Grip strength is a hot topic these days. That’s likely because of all the research equating a better grip to everything from overall strength, to a longer life.
While the validity of this claim is in question (we examine it in the FAQ), there are still many proven benefits to improving your grip strength.
While grip strength may not be on everyone’s fitness radar, a stronger grip can significantly enhance your lifestyle in many ways.
Better Workouts: Ever found your grip slipping during a heavy deadlift? While pull exercises do stimulate the muscles in your hands and forearms, your grip strength could also be getting in your way of progressing in your lift. A ton of pull exercises like pull-ups, deadlifts, and rows, require a strong grip for proper execution and progression. With that, strengthening your grip will ultimately allow you to perform heavier, more challenging lifts.
Sports Performance: Training progression isn’t the only benefit of having a strong grip, enhanced sports performance falls into the list as well. Whether you are practicing tennis, basketball, rock climbing, or golf, prioritizing grip strength in your training can improve your performance. A stronger grip may provide better control, precision, and power as you play. I’ve gone rock climbing and can attest that a better grip would have instantly made me better.
More Muscles: Ideally, a stronger grip should mean heavier lifts and bigger muscles. I don’t know many people that would be opposed to that. Beyond aesthetics, we also know that more muscle mass is correlated with longevity, and may help prevent de-conditioning as we age.
Enhanced Quality of Life: Take a minute to think about all of the tasks we perform, outside of the gym, that involve our hands– typing on a keyboard, lifting boxes, and opening a can of salsa are just a few. As we age, our ability to perform these simple tasks become increasingly important. It can be a bit odd to think about if you’re only 20, but the actions you take today will impact you into those sunset years.
It’s time to explore the training blueprint that you’ll need to transform your grip strength.
When performing deadlifts, a weak grip will hold you back. All kinds of deadlift variations can be a great way to train your grip strength and forearms. Stand with your feet a tad wider than shoulder-length apart with your knees facing forward toward the barbell. Bend at the hips and knees to grasp the bar using an overhand grip about shoulder-width apart. Push through your heels to lift the bar while straightening your body and bracing your core. Lower the bar back down to starting position, making sure your back is straight. If you’ve never performed deadlifts before, try the movement without adding weight to start. You can add weight overtime as the movement becomes more comfortable for you.
The farmer’s walk is great because it mimics real-world activities that activate our grip. To perform this exercise, grab a pair of heavy dumbbells or kettlebells, stand tall, and walk for about 25-30s.
We have a whole article on the power of loaded carries.
Hold two weighted plates with the smooth sides out and lift them off the ground using only your fingertips and thumb. Aim for longer durations or gradually increase the weight to progress.
Grasp a pull-up bar using an overhand grip, hands slightly wider than shoulders. Pull your body up until your chin is higher than the bar, then lower back to the starting position with control. If you’re unable to perform a pull-up, start with dead hangs (explained below) and slowly work your way up.
For more on pull-ups check out this article to double your pull-ups.
Hold a barbell or a pair of dumbbells with your palms facing down, then curl the weight towards your chest like you’re revving the engine on a motorcycle. Be sure to go slow and control the weight on the way down to get the most out of the exercise.
Dead hangs are a perfect exercise to start with if you are new to grip strength, because of how simple they are to perform. All you need to do is find a pull-up bar, grab it with both hands and hang. That’s it. The key here is to keep your body relaxed and to hang for as long as possible. You can start with 30-45 seconds and work your way up to longer periods of time.
Another simple but effective exercise is towel wringing. The only thing you need to perform this exercise is a towel. Wet the towel slightly to increase resistance, then twist it as if you’re trying to wring out every drop of water. Wring the towel in both directions to ensure you’re working your muscles evenly.
Additional Grip Strengthening Tools:
Similar to towel wringing, you can use grip-strengthening tools. Hand grippers, grip balls, and grip strengtheners are all great options. If using hand grippers, squeeze for 2-3 seconds, then slowly release. Do sets of 10-15 squeezes per hand. Grip balls are used similarly, just squeeze 10-15 times, taking time to rest between each set.
These are a good option while you’re watching TV or doing another semi-passive activity.
Okay, now that you have the exercises, the next step is to put them into a program. Consistency and progression are essential when building any muscle group, hands and forearms included. In this section, we will review how to gradually progress in your grip strength training overtime, which will allow the muscles in your hand and forearm to adapt and grow.
