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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!

Grip Training Tutorial, Part Four

Posted: February 16, 2012 in Articles
This time, we’ll talk about training ourselves to hold onto something that won’t move and doesn’t deform when we squeeze it.

Static Grip Strength:

In the days of yore, several years ago, we upright walking apes were often asked to do manual labor of various sorts. In some cases, we may be fortunate enough to still do such things. Now, one of the all-but-forgotten things in today’s world was the the situation where we’d hoist up a heavy object and move it somewhere else. On foot. Sometimes we could sling the object over our shoulders, but sometimes, it would simply hang there in our hands as we went. The heavy wheel barrow…the pail of water…you get the idea.

For us, it tends to be that laptop case or book bag. Perhaps, if we’re lucky, it’s something we just purchased at the mall, and we’ve become lost in the parking lot. In any case, your static grip is very much the desirable quality to have when hoisting and carrying heavy things with traditional handles.

Of course, any time we pick up heavy things and carry them or support them above the ground, that tends to recruit a variety of skeletal muscles throughout the body. That said, we’ll just consider the hands for the moment.

Because static grip is such a straightforward concept, simple and easily understood exercises can be used to train it. The simplest of all static grip training exercises is the dead hang. How do you do it? Jump up and grab something you can get a grip on (like a pull up bar or any other overhead emplacement that will allow for an easy and solid grip), and and hang on as long as you can. If you have access to the monkey bars, like kids use, those are even better, as you can add a dynamic element to the training.

Almost anything in the weight room can be used to help this grip, and it will be trained simply by virtue of doing many of the classic strength and power exercises, like deadlift, clean and jerk, barbell rows, heavy shrugs, and so on. If you do heavy deadlifts, this in itself will train your static grip in a powerful way.

Another fine method for training grip strength is the Farmer’s Walk. The most basic way of doing this is to find the heaviest dumbbells in your gym and to walk as far as you can without putting them down. Expect this to be painful and difficult. Also, it’s an amazing workout for pretty much everything south of your chin. Dufflebags filled with sand or rocks can perform just as well or better than dumbbells. Anything with a handle will do. Don’t forget that you can carry one hand at a time. That’ll actually create a really powerful workout for your core muscles, as you have to equalize an imbalanced load with each step.

Rope climbing is another possible method of stimulating your static grip strength, if you wish to do that instead.

Next time, we’ll talk about other ways to stimulate finger and hand strength, as well as toughen our hands.

Grip Training Tutorial, Part Three

Posted: February 15, 2012 in Articles
Last time, we got down to brass tacks and talked about how to boost your crush grip strength. Without further ado, let’s do the same for the next strength element in the succession.

Pinch Grip Strength:

The ability to pinch down on an object and control its movement is a very useful but rarely trained thing. Pinch grip helps us a lot when we’re ripping things and picking up odd objects that don’t have a good gripping surface. It isn’t hard to notice that, as we age, our ability to do things with our hands is often curtailed. Arthritis is often blamed, but the simple fact of the matter is that we don’t keep our hands strong. How often have we seen an elderly friend or relative struggle with ripping a single envelope of junk mail? Let’s not be that person. Let’s train some pinch grip, people.

Construction materials are classic, ideal implements to train pinch grip. Bricks and cinder blocks are both really fantastic. If you’re just starting out, and your pinch grip needs work, just reaching down and gripping a brick, then supporting it with the grip between your thumb and fingers will be a good starting point for many. Move your grip further and further toward the edges to control the twisting force of the brick as you get more confident.

From bricks, we can move to larger cinderblocks. You’ll find a variety of looks and sizes in the home improvement store. Try ‘em out. They’re usually less than three bucks. The classic “figure eight” cinder block with two square cells is the gold standard here. Literally anything you do with a full cinderblock is going to work your grip like no other. There are videos here that demonstrate some of the ways to do this stuff. Remember, with any type of brick, block, or other rough surface, you HAVE to wear some gloves. I mean it.

Other stuff in this vein? 2×4 boards can be used like a barbell, with a few buckets of sand or some other heavy material hung from them. Just pinch from the top and hoist ‘em. There’s no reason to make these things overcomplicated. I say that it’s better to think your way toward your goals, rather then try to spend your way there. There’s a cheap-ass way to get there with every type of strength I’ll mention here, I guarantee it. If I haven’t thought of it, hey, that just leaves a little for your own imagination to grind upon.

