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Grip Training for Strength and Power Sports By John Sullivan While training with competitive powerlifters and

strongmen, I have noticed a trend. Quite often, the Achilles Heel in the deadlift for powerlifters and the farmer's walk and other events for the strongman is grip, or namely the lack thereof. Very simply, you're only as strong as what you can hold. In the old maxim "grip it and rip it," you can't rip it if you can't grip it. The grip is also important for other sports such as martial arts, wrestling, hockey, and baseball. Training for improvements in grip performance should be specific to the needs of the athlete. In his book Mastery of Hand Strength, John Brookfield notes that there are several distinct types of grip strength, including supporting, crushing, and pinching. A common misconception is that there is a high degree of carryover from one type of grip to another. Brookfield's assertion has held true in my experience in a variety of strength sports; if there is any carryover, it is minimal at best. This lack of carryover underscores the importance of identifying the predominant type of grip strength required for your given sport or activity. Once you determine what forms of grip strength are most important for your chosen endeavor, you can assemble an effective program to improve your hand strength and, in turn, your performance. Why Train Your Grip? The Case for Surplus Grip Strength Some might ask, "Why the need for specific grip training?" Won't training for your sport give you the ideal stimulus?" If it did, no one would ever lose a deadlift inches from lockout or drop a farmer's walk implement prematurely. If grip is the weak link, it must be given special attention. Even if grip strength is adequate, I think that surplus strength can be advantageous to a point. Surplus hand strength will give athletes confidence to pull with maximum force with no fear of losing their grip. Anecdotally, I have noticed that when athletes have a deficiency in grip strength, they do not exert maximum force on the bar for fear of the bar ripping out of their hands. In a sense, the weakness in the hands inhibits the prime movers. Finally, since strength athletes are continually trying to lift more and more weight, the grip must remain one step ahead. Tips for your grip Straps The typical trainee uses straps too often, period. Exercises like pulldowns, pullups, curls, and rows shouldn't necessitate the use of lifting straps in most cases. If you cannot perform these or other exercises without straps, a serious grip strengthening program might be in order. I should note that I am not totally against the use of straps, though. Medvedev has stated that straps should be used while doing the Olympic pulls from the hang, for example, and I agree with this. These exercises are for building power, not testing the grip. For those wishing to improve their grip strength, however, use of the

various grip-enhancing devices like straps and hooks should be limited as much as possible. Train One Hand at a Time Because of the bilateral deficit, training one hand at a time yields better results than training them simultaneously. If one hand is weaker than the other, training it separately will ensure sufficient stimulation and bring up any weaknesses. Variety is Key Just as there is little carryover among the different types of grip strength, there is rarely carryover among similar types of grip of different widths (i.e. different diameter bars or different width pinch grip blocks). For example, I have seen several strongman competitors with impressive performances on thick bar lifts demonstrate only average strength when holding onto a normal diameter farmer's walk implement. The point is that when training the grip it is important to use various implements of different sizes to maximize strength in the numerous angles and positions of which the hand is capable. Grip the Bar Correctly One can grip the bars in two different ways: the hook grip and what could be termed the "reverse" hook grip. Art McDermott, CSCS, owner of Highland Strength & Fitness in Andover, Mass. showed me this grip and it immediately allowed me to hold more weight in strongman exercises like the farmer's walk and Hercules Hold. I often notice that people who have problems holding onto the bar do not grip it correctly. A simple tip is to wrap the thumb over the middle and index fingers as shown. Use the thumb to press down firmly on the fingers to hold them in place. This will ensure a firm grip on the bar. The hook grip is also effective, although those that are unaccustomed to it may find it uncomfortable or painful, especially when they first give it a shot.

Grip Exercises Isometronic One Arm Rack Pulls

Start with the bar set between two sets of pins. It should be resting at about knee level. Brace the non-working hand on the thigh and pull the bar into the pins. Hold this for at least 6-8 seconds, pulling at hard as possible then switch hands. The main reason for pulling into the pins is that less energy will be focused on keeping the bar from tilting. Without this "distraction," you can put more energy into pulling straight up and taxing the grip as it would be in a deadlift or farmer's walk. If you are a strongman competitor and you have a contest with a thick bar lift, I recommend that you use the thick bar here as well.

Suitcase Rack Pulls with Bands Like the isometronic rack pulls, this exercise will really tax the supporting grip. You'll be pulling against bands though, which gives it a different feel. I recommend doublelooped light bands, but use what you have available. Like pulling into pins, the bands help to stabilize the ends of the bar. To start, set the bar at about knee height, tighten the abs, and stand up. Aim for a minimum of 6-8 seconds then switch. A thick bar can be used here, too.

