Grip involves everything from the musculature near the elbow down to the fingertips and having a strong grip means being able to lift heavier weights in the gym and increase training results. Yet most of us fail to recognize its importance in the gym and choose to compensate for the lack of grip strength with accessories that don’t address the real problem. On the other hand, doing a couple of barbell wrist curls at the end of a workout in the name of forearm training isn’t nearly enough to prompt significant results.
So how’s your grip? Test it with the simple exercise below, then read the rest of the article to learn to develop it and finally start growing like you know you can!
Building up your grip strength isn’t only imperative for increasing forearm strength, lifting more weight in the gym and thereby building more total body muscle – it’s also crucial for the health of your elbows. Almost all lifters with a weak grip make one common mistake: they try to mask it by using straps or avoiding free weights. This enhances the problem even more in the long run, and it can cause elbow pain that will limit your performance on upper body exercises. When you train your lower arms, you need to make sure to equally activate the antagonistic muscle groups, such as the flexors and extensors.
Keep in mind that most cases of inflammation-related forearm pain is caused by improper training of the forearm muscles or neglecting certain crucial muscle groups. Furthermore, a lack of functional grip strength coupled with rigorous training can eventually cause trauma to the deep finger and wrist flexors. And bodybuilding wisdom says that you can’t expect to grow unless you tackle the weakest links in your body.
Here’s a quick way to discover if poor grip strength is one of them.
The Grip Strength Test
Pick up a load equal to your bodyweight with each hand and try to carry it for 15 meters. Can’t do it? Try with 75% of your bodyweight in each hand.
Still struggling? Then your grip sucks! No worries, though. This is quite common and luckily, we have the right solution for the problem.
Strengthen Your Grip for Bigger Gains
As you’ve probably already figured out, the answer to most bodybuilding puzzles is progressive overload. In this case, in order to increase grip force and protect your elbow health, you need to perform short-distance carries (10-15 meters) and increase the load in a linear progression. Start with the heaviest weight you can carry for such a distance at the moment, and work your way up. Perform them 2-3 times per week, with adequate rest periods between sets. This can be used as a great core and forearm finisher.
Needless to mention, every time you’re pulling or lifting anything at the gym is an opportunity to train your grip, as the repetitive stress will help you develop your forearms and increase grip strength. The heavier, the better. Think heavy deadlifts, pull-ups and bodyweight rows. These will help you accelerate development in the entire arm, not just the grip. You can also increase the challenge by alternating between different grip styles on every set. Another great way to directly train your grip is by performing walking lunges while holding a heavy dumbbell in each hand.
In order to reap these benefits, however, you’ll have to refrain from using wrist straps and similar grip aids, since these will only mask the problem and teach your body to rely on external help instead of pushing the forearms to grow stronger. So leave your ego at the door and accept that you will have to lift slightly less weight for a while, but once you improve your real grip strength, you will be unstoppable and start activating muscles and motor units you didn’t even know existed. All it takes is a bit of patience!
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It’s a sad truth that the hands are the weakest link in nearly every athlete, and nowadays grip training represents a lost art. Yet most of the things we do are expressed through the hands, so on many different levels it’s important to develop them maximally, just like you would do for any other muscle. In bodybuilding especially, guys with a weak grip are left with small back muscles and unimpressive compound lifts. Grip strength doesn’t only involve your hands – working on it will activate everything to your arm, shoulder and upper back muscles. At the end, the stronger your hands, the more weight you can lift and the more muscle you can build.