Grip Training Tutorial, Part Seven

Posted: February 22, 2012 in Articles

This time out, we’ll be talking about what I term “hammer strength”. This is not, however, to be confused with the exercise machines marked under that same name. Those, while interesting in their own right, are not what we’ll be talking about today. No, we’ll be talking about methods to strengthen our wrists and forearms in the axis and functional method that is most easily understood by looking at the rise and fall of a hammer.

Hammer Strength:

First thing, let’s just make the thumbs-up sign with one of our hands (well, I’m typing, so I’ll have to do this with some interleave, but rest assured, I was following along at home). Now, with your wrist in a neutral position, push your wrist downward, such that you’re pushing the thumb outward without actually moving said digit. That’s the extension phase of this movement. From there, bring your wrist back, beyond neutral and to its fullest upward flex, such that your thumb comes nearer to you. That’s the movement. It can be trained by moving the wrist willfully through this arc, or by holding the wrist static under load going one way or another.

What is involved here? Primarily, there’s the tendon and ligament strength of the wrist itself, the large muscle of the forearm, and the biceps brachii on the upper portion of the forearm. This is the sort of movement that manual laborers do, and the reason that people who chop down trees, swing a pick axe, or dig ditches for a living are not to be trifled with.

It may come as a shock, but the most straightforward way to build hammer strength is…with a hammer. Depending upon your initial strength level, the size and weight of the hammer can vary. If your wrists aren’t yet made of whipcord and spring steel, perhaps a 16 ounce framing hammer with a long handle will suffice. A step up from there would be a mini-sledge, as these often weigh around 4 pounds. Full length sledgehammers are a great way to go, especially if you’d like to work on generalized strength while training your grip and wrists. Full sledges are available as light as 6 pounds and as heavy as 24, without going into massive, loadable sledges that are available from places like Strongergrip.com. Your “hammer” of choice doesn’t have to be a hammer at all. As long as it’s heavy and somewhat long, and you can grip it and hit with it, you’re good to go. Maces, splitting mauls, baseball bats, clubs, sturdy tree branches, and the like can all be used in this way. Some are just less robust than others.

As with any long-axis, weighted object, you can “choke up” on your hammer at the beginning, and gradually add to the dynamic load by moving outward to the end of the handle. If a sledge gets too easy using both hands, try just one, and you’ll find that the challenge comes right back.

The easiest way to train with a hammer is to hit stuff with it. Bereft of a job that requires driving lots of spikes into rail ties or the like, we’ll want a springy, tough medium to hit. Old truck tires are great for this, but you could swing away and hit anything that’ll blunt the force of your swing and not blow into shards, and you’ll be fine. Remember to swing while “leading” with both hands, to give you a symmetrical load. You can also swing from various angles, if your target will stand this. Please don’t hit your foot or lower leg, and think seriously about steel toed boots to do any ground-based hammer bashing.

Swinging a hammer is not the only way to go. A slower, more controlled movement can also yield dividends. This is often referred to as “levering” with a hammer. To do this, take a comfortable grip on a full sledge and hold it, straight up, at arm’s length. Now, let the hammer come backward under muscular tension until it touches your forehead. The object here is not to move your upper arm or let your elbow “break” upward during the movement. This should be all wrist, if possible. Only grab with the whole arm if you’re about to lose control of the hammer. At the touch, drive the hammer back to being perpendicular to the floor, steady it, and go again.

At the beginning, if you’re a little scared that you’ll give yourself a shiner, choke way up on the handle, so that the hammer head won’t reach to anywhere near your face. You can work up to longer lever arms and heavier hammer heads as you get more confident. What about the other direction, you ask? You can to the very same movement, except moving the hammer head outward beyond your wrist, to the extent that is a comfortable extension, and bring it back to perpendicular with the ground in the same way. You may find that you’re not as strong this way, as a smaller muscular complex drives this action.

Other Ways to Train:

One of the exercises you may see in the gym from time to time is to do a biceps curl with the wrist in the neutral position. This, the Hammer Curl, is a good exercise for the flexing phase of the hammer movement, and will certainly pack beef onto the top of your forearm. It is possible to train, indirectly at any rate, the extension phase of this movement by doing dumbbell triceps extensions, as well. These, however, are probably not as efficient at targeting the wrists and forearms directly as using a sledge.

Exercising with sandbags or lifting odd objects like stones will work the muscles and connective tissues in the wrist, as will work that involves ropes. As with many of these things, there’s a crossover, and any one exercise will generally target multiple elements.

What’s It Do?

If there’s anything that this specific measure will allow you to do, it’s open jars, bend or rip objects, and hang onto things at odd, challenging angles. Often, we think our wrists are as strong as they need to be, but I will submit that I was surprised and disappointed the first time I tried the reverse bend or “Terminator” bend of a nail. There’s a lot that traditional gym exercises do not do. Training your wrist to work against extreme loads is certainly one of them.

Next time, we’ll be finishing up with good, old fashioned forearm strength.

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