This is a question that gets asked all the time.
And I find myself repeating myself a heck-of-a-lot, so I thought I would nail it down to one post – then I can just link to that forever more in the future (hey, I’m lazy). But I don’t want you to think I’m annoyed or anything, I asked all these questions too once upon a time so I understand – besides, asking questions can be a good way to learn, so let’s begin with a question what is begged:
Why Should I Improve My Grip?
This might seem pretty obvious, but some people might not properly understand the implications of grip and exercise – and how it relates to form as well as how the muscles get worked.
You see there’s a mechanism whereby the harder you can contract a muscle, the more you will get out of the surrounding muscles. If you have a heck of a grip and squeeze the living daylights out of stuff, then that will translate in to increased strength throughout any lift that requires a grip element.
This is one aspect of the influence grip has on muscles.
Grip also influences form to a lesser or greater degree depending on how important it is to an exercise. Put simply, if you are struggling to hold a weight of any kind, then you are unlikely to be able to concentrate on form – and form is pretty darn important. (I will discuss what constitutes “good form” in a later article).
This leads to a kind of opportunity cost in a second aspect of grip’s influence on muscles; if grip is not an issue (read: you have a plentifully strong grip) then you can focus on form.
And focusing on form allows you in turn to really feel the appropriate muscles working. Put simply, if your form sucks then you will be unable to have an effective workout.
So How Do I Improve My Grip?
Luckily this is pretty simple. Lets start by answering the question in the title, since this will in part carry over to improving grip in general.
1. The first thing is chalk.
If your gym does not allow you to use chalk, then either buy liquid chalk and be sneaky or move to a better gym. I am dead serious about this; if you have never used chalk before then you simply do not understand how huge an effect it has on the quality of your workouts.
Once you go chalk, you will never go balk? You get the idea…
Chalk works by neutralising the slippiness (technical term) of sweaty palms and shiny bars. This allows you to exert less energy in the task of preventing the bar slipping, which means you can focus on form and feel your muscles working.
If you find your grip going on that final set then chalk will give you the edge you need.
2. Use a mixed grip
So regular grip is called double-overhand – both your hands wrap over the bar with your palms facing you. This is fine for light weight, but it creates a tendency with heavier weights for the bar to want to “roll” towards you – this obviously makes the job your grip has to do way harder.
The double overhand grip – you can see how this would allow the bar to roll towards the lifter
To use the mixed grip properly, ensure that you alternate your grip for every set, and perform an equal number of sets with each variation. In addition, you should add in 8 – 14 sets of biceps curls a week if you aren’t already – this is to help prevent biceps tears in the hand with palm facing out.
So those are your grip-fixers for the deadlift – they will make an immediate and noticeable impact, even if you gain no strength whatsoever. The improvement in grip reliability will make your deadlift sessions way more productive. But what about if you want to increase grip strength in general? Well, as a bonus, here are two grip-strengthening exercises I have personally had success with:
1. Plate Pinches
These are pretty much what they sound like; take a weight plate, pinch it (if it has handles, pinch where the handles aren’t) and do that for time. Start out light, and aim for 30 seconds. Once you can hit that you can move up to a heavier weight. Just a few sessions of doing these makes a noticeable difference in my experience.
2. Towel pullups
These are an incredibly challenging exercise and are a bit of a step up from plate pinches – even if you’re good at pullups these will be tough and demonstrate just how important grip is to movements which require it. Sling two sturdy towels that you don’t care about over a flat bar, twist them together then grab hold of the dangling bits (no laughing at the back!).
The phenomenal Ross Enamait performing the towel pullup
Now try and do as many pullups as your grip will allow – this will likely be fewer pullups than you can manage normally so shouldn’t interfere with the rest of your training too much.
Again just a couple of weeks of these will make a noticeable difference.
So there you have it – simple and quick fixes that you can start doing today (or at your next workout). These tips could instantly add 10kg/22lbs to your deadlift, and will also help you feel your muscles working properly and fix your form.
All good shit.
Just don’t come crying to me when your forearms hurt!