Grip Training Tutorial, Part Five

Posted: February 18, 2012 in Articles
While we’ve covered most of the types of grip strength already, there are a few elements that we haven’t discussed. First, we haven’t talked about the antagonist exercises that balance the hands as we strengthen their ability to grip. That is, we haven’t talked about how to train our hands to straighten out or fan apart under load. Secondly, we haven’t gotten down and dirty and enumerated ways in which we can toughen our hands, so that they won’t let us down when things get a little ugly.

Opening Our Hands:

The thing to remember about our bodies is that they work in such a way as to create systems of pulling and pushing, of opening and closing. Most of the discussion we’ve had here is about keeping our hands closed, but anyone who’s typed a paper or played the piano understands that the back of the hand, the part that moves the fingers upward and outward, is also important. We don’t want to create an imbalance in the tension between the gripping muscles and those that open and spread the fingers, so we have to consider how best to exercise these small muscles.

Now, the mechanisms that open our fingers are never going to be even close to those that shut them, in terms of strength. The hand is not a symmetrical system in this way. That said, we should still consider what we can do in this regard.

Luckily, it’s simple. All you need is one or more heavy elastic bands from your desk drawer. Put your thumb and fingers all together, such that they form a cone. Slip an elastic over them, possibly doubling it if it isn’t tight with a single loop. Now, force your fingers apart and hold for a beat. Now relax. Now do it again. There. You’re working the antagonist muscles of the back of your hand. This will tend to be a high repetition exercise. I like 20 to 50 reps for something like this. One set should probably be fine. You’ll be surprised at how quickly your hands start to complain about this simple little exercise the first time you try it.

Hand and Finger Toughness:

Here, we get evil. We do things that aren’t very nice to our hands, so that they’ll be rugged when we need them to be. We’ll build up the depth of the skin in various places, and we’ll get them used to resisting against otherwise unknown force vectors.

First, the knuckles. Here, your only stop can be the old boxer’s standby, the pushup from your fists. Start on a soft mat or grass, then go to carpet. There’s no need to go to hardwood or concrete, as these will hurt more but not be a lot more effective. These pushup also strengthen your wrist, so if you do have to jolt someone in the jaw, you’re less likely to have your wrist cave in on you.

On to the second digits. From a fist, rotate your fingers outward so that the middle knuckle is foremost. Think about how an ape knuckle-walks, and you’ll have it. From those knuckles and your thumbs, do pushups. Everything said about the fist pushups above goes for this one, too. Even tougher on the wrist, and this one brings the thumb into it in a big way.

Finally, we’re talking fingertip pushups. At first, just assume the position and see if your hands will hold you. If they won’t, work up to it. If you can do a number of legit fingertip pushups, your hands are going to get tough, guaranteed.

Finally, you can do what baseball pitchers have been doing for many years to get their hands strength and toughness up there. Get a small bucket and fill it with rice. With your hand shaped like a blade (fingers straight and pulled together, thumb held tight), plunge your hand into the bucket up to your wrist. Now make a fist, displacing the rice as your hand moves. Yeah, you probably won’t be eating the rice afterward.

Fingertip Strength and Hook Grip:

Being able to grasp with our fingertips and either squeeze or hold is a final consideration. Who needs this? Anyone who works with their hands, but specifically athletes that need the ability to grasp and hold, no questions asked. Mountain climbers, football players, and wrestlers, for instance.

One of the best ways to gain fingertip strength is to work with sandbags, or some other chaotic and shifting load. A small polypropolene or burlap bag with sand, beans, rice, or pea gravel will work. I could expound about the coolness of sandbag training all day, but for this one, the primary method is going to be putting your hand against a plain side of the sandbag, palm flat, and simply squeezing material into a grasping point, then lifting straight off the ground. The way I’ve enjoyed doing it the most is with a bag filled with recycled rubber. From standing, I slap my flat hand on the bag, grasp it, hoist it up, and throw it toward the ground as hard as I can. I call it the “swoop and slam” move. Alternating from hand to hand, not only is it a fantastic fingertip strength exercise, it’s also a massive cardiovascular load and a move that will release any pent-up stress you might have.

No one needs hook grip like a climber. How do you get it? Well, find some ledge, rafter, or other place where you can only hang on with the last two knuckles of your hands, no thumbs. Do dead hangs or pull-ups that way. It’s awesome…for a given, painful definition of awesome.

Are there other ways to train hand strength? Sure. Tons of ‘em. I’ve only scratched the surface here, but I’ll go out on a limb and say that, if you’re doing several of the exercises I’ve mentioned, your hands are going to enjoy a serious increase in strength.

A word about pacing yourself:

As with anything else, expect some soreness when you first start doing these exercises. Treat them like any workout regime , giving your body enough time to heal. How long that is depends on a lot of things I don’t know, so I can’t give you any hard and fast rules. Every other day is about as much as I’d recommend, though. If you have any serious, lingering pain, or marked swelling in any joint, take it easy for a good week. Because hands are, well, handy, I’d say that doing the cold/hot/cold treatments on them would be a great idea if you’re feeling stiff.

Next time, we’ll go into wrist strength!

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