The Importance of Grip Strength

Part 1: STEPH

My husband once laughed at me while I was trying to open a jar of jalapenos. “Functional fitness, huh? For someone so strong, it’s hard to believe that you can’t open a jar.”

My grip strength sucks, and I hate to admit it, but I’ve had little desire to strengthen it. My gym schedule is already pretty jam-packed…now I need to add grip training into my routine?

But the stronger a person gets, the stronger hands a person needs.

I watched some of our Strongfigure ambassadors and team members work out the other night. As Tori was performing strict toes to bars and Ryan was deadlifting 500 lbs for multiple reps, all I could think of was, “Damn! Their hands must be killing them!”  as well as “Why do my hands always hurt when I grab bars and barbells?”

They just aren’t strong enough. Ugh. 

And looking back, I should have known this, and I should have started strengthening them earlier.

At my strongman training a couple years ago, I could actually walk with 130 pounds in each hand…but my left hand dropped the farmer carry bar because it couldn’t grip the weight further than six steps.

And then there’s every time I try to deadlift. I specifically remember one time a while ago where my plan was to work up to about 260 pounds and then try and go for max reps at that weight. The last time I had done that, I got 5 reps. That particular night? The stupid bar kept slipping! I got it up once. Switched my grip on the bar and then did it once again before my fingers slipped right off.

And just last week I was complaining to Tori that even though I felt strong while snatching, my grip on the barbell just did not feel good! I think about all the movements I really enjoy performing:

  • pull-ups
  • rope climbs
  • deadlifts and cleans
  • snatches and overhead barbell movements
  • toes to bar

They kill my hands. And it sucks. I guess Erik was right all along…I need to start grip training.

Part 2: Erik 

Of course I was right. Life is better when you have strong hands. Strong hands will help you in almost every physical aspect of your life — sports, working out, conflict resolution, romance…

But grip strength is likely the most under-trained part of anyone’s workout regimen. To have strong hands you need strong fingers; crushing strength, both active and passive; and hand extensor (opening) strength.

Crushing Strength — Active and Passive

Active Crushing

Left: open Right: almost closed  "Told you my grip strength sucks." --Steph
Steph using the trainer. Left: open, right: almost closed.
“Told you my grip strength sucks.”

When you squeeze something that resists the hand from closing, such as a spring loaded gripping tool, this is referred to as active crushing. This is probably the most over looked and thus the weakest part of grip strength for most lifters. I have worked with athletes that can deadlift 400+ easily with no straps that can’t close a 150 lb grip tool such as a Captain of Crush gripper.

If you want stronger active crushing strength then I highly recommend grippers. Personally, I am a fan of the Captain of Crush grippers. I think guys who lift should probably start with a trainer, a 1, and 1.5. If you have a deadlift over 400lbs then go ahead and skip the 1 and get at least a 2 or maybe a 2.5. Real men use a 3 but I am not there yet…someday. Most female lifters should start with the CoC Sport (or Guide), the trainer, and work up to the 1. If you are a female with a 300lb plus deadlift then perhaps a 1.5 — this is no joke. A lot of men cannot close a CoC 1.5.

Start small and always warm up with the lightest gripper first. Also, only use your crushers a few times a day until you begin to get used to them. It is easy to strain the hand muscles. You may even want to consider soaking your hands in cold water after working the crushers.

Passive Crushing

Passive crushing is when you are holding something using your crushing power but your hand is being forced open by gravity. When Steph could no longer hold onto that 260 lb deadlift, she was lacking passive crushing strength. This is probably the most important aspect of grip strength for the average weight lifter.

Fat bars, fat bars, fat bars. Use them. If you do not have a fat bar, then get some fat gripz. You can set them up on a pull up rig and just hang. Rack pulls with a fat bar (or while using fat gripz) is a great way to improve your passive crushing strength.

Fat Gripz will take your training to whole new levels.
Fat Gripz will take your training to whole new levels.

Pinching Strength and Strong Fingers

Pinching strength refers to the strength needed to hold something between your fingers and thumb — the strength needed to hold a 45 lb plate from the top.

Just the other day I was helping to clean out my grandmother’s apartment in DC and I was taking apart a table. The proper tools for the job were a screwdriver and an open-ended wrench. I only had the screwdriver. And remember I was in DC–finding a wrench would have meant finding a hardware store and another parking space, or driving an hour to borrow one from my dad (that would likely have been easier than finding the parking spot in DC.) So I had to use the next best thing to a wrench: my fingers. Life is better when you have strong hands.

Here’s a great exercise you can practice at the gym to work on your pinching strength. Try to find a metal plate that is smooth on both sides (without a lip), if you only have access to metal plates with a lip then just make sure to not use the lip when pinching. Pinch the plate (or plates) between your fingers and thumb and do for multiple repetitions using a bar hinged into a corner or a landmine device like seen in the following video.

Toys for the STRONG

My favorite tool for the fingers are climbing holds. This set up linked here can attach to any door with a fairly high ceiling above — the one in the link requires 10 inches between the top of the door trim and ceiling. In addition to being a great finger strength tool, it is loads of fun. Another great option are rock ring holds. You can attach them to any pull up bar and here is a link to some super cool powerhouse finger workouts.climbing board

And in addition to the fingers being strong in the pinching motion (towards the thumb) they also need to be strong when opening the hand as well.  Even the strongest athletes often lack this opening hand strength.

Steph and I picked up this tool, Hand Bandz, at the Arnold Classic a couple of years ago and it is a game changer. Who knew my pinkie finger was so damn weak? This is a very humbling tool. Like with the grippers, start small to avoid muscle sprains.

Again, Steph demonstrates her weakness. "Im trying so hard to open up my hand!"
Again, Steph demonstrates her weakness. “Im trying so hard to open up my hand!”

Good luck and get those hands strong!

Hand Bandz are TOUGH!

This week’s Strongfigure Conditioning Workouts: