February’s Fitness Challenge Is: Grip!

February’s Fitness Challenge Is: Grip!
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We spend a lot of time working our arms, legs, heart, lungs—but maybe not our hands. Which is a shame, because grip strength is helpful for other exercises, and can be a goal in itself. We’re going to start with the most popular, but paradoxically least useful, hand exercise: grippers.

It’s cool if you don’t have grippers—there are alternatives—but first let’s talk about what they are and aren’t good for.

“The biggest misunderstanding we have is that people think one exercise works the whole forearm,” says u/VoteArrows, one of the mods at the incredible trove of grip training information that is the r/GripTraining subreddit. “They think wrist curls will improve finger/thumb strength, or that grippers will make their whole forearm bigger.”

In truth, grippers are really good at demonstrating your grip strength, but they aren’t great at giving you strong hands in general. They’re easy at the beginning of the motion, and get harder and harder as you bring the two legs of the gripper close together. And they only work one type of hand strength.

Types of grip

If you think about it, our hands do a lot of different things. We have muscles in our forearms that extend and flex our fingers (there are no muscles in the fingers themselves). And we have muscles in our palms and around our thumbs that help us squeeze with our thumbs and move our hands in various ways. (Here’s a quick primer on hand anatomy, if you’re curious.)

If you’re only training with grippers, you’re missing out on a lot of the things your hands should be able to do. People who train grip tend to break exercises down into different types of grip, including:

  • Crush grip, in which your fingers are curling or squeezing against resistance. This is what grippers work.

  • Pinch grip, where your thumbs and your extended fingers press against each other, like the name suggests.

  • Support grip, where your fingers are flexed but you aren’t moving them. This is the grip you need to hold a barbell during a deadlift, or to hang off a pull-up bar.

Other hand movements include open hand grip, which you use when you’re picking up something very large or wide, as well as wrist movements and finger extension, which may not be types of “grip” exactly, but which are important if you want to make your hands and forearms strong.

How to get better at grippers

With those caveats, a lot of people are curious about grippers, so let’s talk about them. If you have a gripper you can just barely close, do not squeeze the heck out of it every day. Approach grip training the same way you would any other type of strength training:

  • work up gradually

  • give yourself rest days (2-3 workouts a week is plenty for beginners)

  • do most of your work at less-than-maximal intensity

For more details, I’m going to refer you to the r/GripTraining FAQ, where you can nerd out about what kinds of grippers are best, and the techniques you’ll need to master to be really good at them.

For the rest of us, here’s an exercise any of us can do: finger curls. All you need is a barbell. When I started, I think I used an empty 45lb barbell. At most gyms, you’ll be able to find a 25lb barbell near the dumbbells (the bros use it for bicep curls). That will work too.

  • Stand up, and hold the bar in front of you, hanging down at arms length.

  • You can have your palms facing either direction. Overhand (palms toward you) is recommended.

  • Extend your fingers so the barbell slowly rolls down your fingers

  • Squeeze your fingers to bring the bar back up into your hands.

That’s it. Do it for reps. Start light and adjust the weight until you can do about 15-20 reps; when that gets too easy, increase the weight. Give this a try, let us know how it goes, and come back next week when we’ll talk about a different type of grip! 

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