As a starting recommendation, choose TWO of the above exercises and include them each TWICE in your program. So if farmer carries and reverse grip curls sound good to you, then find a place towards the end of the workout to each of them twice. This gives you four exercises per week. Stick with these two for 16-32 weeks, allowing yourself to progress. Then, come back to this article and pick two more.
Start with the right resistance: Start with a resistance level that allows you to perform each exercise with good form and without excessive strain. It should feel challenging but manageable.
Increase duration or repetitions: Once you can comfortably perform the exercise for a specific duration or number of repetitions and it no longer feels challenging, it’s time to progress. Increase the duration of the exercise by a few seconds or the number of repetitions by a small increment. This change is paramount to ensure your grip is actually getting stronger.
Gradually progress: Over time, continue gradually increasing the duration, repetitions, or intensity of the exercise. The key is to push yourself slightly beyond your comfort zone with each progression, allowing your grip strength to adapt and grow stronger.
Listen to your body: This is essential to avoid overexertion or excessive strain. Pay attention to any signs of pain or discomfort and adjust the intensity or duration accordingly. Consistency and gradual progression are key for sustainable results.
Training your grip isn’t the most exciting. Here are a few tips that will help you stick with it after the novelty fades away.
Keep a Training Log: Rome wasn’t built in a day, and neither will your grip. This process is going to require patience and consistent effort. It may be helpful to keep track of your progression, as a form of positive reinforcement. If you see that your farmer carries are going up in weight, that’ll help you keep going.
Mind-Muscle Connection: There’s a very real link between your brain and your grip strength. Think about it—when you imagine your hand firmly gripping, your body follows suit. By actively focusing on the muscles you’re activating during each exercise, you’re sending a clear signal from your brain to your muscles to put in the work. For this, check out our article building a mind-muscle connection.
How often should I train my grip strength in a week?
Ideally, you should incorporate grip strength training into your routine twice a week, as mentioned. That way if you’re sore, you give these muscles ample time to recover.
Can I perform these grip-strengthening exercises on rest days?
While it’s okay to perform light grip exercises on rest days, it’s not recommended. Rest days are intended for recovery, and performing exercises is counterproductive.
Can I use grip-strengthening tools every day?
Yes, you can use tools like hand grippers or grip balls daily, but remember to avoid overexertion and allow enough time for your muscles to recover. Recovery is essential if you want your muscles to grow. If you do this and then have heavy deadlifts the next day… those deadlifts will be tough.
How long will it take to see improvements in my grip strength?
If you commit to the blueprint laid out in this article, you should start to notice improvements within 4-6 weeks.
How important is progressive overload in grip strength training?
Progressive overload is essential in any form of strength training, and grip training is no exception. If you want to be successful, you must gradually increase the amount of stress placed on your body during exercise over time. Some ways you can do this include: lifting heavier weights, performing more reps, or increasing the frequency of your training sessions. Just like any other muscle, the muscles in your hands and forearms will respond to the increased demand by growing stronger.
I’m a beginner. How do I get started with grip strength training?
Grip strength training doesn’t require any fancy equipment or complex routines. Start by simply incorporating a few grip-focused exercises (like the ones listed above) into your regular workout routine. Dead hangs from a pull-up bar, for instance, are a simple and easy-to-learn starting point. Also, try to pay more attention to your grip in everyday activities – make a conscious effort to squeeze your hand when lifting items or performing tasks that involve your hands. As you get comfortable, you can start to explore more specific grip exercises and tools. Remember to always start slow, focus on form, and gradually increase the intensity to keep progressing.
Can improving my grip strength help prevent injuries?
Yes, although it helps indirectly. Having a stronger grip may provide you with more stability and control, which may reduce your risk of accidental slips or falls, especially as you age. On top of this, it may also safeguard from strain injuries in the hands, wrists, and forearms.
What should I do if I experience pain or discomfort during grip strength exercises?
If you experience pain or discomfort, take a pause. This could mean you are not using the correct form or have overexerted your muscles. If pain persists, get help from a professional.
Does strengthening our grip slow aging?
This is a common misconception, but grip strength itself probably doesn’t directly slow aging. Rather, grip strength serves as a proxy for overall strength, which is often correlated with longevity. It’s key to understand that this correlation does not imply causation. In other words, it’s not that a strong grip per se adds years to your life. Instead, having a strong grip is often a sign of overall physical health & fitness, which tends to go hand in hand with better health and a longer lifespan.
With that said, strength will help increase your healthspan as well as lifespan. As people get older, falls are one of the most common causes that lead to eventual declines.