Have you ever challenged yourself to get all your grocery bags from the car to the house in only one trip?
I do this all the time, which usually means I’m grabbing five or six bags in each hand. Whether you consider it laziness or efficiency, you can’t deny it requires some serious grip strength!
Grip strength is often perceived as something only men — not women — train. (When I was a kid, my dad had these blue plastic-handled grippers. I would try to squeeze them, but even with both hands, I still couldn’t make them budge.)
But developing a stronger grip is something we should all prioritize if we want to level up our training. In this article, you’ll learn exactly why grip strength training is important as well as six of the best exercises to help you develop your grip.
What Is Grip Strength?
Grip strength is the measure of force and power you can generate from your forearms and hands. While it’s an easily overlooked component of training, it’s an integral part of strength development that significantly affects the results you can achieve.
There are three types of grip. The crush grip is the grip between your fingers and palm (think of squeezing something in your hand). The pinch grip refers to pinching between your fingers and thumb, while the support grip is a static move in which you need to hold the position for an extended period of time. All three types of grip can be developed.
Why Is Grip Strength Training Important?
You’re only as strong as your grip allows. If you have a weak grip, you may hit some plateaus in your training simply because your grip limits how much weight you can move and how many reps you can perform.
The better your handgrip strength, the more you can focus on your lifting technique and mechanics without compensation, which in turn can reduce your risk of injury.
Grip strength training also improves your connective tissues — the increased blood flow contributes to improved muscle function and adaptation to training. Grip strength (like strength training in general) additionally increases your bone density, especially through your wrists and elbow joints, therefore reducing your risk of injury to these areas. If you don’t condition your grip and forearm muscles for mobility, strength, and endurance, you may experience injury or chronic pain down the road.
Outside of its benefits in your training, grip strength can help improve the quality of your everyday life, from opening jars to shoveling snow to upping your tennis, baseball, and golf game.
6 Exercises to Improve Grip Strength
There are six grip strength exercises I recommend including in your training program — and as you’ll see, getting a good grip takes a lot more than wrist curls, stress balls, and grippers! Each of these movements and types of grip will help with a different aspect of your grip strength and ensure you’re continually challenging yourself.
Exercise #1. Heavy Barbell Deadlift
One of the easiest ways to increase your grip strength is by including heavy barbell deadlifts in your program. Heavy deadlifts are my favorite functional strength training movement. In addition to working your crush grip, they target the major muscle groups of your posterior chain and core. (Plus, you can mix this movement up by using kettlebells or dumbbells.)
How to Perform a Barbell Deadlift:
- Stand with your feet hip-width apart. The bar should be close to your shins, and your shins should be vertical.
- Take a deep breath and engage your core, creating tension throughout your entire body. While maintaining the tension, send your hips back to find your hinge position. Imagine holding an orange between your chin and your chest to ensure your neck and back stay in a neutral position throughout the movement.
- Grab the barbell with both hands in an overhand grip (palms facing toward your body). Load your lats by drawing them down and back away from your ears (imagine having to hold a piece of paper in each armpit). Think about externally rotating the pits of your elbows — turning the inner elbow so it faces forward — as you do this. You should also feel some tension in your hamstrings.
- Before standing, imagine splitting the floor with your feet to activate your glutes and maintain tension throughout your lower body.
- Drive your hips forward to full extension and exhale at the top of the movement.
- Maintaining tension in your core and lats, return to your starting position by sending your hips back and hinging to return the barbell to the ground.
Important Tips for Training Grip Strength:
- Start with a conventional overhand grip, with your hands holding the bar about shoulder-width apart in a pronated position (palms facing your body).
- As you get stronger and develop your grip, you can increase the weight.
- As you progress, start incorporating a mixed grip — as demonstrated in the video below — with one hand in a supinated position (palm facing away from your body).
- Alternate sides on your mixed grip to avoid creating any muscular imbalances by favoring one side over the other.
