How to organize grip training

I am amazed again and again on how humans have systematized everything into categories. As they say, “there is always a guy”, a person who has thought things out, organized and optimized them for you to stop overthinking, and start focusing harder on the work.

The guy in grip training is John Brookfield. This strongman has really created classics of grip training, and he himself has stablished many records. In his book Mastery of hand strength, he separates grip into four types:

  • Crushing grip: This is the strength that you can create between your palm and the fingers. While it is the most trained, it also leaves one crucial aspect out: the thumb. Exercises for working on this grip are grippers like the Captain of Crush, hanging from a bar (unless it is very thick) and holding a barbell for time.

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  • Pinching grip: This is the strength created between your fingers and your thumb. It is the one you will use to grab really thick stuff, like a stone. Here you are really putting to use that human ability of grabbing with a thumb. To work on this, you can pinch thick stuff like fat barbells, plates or a rope, or you can also pinch really tinny objects, like a coin or a bucket.

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  • Individual fingers: One could say grip training is just about grabbing things, but this one really gets into the bigger category of hand training. In disciplines like Rock climbing, Gymnastics or Martial arts it may be important to train your fingers individually. For example, in Gymnastics there are moments in which you will be swinging from a bar at a high speed, only with the fingertips. Some exercises for working on this are hanging from the fingers (you can use three, two or just one phalange), fingertip push-ups and Iron palm training. Just as in normal gripping the weak link tends to be the thumb, in individual work the weak link is usually the pinky.

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  • Extensors training: This one will create structural balance, and it can actually make your normal grip stronger. All type of gripping works on your flexors, which are those muscles that come from your forearms and close your hand. In a society of manipulation, in which we are constantly typing on a computer, holding a barbell or driving on our cars, an almost universal imbalance is that between very tight and strong flexors, and very long and weak extensors. Extensors training is done with anything that opens your hand, so you can use a rubber band to create resistance, a rice bucket exercise or just holding a book with your open hand.

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What about the false grip? Well, in reality that is a kind of grip done with your wrist, not your hand. And the world of gripping can get huge as, say, hanging from your neck, elbows, knees, ankle, hip, and just about every major joint in your body.

Now, how do you decide which kind of grip is important for you? If you practice a sport, you decide around that. So if you practice rock climbing, your pinching and individual finger strength will be very important; for a guitar player, it’s all about individual finger endurance; in strongman, you need all grips with strength and endurance capacity; for an arm wrestler, you use your crushing grip, and so on. Extensor training should be universal to all types of training.

If you don’t practice a sport and would like to just get better at gripping, your answer comes from the weak links mentioned above. Always prefer pinching over crushing grip training so you include your thumb, in individual fingers training always look for exercises that include the pinky, and do some type of remedial work for your extensors. How much carryover there is, for example, between doing a heavy Axle deadlift and bowling for one hour is not much, but it can be increased if you match the type of grip being trained, and the parameters under you train it (speed, maximal strength, endurance, etc).

Jim Bathurst said “There’s never been a strong man with weak hands”; Ido Portal said “The scapula and the grip are the biggest predictors of upper body strength” and Pavel Tsatsouline said “The easiest way to get stronger overall is increasing your grip and core strength”. If you want to get stronger, train your hands and, in there, organize your training around these categories for a more focused and productive work.

If you’d like to know more about these topics, I recommend the work of John Brookfield and Jedd Johnson


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