Go to any gym, and you’ll see people pumping up their biceps, sculpting their abs, and beefing up their quads, but you won’t see many exercisers training their grip. That’s a shame because a firm grip is very useful!
Just a few decades ago, almost anyone who lifted weights also worked on their grip. In fact, grip strength was something to brag about. The lifters of the day also practiced feats of grip strength, such as bending railroad spikes and coins, tearing decks of cards in half, and even rolling up frying pans. Nowadays, such feats are rare.
Instead, modern exercisers often seem to avoid doing any kind of grip training. Many even wear lifting straps to bolster their lack of grip strength. A better option would be to increase grip strength so that such straps are unnecessary.
A stronger grip will increase your performance in the gym. Losing your grip on the bar before your target muscles will bring your set to a premature end, making your workout less effective. If your hands give out during bent-over rows, deadlifts, or curls, you REALLY need to start training your grip.
But what are the best grip exercises?
The truth is that there are lots of great grip exercises to choose from, and you’ll need to use at least a few different ones to strengthen your hands and forearms. That’s because there are several types of grip strength, including pinching, crushing, and supporting.
In this article, we reveal the seven best exercises for an unbreakable grip!
Why Build a Stronger Grip?
Because you can’t see grip strength, it’s one of those things that a lot of people ignore. However, a firm grip is very valuable. Advantages and benefits of strong grip include:
More reps per set of deadlifts, pulldowns, pull-ups, rows, and curls – if your hands fail before your larger, target muscles, your workouts won’t be as productive as they could be. Strengthen your grip so you can train the rest of your body harder.
Increased wrist stability – a strong grip makes your wrists more stable, and that means you’ll be able to bench press and overhead press more weight. Also, if your muscles are strong, you’ll take the stress off your joints, potentially reducing your risk of a wrist injury.
Increased sports performance – from tennis to rugby to gymnastics to martial arts, a strong grip may help you play your chosen sport better. Whether you are holding onto an opponent or trying to hit a return shot on the tennis court, a stronger grip is sure to help.
Everyday tasks are easier – whether you are hammering in a nail, opening a jar, or carrying groceries or a suitcase, the stronger your grip, the easier these jobs will be.
Best Grip Strength Exercises
There are lots of different grip exercises to choose from, and these are seven of the best. Use a couple of different exercises per workout to keep your grip training fresh and interesting. Make sure you build some rest into your grip training, as muscles only get stronger between workouts. 2-3 grip sessions per week should suffice.
One of the most straightforward ways to improve your grip is by using a hand gripper. Most hand grippers are V-shaped springs, but there are also devices that allow you to work one finger at a time. They’re available in a range of strengths, from easy to ultra-advanced.
The main advantage of hand grippers is that you can use them almost anywhere and anytime.
When choosing a hand gripper, make sure you buy one that you find hard to close. After all, if you can close it easily, you’ll just end up having to do hundreds of reps. That’s great for hand and grip endurance but not much use for strength.
Farmer’s walks are a very functional grip exercise. They build full-body strength but are especially useful for building a solid grip. To do farmer’s walks, pick up a heavy dumbbell in each hand and then go for a walk around your training area. Walk as far as you can, setting the weights down just before your hands give out.
You can also do farmer’s walks with kettlebells, which usually have slightly thicker handles, making them harder to grip. Alternatively, you can use two barbells, a trap bar, or specially designed farmer’s walk handles.
As the name of this exercise implies, plate pinches develop your pinching strength. You won’t need a lot of weight for this exercise, but despite this, it’s a real toughie! Place two identical weight plates back-to-back.
Pinch them together by placing your thumb on one side and your fingers on the other. Lift the plates up and hold them for as long as you can. Put them down before your grip fails, and then swap sides. The thicker the plates, the harder this exercise becomes.
Pull-ups are a potent arm and back exercise. Make them more grip-centric by modifying them and doing towel pull-ups instead. Hang a gym towel over each end of your pull-up bar. Grip the ends tightly together, one towel per hand. Hold on tight and start doing pull-ups.
You probably won’t be able to do as many reps as usual, and your grip may fail quite quickly.
Don’t worry; your rep count will increase as your hands get stronger.
The deadlift hold is a basic but brutal grip strength exercise. To do it, place a barbell on a squat rack set to about mid-thigh height and load it with plenty of weight. Grip the bar with an overhand, shoulder-width grip and, without rounding your lower back or bending your arms, pick it up. Hold the weight for as long as you can, setting it down only when your hands begin to fail.
