In our month-long quest to get stronger hands and forearms, we’ve trained our crush grip, support grip, and pinch grip. Now it’s time for a different challenge: open hand grip, the kind of grip that helps you hold onto large and sometimes oddly shaped objects.
Open hand grip is what helps you hold onto an axle bar, which is five centimetres thick. (Its handle is the same width as the parts on the end where you put the weights.) Axles are common in strongman competitions, and you occasionally find them in other places, like powerlifting gyms, because they’re kind of a fun toy.
Pressing with an axle is not much different than pressing with a regular barbell, but the two are worlds apart if you have to do more than just support the bar from the bottom. If you have to clean it (pick it up from the ground) to get it into position, that’s much harder. Thick bar deadlifts are, likewise, an intense challenge for your grip.
This is because you can’t fully cup your fingers underneath the bar. That support grip that helps you in regular deadlifts is (mostly) useless here. You have to squeeze the bar with your hands to ensure it doesn’t slip out, and you need very strong hands to do that at heavy weights. Here’s a Jefferson deadlift I did with a five centimetre bar:
If there’s a thicc bar in your gym, play around with it. Besides deadlifts you can also use it for accessory work, like curls and rows, so that you strengthen your forearms and grip while you’re working on other muscles.
If you don’t have such a bar, grab a pair of Fat Gripz and use them on a regular barbell. They feel a bit different (chalk makes them more slippery, for example) but they’ll do the job of challenging your grip when you pick up a barbell or dumbbell.
Other fun things to pick up
Dumbbells can have fat handles too, so feel free to slip a Fat Grip on a dumbbell and try to pick it up. In the days of old time strongman shows, it was common to have a “challenge” dumbbell that the strongman could lift but nobody else could. Sometimes there was a trick to it, but often part of the secret was that the handle was so wide that an average person wouldn’t be able to hold on, unless they specifically trained for it. The Thomas Inch dumbbell is probably the most famous example, and replicas of it are sometimes used if somebody wants to show off their exceptional grip strength:
You can slip a Fat Grip on a dumbbell if you want an idea of how hard that challenge is. I once picked up a 35kg dumbbell this way, which is only 43% of an inch.
For more creative ways to train open hand grip, just pick up anything that’s heavy and that requires your hand to be relatively open to grab onto it. Blobs, or sawn-off dumbbells, are one classic way to do that. (You can also just stand a dumbbell up on end, and pick it up from the round or hexagonal part at the top, without having to saw anything off.)
r/GripTraining suggests saving an empty protein powder jug (which tend to be large, with large lids) and filling it with heavy stuff: rocks, sand, or just toss in spare weight plates and small dumbbells. Grab the jug from the lid, and see if you can lift it.
So, feel free to think of other interesting ways to work your grip. I’ve heard of people hanging oddly-shaped objects from a pull-up bar (like tennis balls, somehow?) to hang from. Or find an unusual shaped object around your house or your yard. How will you work your open hand grip this week?