Want to climb harder routes?
Or maybe bust out some heavy deadlifts or max out your pull ups?
Regardless of the activity, there’s one thing they all need:
💪 How to improve grip strength
Pavel Tsatsouline said it best:
When in doubt, train your grip.
What is grip strength?
Grip strength is the force applied by the hand to pull on or suspend from objects and is a specific part of hand strength.
Studies have shown a grip strength is an indicator of health related quality of life in old age and is related to and predictive of other health conditions.
Gripping translate to better performance in a range of sports. But for me, I wanted to learn how to improve my grip strength for climbing.
Grip is important. But why?
5 Grip Strength Benefits
Here are five keys benefits of having a strong grip:
1. You’re only as strong as your grip
Building a stronger grip translates to building more muscle all over.
If you can’t hold on to something long enough to lift it, you can’t safely lift it. Likewise, if you can’t hang from something long enough to pull yourself up, well you’ll probably fall off.
Most movements involve gripping and lifting stuff or hanging off stuff. Grip is one of the first things to go.
Grip is so important for a range of sports from rock climbing, Judo, Brazilian Jiu Jitsu or MMA, not to mention those who just want to lift more.
Increasing strength in the hands and forearms advances upper body endurance. This allows for more reps to be performed, or in my case, to climb harder routes.
2. Prevent injuries
Injuries halt progress, so anything that can lessen this chance should be done.
Stronger muscles and connective tissues help to help prevent injuries. To make them stronger, it’s all about conditioning them properly.
Inadequate or no conditioning can lead to chronic repetitive motion injuries.
Grip strengthening and conditioning helps prevent things like tennis elbow, golfers elbow or climbers elbow. (What’s the deal with the elbow causing problems?)
3. It helps you break personal records
Sometimes the thing holding you back from breaking that personal best is your grip.
And sometimes, you just need that morale boost to power past plateaus.
4. You get big forearms
Strong grip = strong forearms.
Not really more to say on this one.
5. You get a firm handshake
A strong handshake leaves of strong impression. No one wants to shake hands with a limp fish-hand.
You’ll also be able to greet friends, close family and work colleagues like this.
Types of grip strength
Grip strength comes from your fingers, forearms, thumb and wrist.
There are 35 muscles involved in the movement of the forearm and hand. A lot of these are used when gripping too.
Here’s the different types of hand grip strength:
- Crushing Grip Strength – Crushing is done when the hand closes over something. This is a dynamic form of hand strength, especially finger strength. The fingers are moving as if to squeeze onto a tennis ball.
- Support Grip Strength – Support is also primarily a finger activity, but it is static – this is how it differentiates from crushing. The fingers take the brunt of the load. The thumb can be used to aid in gripping but it is merely auxiliary in nature. Examples of support Grip include Deadlifts, Rows, Pull-ups, Pull-downs and other similar lifts.
- Pinch Grip Strength – Pinching grip strength is where the thumb is brought more into play. The hand position is generally open, like holding two weight plates together. The thumb opposes the fingers, usually on a flat device, but round handles, if large enough, can also be considered Pinch Grip.
- Clamping – Clamping is another form of finger strength that is both dynamic and static depending on what is taking place. Clamping usually involves the fingertips being directed toward the palm, as in when someone tears a phone book.
- Crimping – Crimping involves the fingertips in a high position, directing force more close to the callus line or middle palm, and it is most often associated with card tearing.
It’s not just the hand that determines grip, wrist and forearms play a part too.
Wrist & Forearm Strength
As we move away from the hand, the first joint is the wrist and it can be flexed, extended, and also radially or ulnarly deviated.
The muscles of the forearm aid in elbow flexion as a secondary function, but there are also specific actions of the forearm such as rotation. Supination rotation I when the palm is turned upwards. Pronation is where the palm is turned downward.
So how do you improve your grip?
Like most things: with practice.
