As we all know, a strong grip will help you when it comes to the weight room. Holding a bar or doing Pull-Ups and being able to withstand the pain your hands and forearms go through can lead to more muscle growth due to increased reps during a set. But wait… it can also increase athletic performance? Yes! Grip strength can have a tremendous impact on the level of your play.
There are over 30 muscles working simultaneously when performing a gripping action. There are muscles, joints and tendons responsible for all the movements. This all creates a functional unit with the hand, wrist and forearm. There's a lot going on when we grab something. We can think of grip in two ways: "power grip" and "precision grip." Which one you use depends on what you're grasping, how much that item weighs and what shape the item is. The power grip is for heavier objects where the muscles will need to work to help the fingers hold around the object. The precision grip is used for everyday tasks that may require a delicate grasp or movement like writing and typing.
How Does Grip Strength Affect Athletic Performance?
Depending on what sport you play, a stronger grip can help with numerous things:
- Better golf swing
- Better hands on the football field
- Being able to go for one-handed catches
- Having a stronger baseball swing
- Throwing a better pitch in baseball
- Better trapping in wrestling and MMA
- Better functional strength on the line of scrimmage in football
- Better rebounding abilities in basketball
- Better goalkeeping abilities in soccer
- Better tackling
- Better grappling in wrestling and MMA
- Lifting more weight to build more muscle
- Preventing injury in the wrist, hand and forearm
Grip strength can often be the difference between making and missing a play. When your grip becomes stronger, you are also able to better withstand the pain of holding on to a loaded bar or heavy dumbbells. This can lead to an increase in the reps in your sets, creating more muscular hypertrophy.
Training Equipment That Can Help Your Grip
When it comes to training, many unique pieces of equipment can aid us in gaining strength in the forearms. One piece of equipment that has been included in multiple studies is something called fat grips. These can be added to a dumbbell or barbell to mimic a thicker grip, which makes it harder for the muscles and in turn can lead to more muscle activation.
Now I get that all gyms may not have a thick bar, so that is why I would recommend grabbing a training tool like fat grips or even wrapping a towel around the bar to increase the thickness. That gives you a few options to experiment with.
While there is a brand named "Fat Gripz," I actually bought a different brand of thick grips that function the exact same way. You can get these on Amazon for around $15-$25. In my opinion, it makes no difference what brand they are. Just make sure they work properly and customers haven't reported durability issues before purchasing.
How Many Sets/Reps Should I Do for Grip Work?
A smart range for most grip exercises is about 2-4 sets with about 15-20 reps in each set. The first two exercises are a loaded carry and a drag, so they do not fit this typical structure. Instead, you'll have to do some experimenting to find the right distance for you. Now, let's get into seven grip-strengthening exercises that will enhance your sports performance.
1. Farmer's Walks with Fat Grips
For this exercise we will be using our fat grips. However, if you do not have a set of fat grips, then you can wrap a towel over the handles to increase the thickness of the grip.
You will start by picking up a set of dumbbells with the grips already on. You will then keep your core braced and tight to help the spine stay stabilized and prevent injury. This is also a great core movement! You will walk about 50-100 feet. If you're up for a challenge, try walking anywhere from 500-1,000 feet! I also like to do this for a max distance and try getting a little farther each time I go.
One key thing for this exercise that I see a lot of people struggle with is grabbing the dumbbells correctly. Don't let it just sit in your fingertips, have a strong grip on the handle so that it is engaging all of the muscles needed to strengthen grip. When you let it go to the fingertips instead of having the full grip on the weight, you are losing activation of the grip strengthening muscles you need to be working.
2. Sled Pulls with a Towel
This is a great exercise not only for your forearms, but also for lower-body strength, core activation and overall GPP work. Grab a sled and hook up a rope attachment or towel to the end of the harness. Load up the sled and hold on tight; this will get tough fast. You will proceed carefully with a backwards walk with a slight hinge in the hips and slight bend in the knees. Make sure you are in a clear path when doing this exercise.
