First, lets establish how we can utilize our grip. There are three primary types of grip strength:
- Crush Grip: Used for squeezing barbells, objects, crushing the dreams of your opponents, etc. This one has high importance in strength sports like strongman or powerlifting.
- Support Grip: Used primarily for holding on to something for an extended period of time, think chin-ups or trying to get the entire load of groceries inside the house in one trip. This type of grip is commonly used in rock climbing and wrestling.
- Pinch Grip: Pinching objects between one or more fingers and your thumb. Think pinching two small plates together. This grip contributes to the other two, and training it can be useful for those who work with their hands on a regular basis.
The Continuum of Specificity
Like any aspect that contributes to performance, the importance of grip and strength of forearm musculature can be placed on a continuum of specificity in each individual sport or activity. We have sports like powerlifting, in which grip strength can be the difference between hitting or missing a record breaking deadlift. In most combat sports grip strength can be advantageous for control of an opponents body. Every activity lies on a different point on the continuum. This means that with some athletic endeavors grip training is highly specific in relation to actual performance, while in others it may be close to a non-factor. Where the water gets cloudy however, is when sports involving ballistic objects are introduced. Long has it been reinforced that a baseball player must have forearms that rival those of the man on the package of Big League Chew, when in reality they might not play such a dominant role in producing success on the field.
When we examine the activity of hitting in baseball as an example, we must consider that the hands are the last link in the kinetic chain. Their primary function is to adequately deliver to an object the energy that has been created further down the chain. A weakness in the forearms would inhibit an athlete's ability to do so, but does paying extra attention to the area contribute to light-tower power? According to the limited research on the subject, probably not. A small and short study on 23 members of an NCAA D2 baseball team concluded additional grip training did not yield significant increases in exit-velocities (Hughes et al., 2004). Additionally, a review from David J. Szymanski and Coop DeRenne
outlines information from various studies that suggest sufficient grip strength is created via an effective full-body resistance training program, and further forearm or grip training is unnecessary in most cases (2010). Does this mean forearm strength has no impact on success? Of course not, but when it comes to constructing an effective training program we must consider if the importance of grip and forearm strength requires direct training. We can probably omit archaic methods like rice digs, wrist rollers, and wrist curls in an effort to utilize our time and energy on something more productive.
Great Ways to Improve Grip
If your sport or job does require a significant grip or forearm strength, here are two awesome and easily applied methods that can ensure forearm strength is up to snuff without sacrificing time on direct isolation movements.
Utilize Loaded Carries & Farmers Walks
Often times the best exercises are the most brutal and primitive. Pick it up, carry it, put it down. It's that simple and arguably the most "functional" exercise there is. Loaded carries yield an insane amount of benefits and can be performed with almost any instrument. My personal favorite variation is heavy carries with a hex bar. These will provide carryover to other performance markers while additionally providing a significant grip challenge. Keep carries heavy and brief, and do your best to constantly switch variations (two hands, suitcase, dumbbell, hex bar, etc.) on a regular basis to provide the body with varying stimuli.
Fat Bar Training
Find yourself an axle bar or purchase a pair of Fat Grips
. Fat bar training has been shown to create higher levels of neuromuscular activity, leads to greater maximum voluntary contractions once switching back to a normal bar, and could possibly even play a role in correcting bilateral deficits. Utilizing increased bar diameters is most effective with movements that place the forearms at a mechanical disadvantage, particularly during the eccentric portion. Performing rows or any other type of pulling movements in this fashion is a great place to start, but eventually you can look into axle deadlifts or even combining thick bar work with loaded carries if you're really that masochistic.
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Hughes, S. S., Lyons, B. C., & Mayo, J. J. (2004). Effect of grip strength and grip strengthening exercises on instantaneous bat velocity of collegiate baseball players. The Journal of Strength & Conditioning Research, 18(2), 298-301.
Szymanski, D. J., DeRenne, C. (2010). The effects of small muscle training on baseball hitting performance: a brief review. Strength and Conditioning Journal. 32(6), 99-108.