Many of you look at grip training as a secondary requirement when in the gym, sporadically including it into your regime, often at the end of your training session, or in some instances, there is no grip strength training included in any of your sessions, at all.
You may be approaching grip training the wrong way. Often, you see people training forearms using dumbbells and sets of wrist flexing exercises, this is all very well but, there is a more conventional way that will integrate mush better into your sessions.
Dumbbell wrist flexion and extension exercises isolate the forearms and are great for increasing the forearms strength. You will find that you will not be able to curl heavy weight under the wrist curl as the tension is heavily focused on the ligaments connecting the hand to the forearms.
You also have to take care when performing wrist curls due to the high tension places onto the ligaments around the wrist and the fact that there is active movement in this region only adds to the risks involved. We are not saying that it is a risky exercise but, as most exercise that utilise the hands and forearms i.e. a push, pull, or lift – involves a strong, stiff grip will little to no active mobility in the wrist region – so that the tension is distributed through the ligaments and muscles more evenly spread. If you happened to perform a major push, pull, or lift a heavy weight for that matter, and as you performed the exercise you release tension on your wrist – so that your hand was bent either forward or backwards – then it’s likely that you will immediately face serious pain through the pulling of the ligament in the wrist.
Muscles Involved With Gripping
Why Grip Strength Is So Important
Grip strength can determine the success of a lift. If you have been training to increase strength in your chest – with the bench press making up the core lift – you may not realise the extent that your grip strength can have when strength training your chest or other muscles for that matter. Your wrist and grip strength can greatly affect the pace in which you gain strength in your chest or other muscles that utilise the hands within an exercise, as the wrist and forearms will bear a significant tension load placed on them during both the concentric (contraction/shortening) and the eccentric (lengthening) phases of the movement.
The importance of wrist and forearms strength in more prevalent in lifting and pulling movements rather than pushing movements as in a pushing movement there is a significant displacement of weight through the joints and including the elbow and shoulder. However, the strength of the wrist and forearms still play a crucial role in stabilising the lift through both the concentric and eccentric phases.
A strong forearm and wrist aid the movement of a pushing exercise to move in a stable fixed position – reducing lateral movement – this is both important to maintaining tension on the target muscles throughout the movement and to reduce the likelihood of injury.
In a pulling exercise, the wrist and the forearms are the first two points of tension – you grab a bar squeezing it in your hands – causing your wrist to lock into a fixed position and the muscles in your forearms to contract accordingly. As you begin to pull your start to activate the target muscles usually in your back – the tension in this instance gets transferred from your wrist and forearms through to your biceps and to a region in your back (depending on the exercise you are doing).
You often find in less experienced lifters that it is the grip that gives up first before the target muscles have in the back. Rather than the back muscle getting a full pump or being worked to exhaustion, we find time-and-time again that it’s the forearms that begin to fatigue first, causing a reduction in grip strength significantly. This, in turn, reduces the quality of the pull overall – with the contraction of the targeted back muscles being significantly lowered as the fatigue sets in within the forearms.
Your wrist and forearm strength (or lack of) are reducing the force of the contraction over the target region of the back, and it also reduces the tension load that it could receive if the wrist and forearms fatigue outlasted the fatigue in the target muscles in the back. This, therefore, is reducing the effectiveness that the pulling movement has over the growth in muscle or increase in strength over the target muscle, and this also reduce the rate in which muscle growth or muscle strength can occur.
The Different Types of Weightlifting Grips You Need To Know…
The pronated grip is a grip where your palms are facing away from your body. There are many ways to utilise a pronated grip, for example, an overhead pull-up can be performed with a grip that has your palms facing you (supinated) or facing away from you (pronated). There is also one more grip variation that many people often forget or do not use – this is a hammer grip. You can utilise a pronated grip when performing overhead bicep curls, barbell rows, and dumbbell lateral arm raises, or dumbbell/barbell front raise. A pronated grip will increase the stimulation of the extensor muscles on the forearm. To increase the size of the strength of these muscles on top (posterior) of the forearm this is the grip that you need to utilise.
