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Commonwealth Champion Powerlifter – @DomCadden
It’s easy to see how grip strength is essential for sports like wrestling, basketball, baseball, strongman and all types of football (bar soccer). Even in sports such as cricket, golf and tennis, when commentators talk about “wristy” players having “touch” and “finesse”, they’re really referring to a player having strong grip and the ability to direct and control that strength. What’s less obvious is how to develop that grip strength.
Apart from direct sports applications, there are several good reasons to look at your grip strength. Injury prevention tops the list. For example, without adequate grip and forearm strength, tennis players run the risk of developing lateral epicondylitis – known as tennis elbow to its mates, even though the injury occurs in many other sports, too. Grip strength also protects the palms, which can get torn due to slipping grip or excessive friction, while in contact sports especially, fingers can be bent into vulnerable positions if the grip is weak.
Grip strength can also increase overall strength in an action. It comes down to what is sometimes called ‘The Law of Irradiation’ – that is, a muscle working hard recruits the muscles around it, and if they are already a part of the action, it amplifies their strength. This is easy to see in weights exercises – on a bench press, the harder you can squeeze the bar, the harder you’ll be able to activate your triceps and the stronger your bench will be. In the deadlift, a stronger grip usually equates to the ability to pull the weight faster from the floor.
Handheld grip strength testing devices have long been used as an indicator of strength and health factors (particularly in the elderly). For the athlete, they can act as an easy and consistent way to check for overtraining and fatigue. In his book, Science of Sports Training, sport scientist Thomas Kurz recommended using a handgrip strength device with a hydraulic dynamometer to check the physical readiness of an athlete. If the grip strength reading dips by two kilograms or more per hand (or a significant percentage if readings are not in kilograms) below a baseline marker or previous reading, then that indicates fatigue.
There are 35 muscles involved in movement of the forearm and hand, with many of these involved in gripping activities. You have the wrist flexors on the ventral (front) side of the forearm and the wrist extensors on the dorsal (back) side. The muscles that cause your wrist to be drawn towards the front of the forearm are the flexors while the ones that bend your wrist backwards are the forearm extensors. Despite this, flexing and extending your wrist with a weight in your hand won’t do much to increase isometric grip strength, although it may build the size of your forearms. Building grip strength, however, requires isometric moves (i.e. moves where the length of the muscles in the forearms doesn’t vary).
Grip a heavy dumbbell, kettlebell or weight plate in each hand, with hands hanging by your side. Now walk with them. That’s it! Don’t rush to cover the distance, keep almost the entire body in an isometric state – it’s also great for the core.
Get a pair of metal weight (i.e. no rubber bumpers) and hold the plates so the flat surfaces are up against each other. Hold with fingers of both hands all on one side, both thumbs on the other. Hold for as long as possible. Build up on the time held and/or weight of the plates.
Get a thick rope – a battle rope is ideal – and pull a weight on the other end of the rope, hand-over-hand.
On any type of weighted or cable rowing machine, a lat pulldown or on a chin-up bar, pull the weight or your body so your elbows are against your body, then hold there for 30-60 seconds.
Do exercises such as any type of deadlift, partial deadlifts or shrugs with a fat bar. If you don’t have a fat bar, then you can get grip enhancers such as Fat Gripz™ to make the bar thicker or simply wrap a T-shirt around the bar. According to a study by Ratamess et al, “these bars have the potential of enhancing grip strength because of the higher degree of difficulty performing exercises while grasping the bar in an area of range of motion where gripping ability is relatively weak.”
In their study, Ratamess et al found that the neural drive of the hands and forearms to hold and stabilise the bar could have an effect on performance in higher repetition ranges, even on pushing motions. In other words, increasing grip strength and endurance with wide-diameter bars could increase performance in higher rep ranges (or actions that take longer time), even when that action has no direct reliance on grip strength.