Simple rules for improving your grip strength

forearmGrip strength is important; in the gym, in life. I mean, you never know when you might find yourself having to race out on a zip wire to clutch the hand of a friend who would otherwise plummet to their death.

Okay, so THAT is unlikely to happen… but in all other respects, increased grip strength is practically useful, like when you try to carry ALL of the shopping bags from the car to the house in one go. And yes, that includes opening the front door. And no, I don’t know why we feel compelled to do this versus make two or more short, yet comfortable, trips.

But I digress…

One of the biggest frustrations for me is the number of people I see training in the gym using straps, and worse still, right from set one. In all likelihood, I can not see an individual gaining any appreciable increase in grip strength if they are always using straps on exercises where grip strength is key to the movement.

So what are the big taxers of grip?

In no particular order, some of the exercises where grip strength is important include:

  • Deadlifts
  • Rack pulls
  • Shrugs
  • Heavy dumbbell rows
  • Chins
  • Heavy pull-downs
  • Farmers walks

… and there are more, no doubt.

To build grip strength, there really isn’t any need for the beginner or intermediate trainee to work in specific exercises for grip, and my own experiences suggest that grip strength will improve as part of your normal training program just by following some simple rules.

For example, here’s my approach to the deadlift:

  1. I complete as many sets as possible without any aids at all; i.e. straight forward double overhand grip.
  2. When grip starts to become the issue [1], upgrade my grip. For me, that means switching to mixed grip (one under, one over)
  3. Once grip again becomes the issue, I start using chalk. This immediately allows me to complete many additional sets.
  4. Should chalk not get me through the full compliment of sets, only then do I deploy the straps.

[1] Grip is an “issue” for me when it is getting my attention. Once I start the lift, if my attention is trying to assess whether or not I can hold on to the bar, I need a grip upgrade. I want ALL of my attention on posture, breathing and control when I lift, not fear of dropping the weight.

This is a pattern that I can apply to just about all of the above exercises, eliminating those steps where things like an alternative grip are not available. Of course, there are some exceptions to these guidelines.

For example, when I go into a new session with an already depleted grip and want to work a muscle hard, I might start with chalk and go to straps early. But even then, I push myself to ensure that I am not copping out and always shoot for at least a couple of sets unaided.

As a result, my forearms are always appropriately sore following a workout containing any of the above exercises, suggesting that they are getting all the work they need to support my overall progress.

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