If you have access to gym equipment, weight plates are EVIL when used to train pinch strength. Start with two or three five pound plates, pinched together and raised off the ground (careful of your feet here, as with anything you pick up). Work your way up until you can pinch the big 45s together and pick ‘em up, and you’ll have gone somewhere.

The worst of all evils with plates is the plate curl exercise. While this is a somewhat static-based strength, because it is a primary thumb training method, I’ll include it here. the idea is that you pinch a weight plate from the edge, then lever it up in a curl. This is also a brutal test for your wrist. A person who can plate curl a 35lb plate is a bad mama-jamma, but a person who can do it with a 45 is to be regarded with fear and awe. I’ll try to post up a video of this in the near future, so you can see what I’m talking about.

In the end, anything you can exert force upon in a pinching vector (hopefully not another person!) can help you train in this way. Pinch strength, if taken to the extreme, can allow certain light but strong individuals to do things like jumping up and grasping the rafters in a basement and holding on. The absolute pinnacle of pinch strength is the pinch block pull-up. For most of us, though, that’s not going to happen. Pinch grip is also highly stressed in doing things like bending coins, ripping phonebooks, and ripping decks of cards. In daily life, thumb strength can be a strong benefit to athletes in contact sports, anyone who works with their hands, and especially massage therapists.

Next time, we’ll talk about static grip strength.

Grip Training Tutorial, Part Two

Posted: February 14, 2012 in Articles

Last time, we discussed the various types of hand and wrist strength, and how those could be expressed. Now, let’s go on to consider how we can develop strength in those movements.

Crush Grip Strength:

Any exercise wherein we squeeze a pliable object with our hands can improve our crush grip. You may remember the flimsy spring-loaded grippers of the past when you think of this type of trainer. In fact, the spring loaded grip trainer is an excellent mechanism for training your grip. The issue with many of these trainers is that we quickly become inured to their relatively low resistance, and though doing hundreds of repetitions will build muscular endurance in our hands and forearms, being able to implement greater resistance will allow us to work on increasing our maximum and working strength more efficiently. Luckily, there are grippers today that feature greatly increased spring tension, and they will allow us to go from “granny” grip all the way to “Beowulf” grip levels. The most highly-touted of these grippers is marketed under the name “Captains of Crush” by Ironmind.com. They are heavily built out of spring steel and knurled aluminum, and you’ll be hard pressed to wear them out. There are other, similar grippers out there, but the “Captains” are the gold standard.

Captains of Crush

Maybe metal isn’t your thing, though. Spring grippers are not the only way to go. In fact, for the average person just starting out, they may not even be the best way. If you want to do it yourself, simply find a very hardy cloth like cordura nylon (or leather) and create a pouch that will fill your palm. Now fill the pouch with a pliable substrate like dry beans or very small pebbles. Sew it up, and you have yourself both a hackey sack and a grip trainer.

Okay, if that’s a little too involved, the very beginner can just find one of those “stress balls” or “stress eggs” at the store, and use that until you find that it’s too easy to squeeze steadily, for repetitions, over the course of a minute with each hand. If your hands are either a)weak; b)hurt; or c)very small, this might be the best place to start.

But wait, there’s more. One of my favorite grip tools is one that is shaped like a donut, and available in multiple different levels of challenge. It’s called the Grip Pro Trainer. It’s friendly to the hands, can be used in a variety of different ways, and the three levels are applicable to people anywhere from below normal strength to, well, me! I’d recommend getting all three levels, and I only paid something like $12 for them when I did so. The green is very easy, the black moderate, and the red fairly challenging. They’re great fun, and because they’re soft and non-metallic, you should be able to carry them anywhere without arousing the ire of the Federales.

Grip Pro Trainer

Finally, there’s another metal thing: if you have access to kettlebells, there’s a method for using them that calls for mighty crush grip strength and wrist toughness. If, while doing a kettlebell clean or snatch, we clamp our hand down on the handle and stop the rotation of the weight at its uppermost point, we perform a “bottoms up” clean or snatch. This is hard. Not only does it take great hand and wrist strength, it also takes timing, balance, and coordination. This isn’t a beginner move. That said, you can see what it’s about in the videos section of the website.

