • Use a larger bar - Same as the deadlift, use a bigger bar and your grip will strengthen

3) Farmers Carry with Kettle-bells or dumbbells

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During the GORUCK Tough that I completed, me and four other guys had to carry an ammo can for a couple miles, trading off every 100 feet or so. I hated every minute of it, and my grip on both hands was gone by the end.

I knew I had a serious weakness. So I have begun working on it by carrying kettle-bells long distances. In fact for the past few F3 Toledo workouts that I have Q'd we have incorporated carrying either kettle-bells or sandbags. This has increased grip strength and helped me with sharpening my mindset.

A farmers carry is one of the best ways to help with your support grip.

Get a pair of these babies, load them up and go for a walk. Get destroyed. Rinse. Repeat.

Great workout for support grip:

4 rounds of:

  • 10 pull-ups
  • 400m farmers carry
  • Rest 1 minute

4) Pinch Grip Plates

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Pinching plates is a great exercise for your grip.

 Dave Graham, Humildes Pacasa, 8b+ , Oliana (Lleida).  Photo: Keith Ladzinski.  Source:  flickr.com

Dave Graham, Humildes Pacasa, 8b+ , Oliana (Lleida).  Photo: Keith Ladzinski. 
Source: flickr.com

There are a couple different ways to do this.

1) Locate a weight plate that is of moderate weight, not so much that you can't hold it for very long, but one that will be difficult to hold for 30 seconds to a minute.

Hold the plate out in front of you with your thumbs up and pivot the plate about the axis of your wrist. So its like a curl with your wrist. Pinch the plate with your fingers and your thumb.

Flip your wrist so your thumb is on the bottom, and repeat.

2) Find a Weight plate pick it up by pinching it with your fingers and thumb. Hang your arms to your sides and pinch. Hold the plate as long as you can.

Make sure the plate is not too heavy so you do not strain your thumb. That can be nasty.

3) Grab a heavy book, hold it in your hand in a pinch grip and walk your hand from one end of the book to the other and back, over and over again.


5) Bouldering

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When I was around 15 years old, my dad and I signed up for about a 6 week long rock climbing class at a gym in Idaho Falls, Idaho. Every week we would drive one hour to do a 1-2 hour workout, and then we would drive back home an hour.

The first time we went, the instructor taught us how to tie a harness and belay each-other, then we each got to climb a very beginner friendly wall.

Once we did all of this, they told us to just go on this 10 foot high wall and work our way from one side to the other without coming off. It seemed very easy, and even with the cave it couldn't be that difficult right?

That evening as my dad and I were driving home, neither of us could grip anything, our forearms and hands were completely destroyed. I have never had such a grueling workout on my grip before or since then. It was called bouldering, and all we did was traverse a wall without falling. Using your grip to grab holds that you can only use three fingers on, or hang from one arm is extremely difficult. The more that you do this, the stronger your grip will become.

Rock climbing is one of the best ways to increase grip strength because it has you using all sorts of different holds, at different angles with different fingers.

Find a rock climbing gym, or a small rock face that you can safely and boulder. Your grip will hate you, and thank you.

Then one day when you are alone on a mountain and someone is about to plummet to their death, you can proudly say "Not Today", as you grab them and lift them to safety.


Right now, in my mind, this is nothing but grip strength and focus
— Joe Teti

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