Why are strong hands important? Because your hands are the portal to your strength, the thing that connects you to your kettlebell, barbell, golf club, tennis racket, opponent or bag of groceries. Without your hands you cannot express your strength in the majority of sports. Even in a sport like soccer, which is hands-off, the athlete must have a connection to a barbell or similar implement to develop strength.
So what does it mean to have a strong grip? This is a discussion that could go on for days, but let’s take the question as an opportunity to look at the different types of grip and strength, why each is important and what you can do to improve yours.
Crush – This is the one everyone thinks of when they hear the phrase “grip strength”. The motion is taking the hand from open to a closed fist. This is essential to any martial art or contact sport.
The most popular ways to train Crush is with hand grippers. Set, Squeeze and repeat until strong. With enough time and practice, soda cans will fear you.
Bottoms up kettlebell work is another great way to improve your crushing strength and it also introduces elements of our next category.
Wrist – This includes any leverage lifting, radial and ulnar deviation, flexion and extension. Wrist curls and levering hammers are a great way to develop this kind of strength.
Slim the Hammer Man, STILL the King of Leverage Lifting at age 77.
Wrist strength is also a vital element for bending steel, both long and short.
Pinch – This done with an open hand and thumb, with the fingers straight. You can do both dynamic and static pinch work and a very popular way to work pinch is by lifting two or more barbell plates with the smooth side out. This kind of training heavily targets the thumb and is a must-have for tearing phonebooks and cards.
You can also train your thumb strength by loosely wrapping a towel around a kettlebell handle and doing holds for time.
Hold/support – Climbers, grappling martial artists, and anyone else who needs endurance in the grip needs this kind of training. One of my favorite ways to do this is suitcase or farmers carries with a heavy weight. Kettlebells are great for this. Just deadlift the weight to your waist and take it for a walk.
Improving your grip and hand strength will give your overall strength a boost, so be sure you are including it in your training. It can be very demanding though, so ease into it.
Easing Into It
So let’s say you have decided to incorporate some specific hand strength work into your training program. Where do you begin? What do you do? How much and how often?
For now let’s put grip training at the end of your regular session and do a little something for each area: We will also use Pavel’s classic 3-5 rule. 3-5 sets of 3-5 reps, 3-5 minutes rest between sets.
• Crush- Bottom up clean and press for 3-5 sets of 3-5 reps.
• Pinch- towel hold, 3-5 sets for time.
• Support- 3-5 sets of farmer’s carry/hold.
Work through the drills above in a loose circuit, don’t rush but don’t lag either. Allow enough rest between exercises that you can do well with the next one. If you get too fatigued, all you are doing is practicing sloppiness and setting yourself up for potential injury.