P.S. Make sure you read to the end to get in on the competition for some free swag.
My whole life I’ve never been a really big person. Well at least not in my eyes. Even on paper I'm not that big at 6’ tall weighing between 200 and 230 lbs. There are dinosaur-sized humans out there, but somehow I can keep up (for the most part) when it comes to lifting weight.
How do I do this?
Well for starters, I work my ass off. I played sports (football, basketball, and lacrosse) my whole life, and was fortunate enough to have a personal trainer at the age of 13. I started training the summer before my freshman year of high school, and weighed in at a whopping 125 lbs.
Since then I haven’t missed a step, and continue to push the envelope on a day-to-day basis.
But there’s also the power of my environment--I’ve been blessed to train alongside people who help me grow both mentally and physically every day.
What I’d like to return though is the power of effort because everything I’ve ever done has been with 100% effort, and if you’re hoping to tap into preposterous amounts of grip strength, you’ll have to as well.
One of the many adaptions I have made through training hard and often is having crazy strong grip strength. I was gifted with pretty big hands, but grip strength is something that comes with effort and high volume tension, and can be attained by anyone who is willing to SQUEEEZE.
Think effort not size
Everybody wants Popeye sized forearms. We all know, for the most part, that high reps and high volume will cause muscle hypertrophy (increase in muscle size). But is the answer to muscular strength simply to make the muscle bigger? The answer is no.
When we set out to get stronger grip strength, lets not focus so much on size. Same concept with regards to olympic weightlifters: they don’t set out to get giant quads, but as a result of endless repetitions on full cleans and front squat comes giant quads.
With the size of olympic weightlifters quads, one would think they must have done tons of leg pressing and leg extensions. Same idea can be applied to someone with huge forearms: you may think they did lots of forearm curls to enlarge the belly of the forearm (flexors), but that’s likely not the case.
You;re probably sitting there wondering what exercise is the equivalent of a clean for grip strength, and the answer is tension.
Squeeze all day long
There is no one exercise, or even a combination of exercises, that I consider the BEST when it comes to grip strength. Tension and effort are king, as always.
As a strength and conditioning coach, I have the upper hand because I’m constantly moving weights around all day. And when I’m not coaching, I’m lifting myself, which is obviously working on my grip strength.
So how do you squeeze all day long if you aren’t in my position?
Make the best out of what you are working with. Hopefully you have a hands on and active job that can be turned into a workout. If you have a desk job, try squeezing a stress ball or a portable hand gripper. Sounds stupid, but grip strength needs to be worked on constantly for it to improve.
You wont progress either if you just absolutely crush your grip once or twice a week to the point where you’re sore and cant work hard the next day. Consistency is the key, and increasing intrinsic finger strength is crucial because they consist mostly of type I fibers.
These small slow twitch muscles need to be worked day after day, and unlike large type II muscles that are used in explosive compound movements, these type I fibers are smaller and used to stabilize. This is why there is such thing as “old man strength”--Type I fibers get stronger with time and volume.
Take the hard way out
Take simple daily activities and turn them into the extreme. For example, taking in all of the groceries in one trip. Sounds ridiculous and classic, but I have had many max effort grocery carries in my time.
This is no joke. Carrying groceries across campus and up three flights of stairs was not a rare occurrence while in college. Sure I could have called a friend or pulled in front of the dorm to bring the groceries in, but I never take the easy way out.
Other little examples of how you can push yourself to the next level and force adaptation include:
- Carrying your gym or laundry bag with one hand (as opposed to flinging it over your shoulder)
- Carry weights in the gym with one hand and make sure you alternate hands
- Or just use both hands and carry a lot of weight (i.e. grab 2 or 3 plates at a time instead of one at a time)
- Carrying a laundry or trash basket, squeeze extra hard and engage your core.