When I was looking into how I could improve my grip strength, I found this quote by Pavel Tsatsouline:
“Strength is a skill. Training must be approached as a practice, not a workout. You will practice everyday, throughout the day; you will focus on max tension; and you will totally avoid muscle fatigue and failure.”
What Pavel is talking about here is the Greasing the Groove method.
Greasing the Groove (GtG) is a term coined by Pavel that describes consistently practicing a specific strength skill without going to failure. The logic goes, the more you practices, the better you get.
Because apparently pathways form between your muscles and your nervous system, allowing you to used them together more efficiently.
So that’s what I did:
The daily routine for a stronger grip
So applying the GtG principles, I did just a few exercises using hand crushers everyday.
There were no 2 hour long workouts everyday. Nor did I do loads of heavy curls at every waking moment. I didn’t increase how many times I climbed per week.
I just sat at my desk and squeezed.
I should clarify: I squeezed my hand grippers. Sitting at a desk and randomly squeezing objects is not recommended.
You’ll get strange looks.
I actually used two different types of hand grippers:
Captains of Crush Hand Grippers and the ProHands Gripmaster, both of which I would recommend for grip work. However, there are pros and cons to both of these:
Captain of Crush
- Can really go heavy
- Pretty cool name
- If your hands aren’t used to it, can be rough and shred the skin a little.
- Bit heavy and clunky to be putting into a pocket.
- Also, people seem to notice you squeeze a lump of metal than they do a lump of plastic.
- I felt it trained and stretched my fingers nicely. (it’s also good for strengthening hands for guitar players)
- Lightweight and easily slips into a backpack.
- No as much resistance as the captains
- One person thought it was a harmonica
How to measure grip (use an electronic hand dynamometer)
Before I started this experiment, I ordered a really cheap dynamometer from China.
It was laughably bad. It was mechanical, the readings went up in an illogical series of numbers and it felt super flimsy.
So I decided to go for an electronic one. Specifically, the Deyard EH101 Electronic Hand Dynamometer. Catchy name I know.
Using it is pretty simple, You calibrate it for your age and weight and squeeze away. It’s that simple.
And just to recap this is what an average days ‘workout’ looked like:
- 8am – arrive at work and get coffee. While computer booted up, 5 squeezes on each hand.
- 9am – 5 squeezes whilst going through emails.
- 12 noon – while dinner cooks, you guess it, 5 more squeezes.
- 2 pm – squeeze time.
- 4pm – a few squeezes before grabbing my keys and heading home.
The amount of reps you do per session doesn’t really matter. I aimed for at least 2 per hand, but never usually more than 5.
I also alternated the types of hand gripper I used to keep my grip guessing.
The frequency and timing is not deliberately not set in stone. Tweak them around to fit how you work.
That’s the beauty of this kind of grip strength training. It’s so flexible.
Results after 7 days
Here’s how my grip strength improved over 7 days:
LEFT – 36.6kg >>> 45.8kg
RIGHT – 39.1kg >>> 49.3kg
After 7 days of following the routine, that’s a 25.14% for the left hand and 26.09% for right!
Pretty nice. Especially considering most of the workout was done at my desk throughout my day.
Want to improve + track your own grip strength?
You can use this tracker I made in Google Sheets:
👉 You can make a copy of my tracking sheet here.👈
Grip Strength Resources
There are loads more qualified people and resources on grip strength, so I thought I’d collect them here if you wanted to go deeper:
- Pavel Tsatsouline on grip strength (and core)
- Lessons From Pavel: Strength As A Skill And The Value Of Practice
- Greasing the Groove Explained
- Grip Strength as an Indicator of Health-Related Quality of Life in Old Age Study
- Hand Grip Strength: age and gender stratified normative data in a population-based study
Get a grip
I actually found doing this a pretty easy way to get in some daily practice without altering my workload or messing with my routine.
However, I think 7 days is probably not long enough to be conclusive.
Maybe I’ll continue doing this over the next 30 days and update this article with my results.
Then again, I may be too busy climbing instead.
Go forth and grip.