Next time, we’ll move on to Pinch Grip Strength!

Grip Training Tutorial, Part One

Posted: February 13, 2012 in Articles
In the next few weeks, I’ll be discussing ways that anyone can increase the strength and toughness of their hands and wrists. Today, I’ll be going over the various types of hand and wrist strength, as well as how those types of strength can be useful in daily life. Here we go:

Considering the great amount of energy and time that we spend thinking about how to condition our bodies, a surprisingly small amount of that goes into the consideration of grip and wrist strength. In fact, the average gym-goer or athlete may have never thought about these types of strength at all. I fell into this camp until a few years ago, when I was introduced to the idea.

This blind spot in our exercise philosophy is intriguing, when you really think about it. Without hands and wrists that are of sufficient strength to allow us to express the strength in the rest of our upper bodies, we are creating a physique that cannot be used to its best advantage. You can’t pick up something you can’t keep a grip on. While the various tools we use in a modern gym are expressly designed to allow us the easiest possible grip on them, such cannot be said of the average object we might have to pick up in daily lift. Your roommate’s couch doesn’t have handy, knurled grips on it, but that doesn’t mean you won’t have to help him move it.

Okay, I’ll get down off the soap box for the moment, and we’ll talk about the various types of hand and wrist strength.

Crush Grip: This is the type of hand strength that we most commonly think of when we imagine a person with great strength. It’s the strength that allows a firm hand shake. It’s one of the most manifest and basic expressions of a hardy, capable person. Simply put, crush grip strength allows us to squeeze whatever we’re holding, creating pressure upon a malleable substance such that it is compressed.

Pinch Grip: Just what it sounds like, this hand strength measure allows us to clamp down on an object, opposing one or more of our fingers with the thumb. Pinch grip is primarily thumb strength, and is one of the least-trained qualities. When grasping and manipulating objects that are too big to get a traditional grip on, this sort of strength can be very beneficial. Within this classification is also fingertip strength–the ability to express the hand’s power through the fingertips, rather than the larger, tougher parts of the finger and palm.

Static Grip: Probably the most easily trained grip, this is the quality that allows us to grasp and hang onto an object that is regular in shape and hard (like a barbell). As the name indicates, the hand is neither closed further or allowed to open, instead simply containing and controlling the load that the object held expresses.

Finger Strength and Toughness: It’s important to remember that the fingers can also be conditioned to open, spread out, and remain straight when load is being expressed upon them. This type of training is primarily done by people in the boxing and martial arts arena, but should be a consideration for anyone who wants their hands to be up to whatever challenge may come.

Wrist Strength: The wrist moves in many directions and orbits, so any consideration of wrist strength will, by its nature, be somewhat involved.

Rotational Strength: The wrist spins on the end of our arm, pronating and supinating. When turning your right wrist clockwise, it is supinating. When turning the same wrist counter clockwise, it is pronating. This sort of strength is important when we’re carrying something that twists in our hands, or when we are trying to express our strength through a tool like a lug wrench or a screwdriver.

“Hammer” Strength: For lack of a better term (I’m sure the exercise scientists have one), the strength that allows us to bend our wrist along the axis of the radius and ulna, as one would do while swinging a hammer upward and down, is an important concern. Again, this strength is valuable when we’re dealing with a dynamic load, where the object we’re contending with can move around and present us with various challenges, moment by moment. Think of doing a pushup while holding a basketball, for instance, and you’ll see the benefit of this strength. Also, any activity where we’re bending something will stress this.

Forearm Strength: While much of the strength that the hands and wrists express is due to the action of the forearm muscles, in this case we are discussing the ability to curl or extend the wrist, as one would do while using the throttle of a motorcycle or wringing out a dish towel. Perhaps the most widely trained type of forearm strength, this one allows us to oppose or create twisting forces.

With the wrist being a complex and highly flexible joint structure, these strength components are highly interrelated, and cannot be considered in a vacuum. The hand/wrist complex works as a unit, and training for one sort of strength tends to have some bleed-over to other types. That said, if we have a weak area, where we cannot express as much strength in a particular vector, our ability to respond to the demands of a shifting, unbalanced, or ungainly load will be diminished.