- Pumping gas, squeeze the handle extra hard
- Use a screw driver instead of a drill when you can
- Cleaning a pan over the sink instead of in the sink
Each of these may seem minuscule, but trust me, they add up. When carrying things, make sure to have no space in between your hand and the object. Focus on a symmetrical squeeze and use your weak hand more often.
Also, don’t be afraid to engage your core even if it’s with something as simple as brushing your teeth. A lot of people claim that their grip is their weak point, however, I notice that their “weak grip” is actually just a weak core. When the core isn’t strong enough, people start to rely on other muscles to do the work. This energy leak trickles directly down to your hands and makes the weight or task at hand impossible.
My Favorite Grip Strength Exercises: (thumbs wrapped, and squeeze)
1. Anything with an axle (fat bar): cleans, deadlifts, rows, presses etc.
2. Deadlifts (straps or no straps, both crush grip)
3. Hex bar deadlifts with a slow eccentric
4. RDL’S (specifically single arm single leg because it increases time under tension)
5. Farmers or suitcase carries
6. Ropes (the thicker the better)
7. PVC or Pipe Roller (extensors and flexors)
8. Plate pinches
Ultimate Grip Strength Challenges
1. Max Double Overhand Dead Lift- Use a barbell, hex bar, or axel bar, and no straps or suits allowed.
2. Plate Pinch for Max Time- Hold two steel ten pound plates in each hand, making sure the flat sides are facing out and your fingers aren’t in the holes. Hold until you drop. If you can do this for longer than 90 seconds, then add a third ten pound plate. If you are feeling like a daddy, then use 25’s. Chalk allowed, no tacky.
3. PVC or Pipe Roller for Reps- Just to be clear, this exercise entails a PVC or metal pipe that has a 5lb plate attached to it by string. The string should be about 4 feet long so that when you hold the pipe out in front of you the plate goes all the way down to the floor. With straight arms that’s are at chest level, begin to twist the pipe so that the string wraps around the pipe. If you twist your hands towards you then you will be working your extensors, or the top of your forearms. If you twist your hands away from you, you will be working your flexors (the belly of the forearm). Either way, make sure you lower the weight slowly and controlled when going back down. Roll and unroll the rope as many times as you can before your arms give out. No drops allowed.
4. Max Pull Ups on a Rag or Rope- hold on for dear life while doing neutral grip pull ups on a rag or a rope. Drape the rag or rope over any pull up bar to make pull-ups harder than ever.
5. Carry for Max Distance- ( hex bar/frame, dumbbells, farmers handles, groceries). Carry any of these implements for as far as you can without dropping. Measure out a set distance such as 25 or 50 feet and walk back and forth until your grip gives out.
These are all exercises that I have done, and still do very often. Acquiring grip strength is an everlasting battle. As the rest of my body gets stronger, my hands and forearms better be able to keep up. I want to be the best dead lifter in the world one day, and without monster grip there is no chance. Grip strength is universal and necessary for everybody. Whether you want to be the best in the world at something, or you just want to be able to open a jar of pickles at the age of 90, go squeeeeze some shit. Actually, squeeze everything. Just be careful, you may start to break stuff by accident.
What I'd like to do before you leave though is challenge you to a little competition. In fact, I want to challenge you to the Carry for Max Distance competition. So here's what we'll do: Whomever can film themselves carrying 90lbs dumbbells the greatest distance without dropping will win some free Rebel Performance swag (pictured below)
All you have to do is video yourself, post it to facebook and/or twitter, and then tag us in the post. We'll review all the entries, decide who legit beast moded everyone else, and then send a free shirt to the champ. Are you up for the challenge? I sure hope so.
P.S. The competition ends Sunday the 18th at Midnight.
about the author
Zach Hadge is a World Champion strongman, Super Mario Bro extraordinaire, and overall monster in both training and life. He’s here to show you the doors, to tell you when its time to grease the hinges, pick the lock, find a new door, or just bust the door down completely. The only other thing he asks for in return is effort. Follow Zach on Instagram (@hadge_brothers) for all the latest happenings.