One of the most common weaknesses holding back anyone who lifts weights is their grip strength. Grip strength should improve as you lift more but what if you can’t lift more because your grip is weak. This chicken and egg situation needs to be resolved, and though I may not have the perfect solution I can provide some insights that have helped me.
Do exercises that challenge your grip
This is a no brainer. So you are sucking at deadlifts because your grip is the weak point? Do more deadlifts. Progressively add load and you will build up your forearms are grip over time. You can cheat a bit by using mixed grip on the deadlifts or barbell shrugs but don’t use straps. Other exercises that can help build your grip strength include pull ups/chin ups, shrugs and even the bench press.
Do exercises that work your forearms and fingers
Rubber band exercise
Most health conscious fitness enthusiasts and weight lifters eat broccoli. One of the side benefits of this super vegetable is that at least in North America, it comes packaged in bunches that are held together by a heavy duty rubber band. Save this rubber band.
Bring the fingers of your hand together and put the rubber band around them. Now slowly expand your fingers and let the rubber band providing tension. Do this for as many reps as you can and if you get too good, add more rubber bands. This exercise is very important because it hits muscles that are usually ignored when we do any other movements that work on our grip. If you really hate broccoli, you can buy specialized rubber bands that will help do this exercise.
Wringing a wet towel
Very simple exercise used for ages to work on forearm, finger and grip strength. Wet a bath towel and then wring out the water, twisting it as hard as you can with your fingers and hand. And then quite literally, rinse and repeat.
Holding some weight in place is not just the realm of strongmen! You can increase grip strength by pinching a plate with your fingers and holding it on your sides for a set amount of time. I like taking a pair of 45 pound plates, one each on either side of me as I stand and then pinching them with the fingers and holding them for 30 seconds; putting them down for 30 seconds and then back up again for a few sets. Here’s a quick video from YouTube that shows this great exercise in action.
(You could also make this into a Farmer’s walk by just walking with these weights).
Grip strength gear
Most guys have these sitting around. I remember getting one in my early teens and was all gung-ho about using it in different ways to get me huge. It helped me with my grip and forearms but I even had a way to use it to work the chest and back. The core use of these though is still to work on your grip and they do a very good job of it, especially if you do this in conjunction with the rubber band exercise described above.
Fat Gripz are a thick rubber overlay that can convert any olympic barbell and (most) dumbbells into a “thick bar”. I have owned a pair of Fat Gripz for a while and they make certain movements much harder. I use them on my warm-up sets for bench press and deadlifts (deadlifts get much harder as your hands and grip are really challenged to hold on to the bar vs. gravity wanting to slam it down on the ground). I have also used them for pull ups, chin ups and barbell curls and my I can definitely feel the burn in my forearms. When using them for the bench press, just be careful because the change in grip takes a bit of getting used to (the thicker bar) so go lighter weight and have a spotter close by.
Bottom line is you need to challenge your grip to help it grow stronger. Avoid the straps, grab some broccoli and lift heavy. Weight lifting gloves or alternative products that help protect the hand from being ravaged by calluses and ripped up by abrasive bars can also help improve your grip performance. If you are lucky enough to be working out at a gym that allows use of chalk, give it a try as well.
As with everything else that has to do with bodybuilding and weight training, you are always trying to improve and it is the ongoing hard work that gets results.