Imagine a client is doing a set of deadlifts. They reach the fourth or fifth rep and you start to see the bar slipping from their hands, their fingers prying open. They’re losing the lift – well before their posterior chain has even started to fatigue.
Many will use a band-aid approach to “fix” this problem – they’ll use straps, they might use chalk, or change the way they hold the bar. The problem with using that type of solution is that you’re not fixing the cause of the problem, which is a weak grip!
I wanted to know how to improve grip strength so I started looking at the routines of raw lifters and guys with massive forearms — and a lot of the strongest guys did the same things.
1. Farmers walks
These are relatively simple. You pick up a heavy weight with either hand using dumbbells, kettlebells, a trap bar, or the farmers walk bars (my personal favourite) and you walk 20 – 30 meters.
These deliver crazy results. The more weight you can hold and the farther you can walk, the more your forearms and grip strength will improve.
The awesome thing about the farmers walk is that it’s actually a compound exercise — it doesn’t just develop your grip strength but also your traps, deltoids, legs, hips, core, and back. This was the first exercise I started doing to increase my grip strength and I still use it all the time because it has so many benefits.
Here’s PTDC coach Nick Tumminello showing 3 different holding positions for the farmers walk:
And a complex that uses the farmers walks, also from Nick:
2. Static Holds
A static hold is simply doing a double overhand deadlift and then trying to hold onto it for 15-20 seconds. You might think it’s easy at first but you’ll quickly realize how long 15 seconds can actually be. What I suggest is using a weight that’s relatively heavy but not as heavy as your working sets. So use something you’d use as a warm up set.
3. Plate pinches
This is going to be extremely hard because how often do you try to hold two or three plates together with your fingertips? To start, I recommend getting two 10kg plates (preferably smooth plates iron plates).
Now place them between your feet and pinch them together with your fingers and thumbs. Hold them as long as possible and time yourself. This was the hardest for me to get good at and it’s still a struggle but it’s also fun, especially when you move onto the 20kg smooth iron plates.
Dave Dellanave has written some good guidance pieces on plate pinches, below are a few links:
Simple and effective pinch training – Dave Dellanave
The two hand pinch – Dave Dellanave
4. Thicker bars
Old school strongman and bodybuilders used thicker bars to develop big forearms. Forcing your hands to hold a thicker bar will make a dramatic difference in the amount of weight you can lift, not to mention it’s an excellent way to build your grip strength.
Now I know most lifters don’t have thick bars in your gyms or at home so an easy solution is to pick up a pair of Fat Gripz. Fat Gripz slide over the bar or dumbbell handle, making it a lot thicker.
Here’s an example of using fat gripz on an inverted row to encourage more of a grip training emphasis from Ben Bruno:
5. Captain of Crush grippers
If your gym doesn’t have smooth plates, heavy dumbbells, or bars for farmers walks and you want to spend some money on a new toy, buy yourself some Captain Of Crush grippers.
You can carry them around with you anywhere and they really do a number on your hand grip strength. I suggest starting with a number #1 crusher — don’t think you’re a pro and go straight to number #2 unless you’ve been doing a lot of grip training. Start out small and just do as many sets and reps as you can with these bad boys. I’ve seen so many recommendations for these from top strength athletes so they obviously work. Learn more about the crush clippers here.
Don’t try to add all of these at once because your client won’t be able to handle it. Just pick one method and do it at the end of the workout. Do a few sets, time them, and then next workout try to beat that time just by a few seconds.
In a matter of weeks you and your client will see how much of a difference crushing grip strength can make.
Stay Strong, Live Long.
Grip strength training tips – Jedd Johnson, Art of Manliness
Grip training for deadlifting – Bret Contreras