3. Pull-Up Hangs With a Towel or Fat Grips
This exercise is brutal if you've never done it before. You may only be able to hang on to the towel for 20 seconds but remember you have to start somewhere. Try to increase the time each time you do the exercise!
If you're using fat grips, you can increase the difficulty by removing a couple fingers from your grip. Try to work up to hanging by just one finger! You better try mastering the towel first though, as it is quite a challenge.
4. Reverse Curl w/ Focus on Top Half of Rep
First we will need an EZ-Curl bar or a straight bar. We will grab the bar with an overhand grip. From here, you are performing a Curl with the overhand grip. But we're not done just yet. We are going to focus on the top portion of this lift, so lower the bar to about a 90-degree angle (your forearms should be about parallel to the floor). That will be the starting position. The ending position will be finishing the rep like a normal curl to the top. A 2008 study found this type of movement resulted in tremendous activation of the brachioradialis, resulting in bigger forearms and better grip.
5. Iso Deadlift Holds with Bands
This exercise will represent a Rack-Pull, a great back exercise that will help maximize power and strength on the top portion of your Deadlift. In this case, we are focusing on the exercise's grip-strengthening benefits. That is why we have an Iso hold at the top of the rep. With the accommodated resistance of the bands pulling the bar back down, it makes it much harder to hold on to the bar at the top of the rep. I throw on the fat grips or use a towel around the bar, as well.
Set the rack up at about knee height or mid thigh. Put the bar on the rack and throw on weight. Afterwards, we will throw on bands if you are able to set them up on your rack. You will proceed to set up like a conventional Deadlift, feet about shoulder-width apart. Use a double overhand grip here. You'll be able to tell how long you should hold the bar by the difficulty of the exercise. If you feel like you could hold the bar for a couple consecutive minutes without much trouble, you need to add more weight.
6. Brick Drop and Catch
This one is great for football players who need a strong grip or have the ball in their hands a lot. You can do this with a weight if you would like, just use a smaller weight plate. All you are doing is going back and forth with the brick, dropping it then reaching down to catch it with alternate hands. Make sure you don't drop it on your feet, and utilize a wide stance exactly to avoid such an incident. Always wear shoes just incase.
7. Standing Wrist Extensions with Dumbbells
This exercise can be a little easier to overload compared to a Seated Wrist Extension. With more of an overload come greater strength gains. I like to use this exercise with fat grips to help recruit more muscles in and around the wrist.
The Athlete's Grip Workout
Training forearms shouldn't take up all of your time in the gym.
You can pick 2-3 grip exercises to perform 2-3 days a week. It should only take about 15 minutes at the end of your workout. It's a good idea to wait until the end of your workout because your gripping muscles will already be activated and ready to go.
As far as frequency of training the forearms, this study shows no significant difference between baseball players who trained forearms 10 times a week and other athletes who trained their forearms three times a week. This means you don't have to train your grip muscles every day to see significant results.
Here's a three-day grip workout split. Each workout should be performed in circuit fashion.
- Reverse Curl (top portion) 3 x 12-15 reps
- Standing Wrist Extensions with dumbbells 3 x 12-15 reps
- Farmer's Carries with fat grips 3 x 100 - 200 feet
- Sled Pulls with a rope (backwards walk) 3 x 100-200 feet
- Brick Drop and Catch 3 x 10 catches each hand
- Hang on Pull-Up bar 2-4 x till failure
- Iso Deadlift Holds at Top 4 x till failure
- Farmer's Walks with fat grips 3 x 100-200 feet
- Brick Drop and Catch (try using 2 fingers) 3 x 15 each hand
If you really want to make some progress, follow this workout schedule for 4 weeks. Each week you will try to increase weight, even if it's just micro-loading (increasing the load with a 2.5 - 5 pound plate each week). What this does is set you up with a periodization method which will increase the total weight lifted to increase strength and in turn, enhance your athletic performance.
Feel free to hit me up on Costafitness.org and ask me any questions you may have!