PPT Monthly Challenge for November
Farmer’s walk for max time!
Grip strength: is it important? Well, hopefully by the end of this blog you will have figured that out.
Most day-to-day gym goers will never think of training their grip, mostly because 90% of people go to the gym to look good, get washboard abs, lean legs and peachy buns of steel, all of which you can see in a mirror… but you can’t see a good grip. So if you can’t see it, why do we need it?
Well, for athletes it’s simple – having a stronger grip will lead to better performance. Martial artists need good grip strength to be able to hold locks and throw people to the ground, power lifters and strongmen need good grip to be able to pick heavy stuff up, rugby players need a vice-like grip to wrestle their opposition, gymnasts need to be able to grip the high bars after spinning around in the air like a tornado and to grip the floor when upside down doing a handstand. The list could go on for ever, but what about everyday life? Carrying shopping, opening jars and cans, pulling a suitcase, even shaking someone’s hand?
Watch any high level power lifter who fails a deadlift and it won’t be their back, legs or any other body part that gives way; it will be their grip. The same can be said for when we get older; the first thing that will start to become weak is our grip. Here are some examples of what I know people struggle with, from my personal experience with relatives:
- opening jars, cans and bottles
- opening doors by the door handle
- carrying shopping
- holding a pen
- turning on the oven
- holding a glass – unless it was full of gin ;)
- getting dressed
- and the most frustrating one in the midst of winter… not being able to turn the key in the front door to open it. I found myself many times having to run over to my Nan’s to open the front door before the rain washed her away.
So the people that it’s most important for to be doing grip exercises is not Eddie Hall, the World Record holder for the Deadlift, but actually every person over the age of 65!
Getting into the technical stuff on grip strength for a second, there are a huge host of muscles working when we’re gripping something – four flexors, one extensor and three intrinsic muscles. Strengthening these can help prevent many common injuries to the hand, forearm and even shoulders, in my personal experience. There are very few studies on whether having a strong grip does relate to a stronger upper body and endurance, but there are a few and they support that a strong grip means a strong upper body.
So how do you get a vice-like grip? Like anything there are many different ways to train grip strength and it goes well beyond squeezing stress balls or grippers. Whether you’re an elite level power lifter who wants to PB your deadlift, or a 70-year-old grandma who needs that jar of jam opened, these are my go-to exercises for a stronger grip.
Holding a weight in each hand (kettlebells, farmer’s walk handles, dumbbells… anything heavy) and then walking. This one is simple but so damn good! Ever heard the term ‘farm boy strength’? No? Well it’s because they have this natural ability to be strong as f**k without doing any training. I was at the rugby club early one day doing some deadlifts with the Forwards (big stronger players) and my mate walked in who’s a Back (smaller faster players who tend to take more care on their appearance than anything else). He didn’t warm up or anything and walked over to a bar weighing just over 200kgs; everyone else either started laughing or looked extremely worried, and before I even had a chance to tell him not to try and lift it because he would injure himself, he had a firm grasp of the bar and just picked it up off the floor like it was a pillow. Moral of the story: farmers are strong because they carry stuff; this means if you carry stuff you get strong.
Find that too easy? Do it unilaterally and perform a single arm farmer’s walk to get
your core more involved.
Active Bar Hang
One of the most underrated exercises for shoulder health, upper body strength and a good grip is just monkeying around on a bar! When hanging on the bar you don’t just want to relax and hang on your joints, you want to squeeze your shoulder blades keeping your arms straight. The easiest way to do this is to pull your shoulders down away from your ears and think about bending the bar. If this is too easy you could do single arm hangs, keep swapping between arms, hold a chin up or pull up (like Rod in the photo) and just play around with it.
The last two exercises are a crushing-type grip exercise where you bring your fingers into your palm; this is a pinching exercise (fingers to thumb). Get some bumper plates and pinch the sides of the plate and walk around with them. Warning: this burns baby burns, but hell, you’ll get a strong-ass grip!
Sandbell Pinch Carry
Like the plate pinch this exercise is a pinching-type carry, the one you need to be able to turn the key in the front door when it’s slashing down with rain. Using a sandbell makes it harder because the weight disperses unevenly through the sandbell meaning your grip has to constantly accommodate to the different resistance; basically it keeps you guessing and will be different every time you do this exercise.
Bottoms-up Kettlebell Carries
This is the exercise I believe to be responsible for rehabilitating my glass shoulders into shoulders that can somewhat take the impact of a full-grown man running into them with an egg-shaped ball. Basically it’s awesome for your shoulders! Why? Because it’s awesome for your grip too.
For this, grab a kettlebell and turn it upside down hence “bottoms-up”. Grip the handle of the kettlebell like your life depends on it and walk. Little tip: don’t let the kettlebell hit you in the chin, it hurts!
Lastly, any odd object carrying like sandbags, slam balls, stones, hammers and fat bar training will help get you a stronger grip and a kick-ass strong upper body!
I’m gonna stop being a wannabe keyboard warrior now and go pick something up and walk with it. You should too!