Next time, I’ll begin going into the various types of training that can be used to improve our hand and wrist strength.

After getting a handle on the way the Samick Sage shot with its stock, dacron string, I felt that it was time to install the high performance string that I had purchased with it. The string is a Flemish twist, 18 strand Fast Flight Plus string from 3Rivers Archery. I purchased the 58″ length, and that has proven to be the proper length for the bow, although the manufacturer recommends the 59″. I found that he shorter string gave me plenty of room to twist the string up, but didn’t require such a large number of twists as a longer string would, in order to get the brace height where I wanted it to be. I tied on a nocking point with dental floss, as has been my recent habit, and off I went.

More below the break:

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I’d been considering getting an inexpensive takedown recurve for a while, a “knockaround bow” as I was fond of saying. It is difficult to go very far in any search for a bow of this sort before one begins to hear about the Samick Sage. It is a very inexpensive bow, but one that appears to “fight above it’s weight class”, to use a boxing phrase.

More below the break!

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My friend Emily came by today with her husband to pick up a PVC bow that I made for her. Yes, the title to this one is right. Purple camo. I thought it up myself. It blends in to the night sky. I think it came out pretty awesome, actually. I did a base coat of purple, then used about six other colors in streaks, dots, and flourishes to get the camo look. It has a cord wrapped handle, and it shoots like a dream. Out of the first six arrows I shot during testing, five were hits. I was tempted to keep the darned thing myself, but that wasn’t going to happen. I had to give it over, so that other people could join the fun. I have the Christmas bow, anyhow, as well as a variety of other goodies. Emily was pleased, in any case. I snapped some pictures of the bow, and I’ll have to dig them off the camera to see if they came out all right.

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This morning, in a chilly, almost-raining atmosphere, I took my Bowtech Black Knight 2 out for a few shots. I don’t shoot it all that much, as a rule, because I know that it needs new strings and cables before I put much mileage on it. That, and I have so many toys to play with that I can’t get to all of them that often. Also, the rubber tubing that makes sure that the peep sight on the sting turns in the right way snapped a while ago, and I haven’t fixed it. All that aside, I thought I’d put a few shots through the old beast and see how it did.

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Hey, folks. I know it’s been a while, but I’m just checking in and giving you some idea of where I’m at physically at this point. Let me take you through it as it happened.

First, I had a week in which I was really starting to feel better. That was where we left off in the story.

The next week, I developed about a ten-day back ache that just would not quit. It was a really bad time. I had to take a lot of meds to keep things going that week.

The week after, the trouble moved to the lower abdomen, where I had a minor bout of IBS. Awesome.

From there, I found the trouble spot moving to my stomach, as I had a reoccurance of the symptoms that I had assumed were part of the gall badder issue. Eh…they’re still around, and certainly made worse by stress situations in my environment. Those issues have calmed down a little, but my stomach is still in some turmoil. The stress came from work, of course, and from being worried about my aunt, who was going in for the same operation I just had. She’s 78, see? Anyhow, she came through fine, and is tougher than I am, so she’s cool.

I’m trying some medicine that is for acid reflux right now, though my problem isn’t exactly that. If it doesn’t work, I’ll have to go back to the doc and seek redress another way. I’m hoping to avoid that, but for now, I’m back on very carefully-planned rations, and not eating anywhere near bedtime. That seems to reduce the discomfort, but I’m annoyed with my body that it isn’t doing everything I want it to, when it’s convenient for me.

Anyway, I did a little weight-hoisting today. I can still put the 90lb dumbbells over my head with some facility, and can do the k-bell stuff about as well as I did before. Some heavy movements cause me to feel little, odd sensations here and there, but they don’t seem to be anything more than lights being switched on for nerve endings down in the boiler room.

I have been shooting a lot and making videos, as you may see if you skulk around Facebook or on Vimeo. I’m in good shooting form, which is nice, and I’m doing what I can to make the most of the late-season afternoons. It’ll soon be cold and yucky, and that tends to curtail the shooting a bit.

Finally, my phonebook ripping deserves mention. I am really having a great string of rips. I haven’t failed on a big (1,600 page) rip in weeks, and I’ve been doing one after work every day. It’s sweet.

All right. That’s all for now.

Hope you’re all well.