Have you ever picked up something heavy and had to set it down because it was slipping out of your fingers or making your forearms feel like they were going to explode? That’s what it feels like when your grip strength starts to fail. This isn’t necessarily a good or bad thing.
However, multiple studies have found that there are health and performance implications for having a stronger grip. So, it may be in your best interest to improve your grip strength through some targeted training.
What is grip strength?
It’s a measure of your ability to hold onto something. Grip strength measures how well you’re able to grasp something with your hand and create tension while exerting force, which thereby allows you to sustain your hold on that object.
Benefits of having a strong grip
Not many people train their grip strength which is unfortunately as a strong grip has many useful benefits, especially in weight lifting.
I’m sure you’ve heard a phrase “you’re only as strong as your weakest link”. Well, it applies perfectly to grip strength.
Yes, you may use lifting straps to help you with those PRs (personal records). But other than that, you shouldn’t rely on them and instead, work on increasing your grip strength. Here’s why.
Having a strong grip will ultimately help you lift heavier because it allows you to hold more weight. The whole reason that people use wrist straps is to be able to lift more weight and target the appropriate muscles effectively.
When you’re lifting a heavy weight, and your grip starts to slip, it can change your form, make the movement less safe, and stimulate compensation by other muscles.
If you have weak forearms, for example, and try to do a bunch of pull-ups or rows you may find that your forearms start to burn way before your back muscles, essentially preventing you from exhausting the targeted musculature appropriately.
This is why working on your grip strength and improving it through targeted grip strength training can do the following:
- Make lifts safer
- Improve your form
- Increase the weight you lift
- Give you better results from your workouts
Create more tension
When you’re performing an exercise, the amount of tension that you’re able to exert directly relates to the amount of weight that you can lift. Aside from facilitating heavier lifts though, when you are able to create and sustain tension effectively, it can help you to set up exercises in a way that aids you in maintaining your form.
An example of creating tension to maintain your form could be illustrated by the way you should effectively hold the barbell during a shoulder press. Once you grip the bar, it’s recommended that you actively try to pull the bar apart in order to create outward tension that transfers to your shoulders and creates more stability.
The increased stability in your shoulders will aid you in performing the shoulder press with more precision, safety, and muscle fiber recruitment, which will ultimately lead to improved performance and more muscle gains.
It has long been proven that time under tension promotes muscle protein synthesis, also known as the process by which your body builds muscle.
Being able to hold onto a bar or set of dumbbells for longer will allow you to do more quality repetitions for longer, and potentially at higher repetitions.
This study shows that the slower you lift and the lower weight you lift with, the more it will promote muscle growth and strength.
However, it also takes cardiorespiratory fitness to maintain that exertion level, which is why this technique, known as time under tension, can also increase your endurance.
Your forearm strength and size is directly related to your grip strength. So, if you want a nice-looking set of developed forearms, then you should definitely train them specifically.
However, you should also work on increasing your grip strength, which will conversely improve your forearm strength.
According to this study published by the Journal of Physical Therapy Science, when developed forearms were compared to strong grip strength the results showed that the bigger the forearms, the more grip strength the person had.
Grip strength exercises
So, now that we’ve gone over why grip strength is important for your lifts. Let’s talk about specific exercises that will help you to improve your grip strength while also helping you to increase your fitness level and performance.
Often described as the “king of exercises”, deadlifts are a monster of a lift. This is mainly because it takes a lot of brute strength to lift a heavy weight off the floor from a standstill. In order to exert the amount of force necessary to get a heavy barbell off of the floor, you’ll need some pretty serious grip strength.
This is why your grip plays such an important role in your deadlift form. If you can’t hold the weight, you won’t be able to lift it. Deadlifts are one of the best grip-enhancing exercises out there.
During a deadlift, you’re bending over and hinging at the hips to lower your upper body enough and grab hold of weight on the floor, commonly a barbell. Once you have a good grip, you’ll squeeze your glutes and thighs while pushing your hips forward, all the while sustaining your grip on the bar.
There are a few different grips you can use including double overhand, mixed grip or alternate overhand and underhand and a hook grip. The strongest grip you can use is the hook grip, and it’s preferred by powerlifters and Olympic lifters for that reason.
The pull-up involves gripping a bar above you and then pulling your body up to it, allowing your feet to leave the floor while getting your head above the bar. If you’ve never done a pull-up and have minimal grip strength you may find that it’s very difficult just to grip the bar and hang with your feet off of the floor.
This is why pull-ups are a phenomenal exercise for improving your grip strength. In order to hold yourself on the bar, you have to be able to grip it and maintain your grip while also pulling yourself up against gravity.
Even if your back muscles are strong enough to pull you up if your grip isn’t as strong then you won’t get very far before slipping off of the bar. The best way to improve your grip strength is to practice hanging from the bar before actually attempting pull-ups.
You can also use an exercise band to help you get used to doing a few pull-ups until your grip strength gets better. The more you practice, the easier it will get to hold onto the bar for longer.
During a barbell row, your body is bent at the waist with your legs bent at the knee, and your hips pushed backward with your torso close to parallel with the floor. As you pull the barbell off of the floor and up to your body you have to keep holding the bar tightly.