A pronated grip utilised under a pulling movement, such as bent over barbell row has a secondary effect upon that type of lift specifically. Utilising a pronated grip rather than a supinated grip in this instance will place more tension on the extensor muscles in your arms. As soon as you twist your arm into a pronated position your extensor muscles in your arms begin to contract, as soon as you clutch the barbell you will further see an increase in the contraction of the muscles in this region.
The effect that this grip has on the movement is that is will reduce the engagement of the bicep muscle within the movement – placing more of the tension onto the targeted muscles in the back. If we consider this again… what the pronated grip has done in terms of a pulling exercise is that it has increased the tension placed on the outer forearms and also increased the tension on the targeted back muscles, a double whammy. The pronated grip is an excellent tool in your arsenal to increase your grip strength and size.
The supinated grip is any grip that has your palms facing towards your body. This grip will place greater tension on the flexor muscles in your inner forearms if you are performing a pulling exercise.
The first top tip when in comes to performing any exercise with a supinated grip, is to make sure that those flexors have been fully engaged. How do you fully engage the flexor muscles? Fully rotate your arm and focus on turning your last digit (pinky finger) all the way up and around. This is especially the case if you want to perform an effective dumbbell bicep curl to target your bicep – as fully supinating your hand will increase recruitment of the muscle fibres in your biceps.
Weight Lifting Aids That Work…
Lifting straps for the gym have both benefits and drawbacks. What are the negatives to using lifting straps? The main drawback for using weightlifting straps in the gym is that over time it may weaken your grip strength. If you continually use lifting straps over a majority of lifts and in many of your sessions, then it’s likely that you will not sufficiently stimulate the muscles in the wrists and forearms for them to grow at the rate that you have set.
Use for heavy lifts: Lifting straps are great aids when it comes to heavy lifts that you would unable to successfully execute otherwise. Using lifting straps will help to significantly place more stress and weight loads onto the target muscles when performing these types of exercises. The effects of this will be a significant increase in strength and mass to this region that you would struggle to acquire otherwise. The goal here would be to use the lifting strap for high weight load pulling exercises while separately building wrist and forearm strength training into your wider exercise regime.
You can use lifting straps to bypass the wrist and forearms altogether. This obviously has no benefit for increase wrist and forearm strength but, the major benefit here is that it will focus more tension toward the target muscles and increases the stimulation of these muscles.
Weightlifting gloves will reduce the stress of the weight load onto the hands. They serve a purpose. This purpose is for a much more comfortable and therefore controlled grip, especially for those larger heavy lifts. Weightlifting gloves were designed for the large lifts that you would see a power lifter committing too. For those monster lifts, you will probably need them too to prevent damage to your hands and skin, as blistering or loss of sensation may occur. However, if you use lifting gloves on a regular basis and involve them with much lighter lift loads then you may incur negative consequences.
For a start, weightlifting gloves will take away some of the sensation of your hands between the bar. Being able to feel the bar will give you more controlled lifts and second, a huge component of grip training for strength involves squeezing the hands. It seems such a small and basic technical critique but, squeezing the hands throughout the whole movement of an exercise – this includes both eccentric and concentric phases – will greatly affect the development of your grip strength.
Chalk is perhaps the best lifting aid to support wrist and forearm strength development. It will give you a much tighter grip while also being able to feel the bar between your hands completely. As it tightens up your grip the control that you will have throughout a movement will improve significantly. This means better contractions and stimulation of the target muscle just by using chalk to increase your hand grip. The other benefit of using chalk is that it will reduce the friction rub between your hand and the bar. As chalk will reduce hand perspiration and dry your hands significantly, this will give you a much more comfortable lift and this may allow you to either lift a heavier weight than you would do without the chalk as an aid or, be able to slow the lift down (increase the time-under-tension) in a more controlled manner, allow you to squeeze and contract the target muscle more effectively.
