Having a strong grasp, a firm grip, an iron hand, is a game changer.
You probably have an idea of your grip strength from pull-ups or barbell exercises like deadlifts and traditional weightlifting movements. For most beginner and intermediate athletes doing functional fitness exercises coupled with weightlifting, there's a good chance that some accessory grip work isn't a bad idea. Well, it certainly couldn't hurt. And hey, who knows, maybe it will improve your ability to carry all of the shopping from the car to the kitchen in one go. If that isn't winning then I don't know what is.
While this post focuses on exercises to build the muscles of the hand and its digits, it's probably a good idea not to neglect your forearms and wrists because they do play a role in overall grip strength. After all, the muscles controlling fingers and thumbs lie in both the hand and the forearm.
If you're interested in the science behind your grip, check out below. If not, keeeeeep scrolling:
The Musculature of the Hands and Forearms
Flexors (fist bump)
- Pollicis longus (thumb flexor)
- Flexor digitorum superficialis and flexor digitorum profundus (all finger flexors)
Those three muscles also flex the wrist along with the palmaris longus, flexor carpi ulnaris (adductor), and flexor carpi radialis (abductor).
Extensors (high five)
- Extensor pollicis longus and brevis (thumb extender)
- Extensor digiti minimi (pinky finger extender)
- Extensor indicis (index finger extender)
- Extensor digitorum (all finger extender)
Those four muscles also extend the wrist along with the extensor carpi ulnaris (abductor), extensor carpi radialis longus (abductor), and extensor carpi ulnaris (adductor).
So as you can see, there are many multiple-function hand and digit muscles. To completely isolate the digit muscles, therefore, is impossible. However, there are some exercises that place more stress on the fingers and thumb that you can incorporate into your grip-strengthening program.
Pick up two bumper plates, preferably smooth, no bevelled edges that can ease the grip. Use a pinch grip, literally like pinching the plates between your thumb and fingers, and try and pick them up. It's not going to be easy and if you can't do it then, drop down to a lower plate weight.
Make sure you take some care because there is a chance that the plates may slip, or you may drop them when you get fatigued, and you don't want to train your toes for collision damage. Ouch!
If you feel confident enough, you can walk with the pinched plates, adding a little more of a degree of difficulty to the exercise, and giving you a way to measure the length of the pinch other than counting the time in your head.
One of most functional grip strength builders is the dead hang. It's just like what it says, you jump up on the pull up bar, get a good grip, make sure your feet are off the ground, and you hold on for dear life (THE GROUND IS LAVA, PEOPLE!). You probably do something like this as a way to stretch yourself out. This time, you're doing it to keep that grip STRONG.
The other great thing about a dead hang is that you can mix it up with your grip:
- Pull-up grip with the palms facing out
- Chin-up grip with the palms facing in
- Hook grip, a must for the weightlifter
- Finger isolation, try holding the bar with three fingers active only or two
- Mixed grip, with one palm facing in and one out, might make it easier to hold on longer
- Palms facing each other using a parallel grip
- Rope hang to really challenge that grip. Just wrap a towel, a rope, anything you can hang on to safely, over the bar and grip the ends.
It gets called a lot of things, loaded carry and farmer's walk are among two. Dan John, the exercise guru, has been noted as saying, “The loaded carry does more to expand athletic qualities than any other single thing I’ve attempted in my career as a coach and an athlete.” Moreover, Dan thinks of the farmer's carry as the “King of Carries.” Chief among its benefits is, of course, phenomenal grip strength.
The simplest things you can use for a carry are kettlebells or dumbbells. You can also use hex bars and from there, anything from the giant bottles you use on water coolers to an actual suitcase. In fact, if you grab water bottles at the neck and carry them that way, as opposed to the handles they usually have on the side, you can get a really strong grip workout.
Whatever you do, a heavy carry is a total body workout irrespective.
The trick is it has to be HEAVY.