Once again, you’re working against gravity which is going to try to hold the bar on the floor. By squeezing the bar and creating tension in your grip, and therefore your body, you’ll be able to have more control and stability. Gripping the barbell tighter will help you to increase your grip strength as well as your back strength.
As you get better at pulling the bar from the floor and maintaining your grip, you may find that it gets easier to maintain your hold of the bar throughout the exercise. When you increase the weight, however, your grip strength will also have to increase.
Some people choose to use straps at this point in order to continue to target their back until it fatigues, rather than stopping when their grip fails. This is fine, however, you’ll want to make sure that you’re also doing some kind of grip training if you choose to use straps to facilitate heavier lifts.
Farmer carries are fantastic grip strength builders. There are many variations, but the main one involves holding a dumbbell at each side of your body and usually walking for a specified distance. This helps to train your grip by forcing you to maintain your hold of the weight while moving from point to point.
Holding weight and standing still feels differently than exerting a strong grip on something heavy and stabilizing your body while moving around. This exercise also targets your forearms, traps, back, core and legs.
While you can use a lower-body emphasis technique while climbing a rope, you can also pull yourself up using more of your upper body. If you use more of an upper-body centered approach to rope-climbing then you’ll definitely be working on your grip strength as you grasp the rope to pull your bodyweight upward.
It takes a lot of strength and stability to pull yourself up on something that is moving so this will really challenge your grip strength, as well as your full body. To make it even more of a grip strengthening exercise, you can climb the rope with no assistance from your legs.
5 Best grip strengtheners in 2020
Below we put together a list of top 5 grip strengtheners based on a collaborative effort between ourselves and reviews from fitness experts and enthusiasts.
If you feel like your grip strength could use some improvement, I highly suggest you try one of these. You’ll start seeing the difference in lifts in no time. Instead of focusing on not letting the bar slip, you’ll be able to focus on the mind-muscle connection.
The Prohands GripMaster hand exerciser is made from high-quality ABS plastic. It’s spring-loaded, with the springs being made from stainless steel, while the handle or part that sits inside of your palm is manufactured from FDA-approved Santoprene.
You can use this for finger exercises, which sets it apart from some other models of grip trainers that don’t allow you to train individual fingers. However, you can also train your whole hand with the same piece of equipment. These attributes make it an effective tool for training finger dexterity, strength and grip endurance.
There are 4 different models to choose from with varying resistances:
- Entry-level: 1-6lbs of resistance per finger
- Signature: 1-9lbs of resistance per finger
- Rehab: with a palm cushion, .75-9lbs of resistance per finger
- Pro: 5-13lbs of resistance per finger
If silence is important to you when training your grip, then the MummyFit Grip Strengthener may be a great option for you. It’s very silent, plus it’s lightweight so you can take it with you anywhere.
It’s made from thermoplastic nylon and steel.
One of this product’s main attributes is that it has an adjustment wheel that allows you to change the resistance easily and quickly. You can adjust the resistance from 55lbs up to 154lbs.
Unlike other products that encourage you to stretch a steel spring, this grip trainer is made to compress a steel spring, which is ultimately safer.
The IronMind Captains of Crush hand gripper is a single grip hand-strengthening tool. Its design is simple and basic.
You don’t have the ability to exercise individual fingers with this model. It just offers one grip that requires you to squeeze the 2 handles together and stretch the spring at the top.
However, they offer more options than some other products. There are 11 different hand grippers with different levels of resistance to choose from. The only downside is that you have to purchase them individually. So, if you progress quickly you may end up spending more money than you initially planned.
This hand gripper is made from billet aluminum and alloy steel, with no plastic parts or cushioned pads for your hands.
This is the only product on the list that comes with multiple hand strengthening tools all in one, and for a very reasonable price compared to some of the single grip products you can use.
There are 5 different grip trainers included:
- An adjustable handgrip strengthener which comes with a knob to adjust the resistance from 22-132lbs
- A finger exerciser with 4lb resistance per finger, made with stainless steel springs
- A light resistance finger stretcher resistance band that’s made from 100% high-quality silicone and fits all hands
- A hand strengthener grip ring with 40lbs of resistance, made from 100% high-quality silicone
- A stress relief grip ball with medium tension, made from 100% high-quality silicone
This set of various grip strength training tools also comes with a free tutorial video and is suitable for both men and women who want to improve their grip strength.
The Friendly Swede hand grip trainer is one of the more unique products on the list. It’s not as aggressive as some of the other modalities in that it doesn’t offer as much resistance. So, it’s great for beginners to grip strength training.
It comes as a set of 3 egg-shaped balls, in varying sizes and levels of resistance:
- Large: 3-2.2in, 40lbs of resistance
- Medium: 2.5-1.75in, 30lbs of resistance
- Small: 2-1.3in, 20lbs of resistance
These grip strength trainers are suitable for both children and adults. In addition to helping with joint pain relief, they can also increase limberness in your tendons, and prevent tension.
The egg-shape makes them very comfortable to hold because they fit naturally into your palm allowing for a tighter grip. They’re also made from skin-safe thermoplastic rubber, also known as TRP and are easy to clean.
This product comes with an exercise guide.