Best Methods For Increasing Grip Strength…
The best way to increase your grip strength is to focus on the compound exercises as this builds up your wrist and forearm strength more holistically with the rest of your body. Such prime example would we bent over rows, deadlifts and lat pulldowns. However, the reason why you may be fatiguing in your forearms before you feel the burn in your target muscle is because you may not be putting significant emphasis on either the forearms or the target muscle. As you may not be training your forearms effectively in the first place, they tend to be the first to fatigue.
You can perform a compound movement and manipulate somewhat where the tension is placed throughout that movement. In this case, we are looking to develop the forearms with a compound exercise. What should you do? Squeeze the hands! Squeezing the hands throughout an exercise is perhaps the most effective method to increase your grip strength yet, is often the most underutilised. When you are training any muscle your aim is to contract it as much as possible to maximise the stimulation of the muscle fibres – the wrist and forearms are no different! Squeezing the hands puts greater emphasis on the wrist and forearms when performing the lat pulldowns and slightly away for the target muscles in the back.
You also need to maximise the stimulation of the forearms so you should include other isolation exercises that focus on stimulating different regions of the forearms. These should be isotonic movement (contractions that generate force by changing the length of the muscle) i.e. both concentric (muscle shorting) and eccentric (muscle lengthen) contraction exercises.
Finally, isometric exercises (muscle contraction in which the muscle doesn’t change length) will have an impact of building wrist and forearms strength and size.
Grip Strength Exercises…
These are the best exercise for strengthening your grip:
Seated cable rows: This is a great compound exercise that works your forearm flexors.
Close grip V-bar pulldowns: A compound movement similar to the seated row but, this will stimulate the brachioradialis in your forearms. A tip here is to sit straight and bring your arms down in front of you – focus on contracting your arms and less on your back.
Hammer curls: Apart from working your bicep this isotonic exercise works your brachioradialis in your forearms. For this hammer grip exercise keep your arms straight in from of you, do not rotate them or bring them closer toward your body.
Pronated (reverse) cable bicep curl: This isotonic exercise focuses on the brachialis (located just below the biceps brachii), and your brachioradialis (located in the forearms) which is muscle involved with developing and strengthening your forearms. There is a significant emphasis on wrist and forearm stability when performing the reverse bicep curl – with a lot of tension placed around the wrist. For this reason, you will have to use significantly lighter weights than you would do with a regular bicep curl.
Supinated cable triceps extensions: Another isotonic exercise. With the obvious that this works the triceps, you may be thinking that this is similar to the pronated bicep curl but is performed in the reverse position – it isn’t! The supination of hands and forearms twists the muscle in your forearms to place greater emphasis on the extensor muscles.
Thick grip exercises: There are tools available that clip onto a bar to increase its thickness, the cheaper option could be to use a towel to wrap around the bar. Making the bar thicker with a larger surface area will demand more from the wrist and forearms.
Bar hangs: This isometric exercise is demanding not only on your hand, wrist and forearms but, also your shoulders, back and core. This is an isometric muscle contraction exercise, meaning that the length of the muscles involved contract without changing length. You should remain stable in a fixed position throughout the exercise. This is a great exercise to measure your grip strength – also as your weight is somewhat stable over a period, you can simply measure the time you are able to hang for, until fatigue sets in.
This exercise uses just your bodyweight but, as you adapt and start to find the exercise much less challenging you can try adding additional weight while performing the bar hang. Simple ways to add weight to a bar hang include placing a dumbbell between your ankles, hooking a kettlebell onto your foot, using strap-on weight wraps around your ankles, or simply use a rucksack and add weights into the bag.
A few tips for the bar hang: Really squeeze the bar throughout exercise maximises the recruitment of the muscle and ligaments in the arms and wrist. Chalk is the only lifting aid acceptable for bar hangs, it helps significantly, allowing you to not only squeeze the bar with more force but, to also hang for a longer time.
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