Exercise #2. Bottoms-Up Kettlebell Hold
Bottoms-up kettlebell drills are a great way to not only strengthen your grip but also drill lat recruitment, shoulder stability, and overall full-body tension. Considering the inherent instability of bottoms-up holds, make sure to start with a very light weight.
How to Perform a Bottoms-Up Kettlebell Hold:
- Begin with your feet between hip- and shoulder-width apart.
- Hold the kettlebell handle with one hand. With the other hand, help guide the kettlebell into an upside-down rack position, with the bottom of the bell facing the ceiling.
- Keep your shoulder packed, down, and back to create the most stability.
- Grip the kettlebell tightly, engage your lat and your core, and generate tension throughout your entire body.
- Work on holding this bottoms-up kettlebell position for time. You can also progress with half-kneeling holds and bottoms-up presses.
- The longer the holds, the more you’ll be able to sustain tension in your grip. This will translate to being able to perform more reps.
Want to learn more about bottoms-up kettlebell training? Find out how to get started — and why it’s so beneficial — in this article.
Exercise #3. Farmer’s Carry
The farmer’s carry with kettlebells is a great way to further challenge your grip strength and endurance. When done correctly, you’ll continue to learn how to recruit your lats and maintain core tension throughout the farmer’s walk.
How to Perform the Farmer’s Carry for Grip Strength:
- Start as you would for a double kettlebell suitcase deadlift. Pick up the kettlebells and find your standing position.
- Going slowly, start walking with the kettlebells. Avoid shrugging your shoulders up or letting the bells rest on your sides.
- Start with a weight that allows you to carry the kettlebells for 20 seconds at a perceived effort of 8 out of 10.
- As you progress, you can add heavier weights or perform your carries for time or distance, but make sure you can maintain an upright and engaged position throughout the carry.
Exercise #4. Thick Bar Training
Use a thick bar (e.g., axle bar, Fat Gripz) for some of your lifts to create a different stimulus for your grip work. Changing up your grip size will further increase the muscle strength in your hands and forearms and may help you break through plateaus.
Thick Bar Training Tips:
- Select exercises you’re already proficient with so you can perform them with good technique.
- Choose a lighter weight than you’d normally use for these exercises, or stick with bodyweight only — you won’t be able to lift as heavy, and that’s OK!
- You can slip Fat Gripz on almost any implement (e.g., barbell, dumbbells) if you don’t have access to a thicker bar.
Exercise #5. Flexed-Arm Hang
The flexed-arm hang test is a common military test used to assess upper body strength, support grip strength, and endurance. You can use it as both a full-body bodyweight training tool and a self-test to measure the improvement of your grip and overall strength.
How to Perform the Flexed-Arm Hang:
- Set up as if you were going to perform the descending portion of a chin-up.
- Pause in a mid-hang position with your arms flexed.
- Hold that position and maintain your full-body tension by engaging your core, squeezing your glutes, and flexing your quads.
- Aim to hang like that for at least 15 seconds.
Working on your pull-ups too? Check out this step-by-step guide on how to perform a proper pull-up.
Exercise #6. Plate Pinch
The plate pinch is a great tool for developing your pinch grip overall grip strength. You can progress it by increasing the weight or the time, or by incorporating plate curls (also called plate pinch curls).
How to Perform a Plate Pinch:
- With your feet hip- or shoulder-width apart, pick up a weight plate by pinching it between your fingers.
- Maintaining your pinch grip, stand with the plate by your side and your core engaged. Avoid resting the weight plate or your arm against your body.
- Pack your lat down and away from your ears while maintaining full-body tension.
- Begin with a light weight plate (e.g., 10 pounds) and slowly progress to a heavier load and a longer pinch time.
How Often Should You Do Grip Strength Training?
You can add some grip strength training to your workout routine two or three times a week at the end of your sessions. Begin with one or two sets, and slowly increase the number of sets, the number of reps, or the length of time you perform the exercise as your grip strength increases.
Over time, you’ll start to see your grip strength paying major dividends in your overall strength and your training results!