What do golf, motocross, baseball, tennis and bodybuilding all have in common? Grip strength is crucial for success in each of these sports. In weight training, your grip can make the difference between seven reps and 10, between using 225 and 275 pounds, or, to cut to the chase, between stagnation and growth. If your grip gives out before the targeted muscles do, you’re forced to shorten your set, and you likely won’t stimulate any development.
This month, H.U.G.E.™ examines methods, exercises and tools designed to help you hold on to the weight longer and thus grasp greater gains.
TYPES OF GRIPS
Often, the exercise dictates the grip you use. For example, a barbell curl is always done underhand, just as a reverse curl is always done overhand. In other exercises, such as rows, you can go either overhand or underhand, with each style altering the angle of pull. However, in curls or rows, you may still choose to deviate by using, say, a thumbless grip instead of the standard closed grip. These are the major grip styles.
- Overhand (a.k.a. pronated) The palm faces backward at the start of a reverse curl and forward at the start of a pulldown or bench press.
- Underhand (a.k.a. supinated) The palm faces forward at the start of a curl and backward at the start of a pulldown or bench press.
- Parallel (a.k.a. thumbs up) The palm faces your central axis. Both palms face each other if two hands are used at once.
- Mixed (a.k.a. staggered) One hand is overhand and the other is underhand. This provides a more secure grip for deadlifts. To prevent biceps injuries, alternate which hand is underhand and which is overhand each set.
- Closed This is the standard method of finger placement, with the thumb wrapped around the bar in the opposite direction of the fingers (thumb overhand if fingers are underhand, thumb underhand if fingers are overhand) and positioned alongside the index finger.
- Thumbless (a.k.a. false) The thumb points in the same direction as the fingers. This grip is often favored in lifts like rows, pulldowns and pushdowns to better focus on the muscles being trained. During some lifts, such as chest presses, you should avoid this grip — the bar is more likely to slip from your palms, and the potential for injury is great.
- Hook In this variation of a closed grip, the thumb is angled inward on the bar, and the index and middle fingers are placed on top of it (and the bar); the other two fingers are wrapped around the bar as usual. The thumb works harder than in a closed or thumbless grip, and the index and middle finger apply pressure to both the thumb and the bar. Olympic lifters favor this grip. At first, it’ll probably feel less secure and more painful, but with practice, the thumb-finger interaction makes this a strong hold.
- Thumb lock This is a variation of the hook grip. Here, the end of the thumb is placed between the index and middle fingers. This can also be a more secure (and painful) grip.
- Reverse hook In yet another variation of the hook, the thumb is over the index finger and squeezing against the middle finger. This is another potentially strong hold.
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Let’s focus on three exercises you can do in any gym.
EXPANDED WRIST CURLS
performed like standard wrist curls, with the crucial difference that at the bottom of each rep, you uncurl your fingers enough that the bar rolls down to your fingers’ first joints. Roll your fingers back up, curling them around the bar again, and then complete the wrist flexion as usual. You won’t be able to use as much weight, but you’ll work your hands in conjunction with your forearms. Do three or four sets of 10-15 reps as part of your forearm workout.
An underhand grip when performing wrist curls targets the flexor muscles on the underside of the lower arm.
Expanded wrist curls don’t work your thumbs; pinch grips do. Put two weight plates together so the smooth sides face out. While keeping all digits straight, grip the two plates between your thumb and forefinger. Hold for as long as you can, rest for a minute and go again. Do three or four such “pinch sets” for each hand, together or individually, at the end of each forearm workout. If you can pinch-grip the plates for more than one minute, use heavier plates. You can also pinch-grip a dumbbell by the handle, keeping your fingers and thumb straight.
Deadlifts performed off a power rack with the supports set at just above knee level focus more on your traps and upper back than full deadlifts. We’d usually recommend that you use wrist straps, so you can really pack on the plates. However, to focus more on hand strength, forgo straps and use an overhand grip. This way, your grip will probably be your weak link — until you strengthen it.
won’t strengthen your hands. In fact, they’ll probably give them less work to do. Nonetheless, the easiest and most efficient way to secure a better grip during pulling exercises is to use training straps, noosing the hooped end around your wrists and wrapping the tail end around the bar where you hold.
A study conducted by the Weider Research Group
demonstrated that, when using straps, subjects got one or two more reps during back exercises than they did without straps. Don’t shortchange your sets of rows, pulldowns and chins. We recommend that you use training straps during back workouts, and you should consider it a plus that your hands aren’t working to their utmost. Focus on grip strength during forearm/grip workouts.
Several tools are designed specifically to boost your grip strength and endurance. Here are three you may want to use.
- Hand gripper: This spring device has two knurled handles, configured in a V shape, that you squeeze together. If you’re only familiar with the plastic sort that you can easily shut, welcome to the new millennium. Captains of Crush grippers have revolutionized grip training. They come in 10 gradations, from 60 pounds of pressure to 365. Most weight trainers can’t close the 140-pound gripper, and, at present, only five men are known to have closed a 365-pound CoC gripper.
- Plate-loaded gripper: Some gyms have a machine that you can load with weight plates. You then draw two short bars together by squeezing your fingers and thumbs toward each other. Unlike a spring device, a plate-loaded gripper lets you work both hands at once.
- Thick bars: A regular barbell or dumbbell handle is 1” or 1 ½” diameter, while a thick barbell or dumbbell handle is 2" to 3" in diameter and often has no knurling. Thus, your hands have much less leverage when grasping the weight and have to work a lot harder just to hold on. We don’t recommend using a thick bar for most exercises because your grip will probably give out long before the targeted muscles do, but with exercises like the aforementioned top deadlifts, thick bar work can boost your functional gripping endurance. You can also train your hands at the same time as your forearms by using a thick bar for wrist curls and reverse curls.
Gripping strength and endurance aren’t visible onstage. Even formidable forearm size doesn’t necessarily correlate to a walnut-crushing hold. Still, getting a good grip is crucial to bodybuilding success, as it can make the difference between a productive set and one that fails prematurely. If your hold is a weak link, train your hands as hard as you do any other bodypart. We can all benefit from occasional “handiwork” to make sure our grip doesn’t slip. FLEX