Athletes whose sport requires using a racket, stick, bat or other implement to move a ball through space know how important grip strength is. A strong grip not only prevents you from throwing your equipment (team mates don’t appreciate this), it allows you to efficiently transfer the power of your legs, arms and core through the racket, stick or bat and into the ball.
Grip strength is also important in the weight room.
Many women are challenged when it comes to increasing the loads they can lift. Not because their legs, back and shoulders are weak, but because the muscles required to grip heavy dumbbells and barbells give out before the larger muscles targeted by the lift. Want to increase your deadlift and your bent-over row? Add some grip work to your routine.
Know your gripping muscles
Developing a strong grip requires that you focus on the muscles of the forearm, specifically the flexor digitorum superficialis, flexor digitorum profondus and the flexor policus longus. When flexed isometrically, these three muscles allow you to maintain a closed-hand hold on dumbbells, barbells and cable and pulley handles (as well as rackets, bats and sticks).
When fatigued, these muscles lose their contractibility, resulting in the hand opening and the weight slipping to the ground.
Exercises to improve grip strength
Building a better grip requires strengthening of the forearms.
Many women worry about getting bulky and the idea of having muscular forearms goes against their personal aesthetic. Just remember that strong forearms will allow you to develop strong shoulders, a more well-defined back and a booty to behold. As long as your gains are proportional, nobody will be looking at your gripping muscles.
As a benefit, you'll also be able to comfortably carry heavier shopping bags from the mall to that 'get more steps in' distant parking space.
1. Hex dumbbell holds
Grab a pair of hex dumbbells by their ends, fingers spread wide. Extend arms down at your sides, keeping shoulders retracted and core engaged. Hold for as long as you can. Obviously, the size of your hand will determine what size of dumbbell you'll be able to grip. Start with a weight that you can hold for 30 s at a time. Progress by increasing the load every week or two, until you reach the limit of your grip width.
2. Weight plate pinches
In addition to strengthening your forearms, weight plate pinches will also improve your finger strength; a secondary, but important contributor to grip strength.
Start by grabbing two, same-size weight plates. Place them back to back, smooth side out. Standing tall, hold the plates together by placing your thumb near the top of the inside plate (closest to your body) and your 2nd, 3rd and 4th fingers near the top of the outside plate. Pinch the plates together and hold for as long as you can. (Stop just before you're no longer able to gently lower the plates to the ground). Repeat on the other side.
3. Wrist curls
Grab a light pair of dumbbells in an overhand (palms face down) grip. Place forearms on a bench (or counter top, if you're doing this at home), with hands extended just beyond the edge, palms facing down. Alternately flex and extend the wrists, moving weights down towards the floor then up towards the ceiling, making sure that forearms remain in contact with the bench (or counter) throughout. Aim for two sets of 10-12 repetitions.
4. Fat bar holds
Some gyms have 'fat' bars; bars that are thicker around than typical barbells, O-bars and EZ-curl bars. If your gym doesn't have such a bar you can make your own by wrapping a thick towel around the shaft of a standard barbell.
Standing with feet shoulder width apart, grab the bar, placing hands slightly wider than hip width apart. Hold for as long as you can. Try varying your grips (open, closed and mixed) to stimulate your gripping muscles from a variety of angles.
5. Tennis ball squeeze
Holding a tennis (or lacrosse) ball in one hand. Squeeze tightly for 10-15 s. Rest briefly and repeat. You can perform this exercise on both hands simultaneously, or one hand after the other.
Putting it all together
Try incorporating grip strength exercises into your strength workouts twice weekly. Aim for one or two sets of each of the above five exercises, performed at the end of your regular weights workout so as not to pre-fatigue the muscles you’ll need for your primary lifts.
Bet you’ll be setting new strength PR’s (or batting that ball out of the park) in no time!
Have you ever experienced forearm fatigue when performing pulling exercises?
How have you improved your grip strength?