Alternatively, tack this exercise onto the end of your usual deadlift workout. Rep out as normal but then, on your last rep, stand up and hold the bar for as long as you can.
Dead hangs are the bodyweight equivalent of deadlift holds. But, instead of lifting and holding a heavy barbell, you hang from a pull-up bar instead. Grip your pull-up bar using an overhand, shoulder-width grip.
Keeping your arms straight, lift your feet off the floor, and hang for as long as you can. Keep your shoulders pulled down and back to protect your joints. Continue until your grip fails. Try to hang for longer as your hands get stronger. Too easy? Use the towel technique discussed in exercise #4 – towel pull-ups.
Exercises that are usually thought of as forearm builders are also useful grip exercises. Three of the best are:
Wrist roller – for this exercise, you’ll need either a wrist roller apparatus or a length of wooden broomstick, about six feet or two meters of cord, and a few weight plates. If you are using the homemade option, tie the cord to the center of the handle using a non-slip knot, such as a clove hitch. Tie the other end to your weights.
Extend your arms in front of you at shoulder level. Without lifting or lowering your arms, roll the cord around the stick, lifting the weights in the process. Unroll the cord to lower the weights down and repeat. The thicker the handle, the harder this exercise becomes.
Wrist curls/reverse wrist curls – these two forearm exercises also work your fingers and hands for a firmer grip.
To do wrist curls, sit astride an exercise bench. Lean forward and place the backs of your wrists on the edge of the bench, palms facing up. Holding a barbell, extend your wrists and lower the weight down toward the floor. Open your hands and let the bar roll down your outstretched fingers. Don’t drop it! Curl your finger and then your wrists back up to raise the bar.
For reverse wrist curls, sit in the same position described above but with your palms facing downward. Flex and then extend your wrists to work the muscles on the back of your forearms. While this is still a useful forearm and grip exercise, it’s not as good for hand strength as regular wrist curls.
Barbell levering is our final forearm/grip exercise. To do it, hold a barbell with your hand a few inches back from the center. The long end should be out in front of you. With your arm by your side, lower the end down toward the floor and then use your forearm muscles to lever it back up.
You can add weight to the end of the bar to make this exercise harder or, more simply, just move your hand further back.
How Often Should You Include Grip Training in Your Workouts?
Training your grip is like training any other muscle group. Your workout causes muscle fatigue and breakdown, and you need to rest, eat, and sleep for repair and growth to occur, so you come back bigger and stronger.
Train your grip too often, and the repair and growth process won’t have time to happen. Train too infrequently, and you’ll detrain between workouts, getting weaker instead of stronger.
Also, doing too much grip training could lead to painful overuse injuries, such as carpal tunnel syndrome and tendonitis.
For most people, 2-3 grip workouts per week is plenty. Also, remember that you use your gripping muscles every time you train your upper body, so it’s all too easy to over-train your hands.
Avoid overuse injuries by doing different exercises during your gripping workouts. For example, you could do dead hangs one day, and deadlift holds the next. Avoid doing too many similar exercises in the same workout.
Finally, remember that you can also modify your regular workout to make it more grip-centric. For example, you could use thick bars instead of standard barbells or use Fat Gripz or similar to increase the diameter of your dumbbells. Thicker bars are harder to grip, and that means they’ll help improve your grip strength.
Whatever you do, a stronger grip can be very beneficial. In the gym, it means you’ll be able to do more reps before your hands give out, leading to more productive workouts. On the sports field or in the dojo, a powerful grip means being able to hold and control your opponent better.
On the tennis court, a strong grip means more power. Increased grip strength also means never having to ask someone else to help you open a jar of peanut butter!
Grip strength is also viewed as an indicator of longevity. The theory being that if you’ve got a strong grip, the rest of your body is probably strong too. Strong people are generally healthier and live longer than weaker people.
While a firm grip clearly has functional benefits, training your grip can also beef up your forearms. Strong, muscular forearms have aesthetic appeal and, when you are wearing a T-shirt, are one of the most obvious muscle groups.
If you don’t use lifting straps, you may not even need to train your grip; you might have strong hands already. But, if you keep dropping your deadlifts or need to wear straps for even light bent-over rows, it’s time to fix your puny grip with these seven best grip exercises.