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We might as well let you in on a little secret: you may not be as strong as you think. Sure, you can probably bench, squat, deadlift and curl more than you ever have before, and that’s something to be commended. But there is one area vital to overall strength conditioning that you may have yet to develop, through no fault of your own.
Grip strength has long been a hallmark of strength athletes, going back at least to the days of men like Thomas Topham (1710- 1749), a London innkeeper who could reportedly snap pipe stems in his outstretched fingers, and the great Canadian strongman Louis Cyr (1863-1912), who performed a one-finger lift with 553 pounds. Today, websites like gripboard.com are devoted to the pursuit of grip-strength training and testing and are visited by thousands of men and women who are looking to get a better grip on . . . everything.
So why should you, a bodybuilding enthusiast, be concerned with your own grip? After all, wrist straps are pretty cheap and effective, and you’re probably not called upon to tear phone books or license plates in half with any kind of regularity.
“You can lift only as much as you can hold,” wrote Franco Columbu in his book Weight Training and Bodybuilding. For Columbu and hardcore trainers of his ilk, accessories like straps are a big no-no. For them, hand and wrist strength are as vital to a strength trainer’s overall makeup as leg or back strength. Assisting one’s grip is akin to having a spotter assist each rep of every set of bench presses. Besides, if elite powerlifters can pull a 1,000-pound barbell off a power rack with a double overhand grip and no straps, you can certainly build enough strength in your hands to get through a back workout without a pair.
TAKING MATTERS IN HAND
There are numerous ways to strengthen one’s grip, but all of them are achieved through the use of hand exercises. This being the case, you’ll find it’s relatively easy to train one’s grip almost anywhere with a minimum of equipment. In fact, there’s no need to “squeeze” your grip-strengthening program into your bodybuilding routine. Instead, work on it when you’re stuck in traffic during your commute, while sitting at your desk at the office, while watching TV or even when out on a romantic date. (OK, that last one is a slightly different kind of grip. We’ll get to that later.)
As for equipment, you can choose from a wide variety of devices, from complex to incredibly simple. Let’s go over a few of them, in order from basic to advanced.
You read that correctly. A household dishtowel — the kind dear old mom hangs near the kitchen sink — makes for a great handstrengthening device. When mom’s not looking, nab one and fold it in half. Then twist it tightly, as if you were wringing it out. Now tie the rope you’ve created into a simple knot. Voilá! Homemade gripping device. The knot will fit into your clenched hand comfortably and provide a gripping surface for all of your fingers. After a few weeks of squeezing the knot for sets of 10 reps throughout the day, your coworkers will surely notice your firmer handshake — if not dishpan hands.
Tennis players and dogs alike have both known for years that when it comes to strengthening a grip, nothing beats a trusty tennis ball. Just be sure not to use the one the dog left behind. Again, grip for sets of 10 reps.
As in two barbell plates, preferably Olympic. Developing pinch-grip strength is a slightly different endeavor from hand strength. It is developed by pressing your fingertips together with increasing weight held between them. Begin by grasping the flat surface of two 10-pound Olympic plates, lip edges facing in. As your pinch strength increases, you can move up in weight to 25s, 35s and maybe even 45s, if you’re a true pinch master.
CAPTAINS OF CRUSH GRIPPER
Forget the sporting-goods store plastic variety of hand gripper. IronMind produces the finest tension hand grippers in the world. They range in resistance from the Guide, at 60 pounds of resistance, to the No. 4, at 365 pounds of resistance, which has been closed by exactly five men. Go to ironmind.com to find out who they are and how to purchase a gripper.
IVANKO SUPER GRIPPER
This is a more cumbersome device than the COC grippers, but it’s cool in that it has variable spring-loading, which means it can be adjusted in fine increments ranging from easy to impossible. It’s like having more than 110 different grippers at your disposal. Go to ivanko.com for more info. Whichever method you choose to improve your grip strength, remember that consistency is key. Practice every day, whenever you have a spare moment, and you’ll find the results well worth the effort. In time, your workouts will become easier as the weight you lift feels lighter in your hands. Your forearms will become more developed, and that hot date, well, she probably won’t mind your firm grip.