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Does Your Grip Suck?

Does Your Grip Suck?

There are certain things that very successful people do that average people don’t. Success is defined as “progressing towards a worthy target.”

In the strength world, one forgotten key to strength is grip strength.
Let me explain a few reasons why you might want to look more like Popeye than your average curls and bench press lover…

Get A Grip!

If you can’t hold onto it then all the force you can create in the rest of your body is powerless to move the object.
Take the example of a Rugby League player since that’s where I’ve spent most of my time learning and developing athletes.

The strength of the biceps, lats, abs, back and legs in bringing a player to the ground are only useful to the extent that the defending player can attach himself to the attacker.

In the gym, this is your ability to grip the bar for deadlifts, weighted pull-ups and rows. Sure straps can be used to overload the other muscles but why not build the iron hands that life might one day demand.

In the world of self-defence, hand strength is life and death.

“Looks Right, Flies Right” – Charlie Francis

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Big forearms are a secret of old time bodybuilders and strength athletes. Frank Zane highlights calves and forearms as the most under-estimated muscles to hypertrophy for aesthetics.

In the early days of the strength, circus and strength were closely connected. These performers BENT bars and nails as well as lifting them. It was also common for old-time athletes to work on single digit deadlifts and pull-ups. Reports of multiple repetition single finger (single arm) pull-ups are common in the old scrolls of strength!

Fast-forwards and spending time with Ido Portal and his team, I’m always struck by the uniform level of forearm development across his elite tribe.

Key factors in hand strength

Be Specific

High level of complexity means that every method of hand strength development is somewhat specific. For example: Captains of crush, rolling thunder and finger pull-ups are separate capacities. For all-rounder crushing hands, you’re going to need diversity in your practice.

Mass matters

You can’t flex muscle you don’t have. Listening to one of today’s top grip athletes Andrew Durniat, he singles out heavy wrist curls and extensions as being one of the fundamentals of grip work. This makes sense because it’s the way we develop strength throughout the rest of the body. Full range of motion lifting works to build muscle and maintain healthy length-tension relationships or “structural balance.”

The Best Tests

Quantifying progress helps to fuel the practice that is required to be better. Some of the best tests are:

Grip Dynamometers

Get a number for how hard you can squeeze a little device. Divide by bodyweight for a relative strength score. If

you’re super strong you will need a heavy duty device that goes over 100kg. I’ve only seen the 100kg device maxed out a few times by 120kg athletes. The basic devices go up to 90kg which is a great target for anyone under 90kg. The 90kg device rarely gets maxed out by complex sport athletes and is a great goal for most strength lovers. I’d love to hear from you if you’re gripping over bodyweight on one of these devices. I haven’t seen it yet. Personally, I’ve hit 95% of bodyweight

Captains Of Crush

Can you close it? Make it CLICK!
They look like a toy from the strength section of a department store but don’t be fooled. Even the “S” (sport) level has stumped a few gym goers. Closing the level 1 is a reasonable basic standard for an adult male. Level 2 is a good minimum for sports or jobs that require high levels of strength through the hands.


Just stay on the bar. Keep staying.
Single and double hand holds are a great mental and physical challenge for the grip. Hanging also has a number of other benefits for postural health and shoulder function. Pavel Tsatsouline and Ido Portal have written extensively on hanging. You might also consider it as a much safer alternative to an inversion table.

The bar you’re on and chalk/sweat/grip can play a big part here in how long you can last. The best “hangers” generally have low overall muscle mass and a history of holding on tight. Some of the best hang results I’ve seen are from a, downhill mountain bike rider (Ben Greenwood from the RealMOVEMENT mentorship), a cake maker and a jockey.

Grip and lift

Rolling Thunder and other attachments to the loading pin allow us to quantify differing grip loads. The world record for rolling thunder is 146.75kg by strongman Mark Felix which is around bodyweight for him. Bodyweight is a great target, most gym going guys will hit 50-75% of bodyweight on their first attempts.

Integrated Grip Strength

1. Farmers walks

2. Overhand deadlifts without a hook grip, fat or regular bar.

3. Weighted / High Rep Chin-Ups / Pull-ups

4. Monkey bars and other swing grip training

Is it time you fall in love with the often neglected world of grip training?

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Get started!

Lift big!

Never look back!

About Keegan Smith

Keegan Smith (Coach KEEGAN), founder of RealMOVEMENT Project and author of Performance Coach Success Blueprint, is a performance coach educator who's worked with Premiership winning Sydney Roosters.

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