Grip Training Tutorial, Part Six

Posted: February 20, 2012 in Articles

Last time, we finished up with our look at hand strength. But what’s the use of a good grip, if our wrists and forearms won’t bear up under the strain? Although there are various phases and measures of strength in our lower arm and hand complex, none of them operate alone. Everything we do will, to some degree, effect the whole system. That said, my goal here is to provide an exhaustive and understandable series of exercises, such that all the mechanisms at play can be tested and improved. Enough dithering, let’s get back to it.

Wrist Rotation Training:

The human wrist is a complex little monster. There’s all sorts of things going on in there. Thus, there are a few different ways to go at training the wrist. Now, more than a few of your traditional gym exercises, and certainly many “work” tasks will stress our wrists, but we can go beyond that and into the realm of specific wrist training.

What we’re discussing here, the wrist rotation, is easily understood. It’s the thumbs up, thumbs down movement. The two bones of our forearms are rotating from the elbow through the wrist, and the small bones of the wrist itself (as well as the hand beyond) are just along for the ride. At least, until there’s a load on the movement. Then, the dynamic part of the movement (creating the power), is happening in the forearm, and across the radius and ulna bones. The static element is in the wrist itself, and the hand, where the hand must maintain grip (we’ve been through that already), and the wrist can’t cave in and fail to support the action.

The most familiar movement along these lines is the turning of a screwdriver or a door knob. The most commonly done exercises in the gym that target this area (supination and pronation of the wrist) are the supinating biceps curl, where the dumbbell rotates from thumb-up to thumb-out position during the movement, and the rope triceps pushdown, where one grasps a rope with knots on the end and extends the arm while flaring the hands outward from thumbs-up to thumbs-in position. Now, neither of these movements is specifically targeting our rotational strength on purpose. No, they’re rotating the wrists for the purpose of putting additional torsional stress on the big muscles upstream, the biceps and triceps. Nevertheless, they do give us something to consider, and a possible rationale to do the much-maligned “vanity” exercises.

It takes a little bit of imagination to figure out how best to stimulate this movement with simple and inexpensive household items, but I have a few thoughts for you. This particular entry will almost have to be backstopped with a video at some point, so be on the lookout for said video, when I have the time and energy to make it.

A Trick with a Towel:

The simplest way to train wrist rotation is to find a towel that is thin enough for you to easily grasp the gathered ends of said cloth when it’s folded over a railing of some kind. Once a suitable towel can be found (it should be tough terrycloth, nothing that might rip if put under pressure), find a STURDY railing or bar that is in a solid emplacement, and, with the towel rolled up in a fairly tight bundle, fold it in half around the railing. Grasp both ends, with one hand grabbing it around the end. Sort of like the end of the towel were a door knob, if you catch my drift. Now, use both hands to twist the towel until it is taut and difficult to twist any further in that direction. Holding the towel with the hand you want to train, twist the towel further, hold for a few seconds, then go back to your initial position. Keep doing this until your forearm and wrist start to really burn. Now switch hands, turn the towel in the opposite direction, and train the other wrist. You’ll want to do both wrists, and in both directions. It’s quite possible that your off hand will fatigue more quickly, and that you will find you have more strength twisting in one direction than the other. The wrist isn’t symmetrical, and we often have significant disparities between our favored and clumsy hands.

It will probably take no more than three turns through our rotations and hands before we’re tired. This one, since we have to hold hard on the towel, is also going to give us some grip benefits. Don’t be surprised if the towel is a little tougher on your hands than you would have thought possible. If it gets easy, get a thicker towel, and give it more twists to preload it with more resistance.

The Bendy Stick:

If we’re willing to look around the house a bit, or perhaps buy something of low cost, we can do things another way. The idea here is to flex a rod or pipe that will deform and then resume its prior shape. So…

Find a pipe or bendable stick/rod, hold it at arm’s length in front of you, at about chest level. Your hands should be spread as far as you’re comfortable with initially. This will give you the most leverage on the stick in question.

There are two hand alignments possible with this one, palms up and palms down. With palms up, we’ll bend the rod by twisting both wrists from thumbs-out to thumbs-up, resisting the temptation to bring the stick inward. This is just wrists, not chest and shoulders. If you can’t budge the stick without pulling the stick toward you, find something more pliable.

The idea is that you bend the stick as far as you can (or should, if it has some limit of elasticity), then ease it back to straight, then do it again. This can, and should be done with both the palms up and palms down for full coverage.

A set of stick-bends goes until you either can’t bend the stick, or have a lot of blood rushing through your forearms and wrists, and find it uncomfortable to go on. It probably will only take a few times through for most people to tucker themselves out on this one.

Ideas for things that you might use as bendy sticks include fiberglass driveway marker rods and lengths of PVC plumbing pipe. Remember that the closer you grip the stick (distance between your hands), the higher its stiffness will be, so you have a certain level of variability for any given stick. A method for increasing the challenge of a given stick would be to start at a particular distance between your hands, and come in a half an inch every few sessions.

Although common sense would dictate that certain materials (most wood, some plastic, anything that might shatter and put an eye out), aren’t suited to being your stick for this exercise, I will mention it here anyway. If you have ANY reservations about the structural soundness of the stick you’re using, please don’t use it. PVC, for instance, is literally a few dollars for ten feet of the stuff. There’s no reason to put yourself in harm’s way.

A Metronome Made of Hammers:

A final thought on this one is to hold a hammer out at arm’s length, then move it back and forth on the axis, like the arm of a metronome. In other words, going from thumbs-in to thumbs-up to thumbs-out, to whatever level of flexibility is comfortable to you. The heavier the hammer’s head, the harder things get. The longer the handle, the more leverage and effective strain. With a long handed hammer or mini-sledge, you can gradually increase your rotational strength from, “honey, can you open this pickle jar,” to, “I don’t really need that oil filter wrench.”

Next time, we’ll talk about “hammer style” wrist training.

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