Lets talk about one of the most over looked areas of training, grip strength!
Are you one of those people who wants to complete more pull-ups but finds that their hands slip and their grip fails them? Looking to increase your strength or smashing your Deadlift PB? Are you one of those people that struggle to get across those Monkey Bars during an Obstacle Course Race? Funkey Monkey 2.0 still your nemesis at Tough Mudder? Or you can’t climb a rope at your local Spartan Race?
Ask any person to list the areas where their grip strength fails them and I am sure that they can give you a list as long as their arm. The question I ask my clients is, have you ever done any grip strength training in the gym? 90% of the time its a no as most people will go into a gym and just do the normal workouts that everyone does.
With a few exercises added to your normal training program, you can increase your overall strength, hold onto that pull-up bar for longer or smash out those obstacles that you’ve been struggling with at Tough Mudder. Below you will find the exercises that have helped me to conquer all of the obstacles at the World Obstacle Course Race Championships for the last 3 years.
Lose those wrist straps:
Why you may ask? When doing your deadlifts or your pulling exercises you want your grip and forearms to progress along with your ability to pull big weights but those straps are stunting your growth and your ability to hold that bar for more reps. There is a place for straps to be used, especially when going for that mammoth deadlift PB but most of us don’t train with heavy enough weights to justify the use of straps and the avoidance of the benefits of strap-free training to your grip strength and development. So unless you are going for that PB every single week, how about you drop the weight, lose those straps and start getting the most out of those pulling exercises.
A really simple exercise, take 2 dumbbells and hold it by the end for a long as you can. Rest one minute and then repeat for a total of three sets. Start off with a weight that you can hold for around 30 seconds for the first set. (make sure to keep toes out of the way when you drop the weights). To advance this workout, try walking around the gym at the same time.
Put together a combination of (ideally Olympic) plates (two back to back, with smooth side out) and squeeze them together with your fingers and hold for as long as possible. The 5kg plates are a good place to start. Again rest for 1 minute and repeat for a total of 3 sets on each hand. To advance this workout, add more plates, or a thicker, heavier plate to the mix but always two plates together.
Grippers are a great way to work on your grip strength and you can even do this in front of the telly, the ones you want are the ones that can be tension adjusted. For a warm up, set it to its lowest tension and complete 50 reps. There are two types of workouts you can do with a gripper, strength and endurance. For strength, set it to a tension that you can hold for 10 seconds, rest for 30 seconds and then repeat for a total of 5 sets. To advance this, increase the tension until you max out and then go for maximum time holds. For endurance, set the tension a little bit more than the warm up and then complete 4 sets of 25 reps with a 2 second hold on each rep. To advance this, again increase the tension or go for 4 second holds.
Thick Bar Holds:
Increase the thickness of that bar you are holding, be it pull-ups or bicep curls, if it’s hard to hold onto that bar and it takes more effort to squeeze your hand closed while doing an exercise. You don’t need any fancy equipment or specially made fat-grips, just use a towel, wrap it around the bar and away you go. Add this to any bar work and you are making any basic exercise more effective.
Bar Hangs (Dead Hangs):
These are one of the most simple exercises to increase your grip strength, find a bar, hold on with two hands and dead hang for as long as possible. Rest for 1 minute and complete for a total of 3 sets. To advance this exercise then take the bar with two hands, hang and then let go with one hand, hold for as long as possible and then repeat with the other hand. Once you are confident with this, try the two handed dead hang, take one hand off and slowly lower it to your waist before raising it again to the bar before repeating with the other hand. Keep repeating until you can complete 20 reps with each hand. This is a great monkey bar technique.
Now this one is aimed more at people that want to complete those obstacles at Tough Mudder or at a Spartan Race or even if you want to mix up your training.
I cannot recommend Bouldering enough, it’s a great all over body workout, it works the mind, its amazing for grip strength and teaches you how to shift your own body around a route to solve the problem. It will work your core, your forearms, your upperbody and your legs. If you want to increase your confidence on obstacles then research your area for a local for a good Bouldering wall and then try to get down there at least once a week. If you speak to the people on the desk, you can even book lessons instead of just being confused by all the different bright colours on the wall. Get a few friends together and it can be a great social evening. As you build experience and strength you’ll soon go up through the levels.