Thumb Strap Hold

When using the "reverse" hook grip, the thumb must be strong to hold the index and middle fingers in place. Take a lifting strap and hook it to a cable machine. Make a fist, place the strap on the backs of those two fingers, and clamp down tightly with the thumb. A light dumbbell can also be held to replicate holding onto a bar.

Pinch Grip Like the strap hold, the pinch grip will help strengthen the thumb, which is often the weak link. It can be done with two plates held flat side out, or with a pinch grip block and a loading pin or weight stack. A pinch grip block doesn't have to be anything fancy; a block of wood 1-2 inches in width with a hook or eyelet screwed in will work just fine. Better yet, make several blocks of different widths.

Thick Dumbbell Zottman Curls This exercise really overloads the forearms and the thumb when the arm is pronated; you'll see much better results with a thick-handled dumbbell than with a normal dumbbell. Zottman curls can be done on a preacher bench or standing, and I prefer to use lower reps with heavier weight. These are not true Zottman curls, though, since the forearm is not fully supinated on the eccentric component; we avoid the fully supinated

position because we're trying to bring the most amount of forearm musculature into play here.

Thick Dumbbell Row Grasping a weight in a static position is one thing, but pulling it explosively towards you is another matter entirely. In this variation of the dumbbell row, we're using a thick handled dumbbell and trying to tax the grip as it might be in a grappling match (i.e. the opponent trying to pull his arm away from you). Set up just like a regular bent-over dumbbell row, and once you're in position, pull the dumbbell explosively upwards towards the hip, as shown in the picture. A thick handled dumbbell can be made fairly easily out of a short section of pipe.

Thick Bar Pull Up Another easy (and cheap) way of building grip strength is with thick bar pull-ups. This version requires two short pieces of pipe to slip over the pull-up handles on most power racks. The pipe can be purchased at most hardware stores for a few dollars. Again, we're trying to tax the grip here, so explosive reps are the goal.

Leverage Bar Since grappling sports are very dynamic, training the hands for grappling must be as well. The pulling and twisting of your opponent will test your grip at various angles, so I recommend using of a leverage bar of some sort. Leverage bars are not hard to make; with a little creativity, they can be improvised pretty easily. In the picture, I am using a loading pin with a small weight and a secure collar. A small sledgehammer will also work well. Aside from pronation and supination, be creative and use various angles and patterns at which you feel weak.

Wrist Roller You may have done (or still do) these with the arms held out and in front of you. Stop! This is a forearm exercise, not a test of shoulder endurance. If you're interested in training your forearms hard, do it the right way. Straddle two benches or boxes and let your arms hang straight down as shown. Use heavy weight, and do lower repetitions. Be sure to roll it up with the wrist extensors and the wrist flexors (some call this "forward" and backward"). Rollers of various diameters can be used. Pictured is a roller I made from PVC pipe.

Grippers For many sports, grippers will be of limited use. But they can assist in sports such as hockey, where a tight grip will afford the player better control of the stick. There are various quality grippers on the market, and it may take some searching to find which level of resistance you need. Here are a few sample training programs: Powerlifting and Strongman

Day 1 Isometronic One Arm Deadlift*: 6-8 second hold Thumb Strap Hold: 12-15 second hold Day 2 Suitcase Dead w/bands*: 6-8 second hold Pinch Grip: 12-15 second hold *Thick bars can be used for strongman training if an upcoming contest has a thick bar event. Martial Arts/Grappling Sports Day 1 Thick DB Row: 3-5 reps Thick DB Zottman Curl: 4-6 reps Pinch Grip: 12-15 second hold Day 2 Suitcase Deadlift (no bands)*: 6-8 second hold Lever Lift: 3-5 reps each (pronation and supination) Wrist Roller: 1 rep each (wrist flexion and extension) *A thick bar can be used here. Hockey/Baseball Day 1 Lever Lift: 3-5 reps each (pronation and supination) Gripper: 3-5 reps Day 2 Thick DB Zottman Curl: 4-6 reps Wrist Roller: 1 rep each (wrist flexion and extension) You probably noticed that I did not prescribe a specific numbers of sets. I intentionally omitted these recommendations because I've observed that the ability to perform multiple sets of grip exercises is highly individual. A little experimentation will show you how many sets you can tolerate before your performance drops off. Remember, too, that these are only sample training programs and exercises. There are many exercises and combinations that are effective, so let your imagination run wild if you don't have access to a specified piece of equipment.