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Grip - The Limiting Factor

The biggest limiting factor for most people in the gym and on the playing field or competitive arena would have to be their grip strength. Many people are unable to grip heavy deadlifts, rows, and chins while training in the gym and for BJJ fighters, wrestlers, and rugby league players their grip often lets them down whilst trying to control an opponent.

You can have a big bench press and do impressive amounts of chin ups in the gym but if you can’t hold an opponent then you won’t be able to display your strength. The biggest reason why grip strength is weak in my opinion is because of the overuse of straps. Now I am all for using straps when you are trying to overload the posterior chain and the grip is not allowing you to use significant weight to overload the muscles but I see too many people use straps from the start of their work out. What I prefer is for them to work up to their heaviest sets without the straps so that they challenge their grip as much as possible and then use the straps when it finally becomes the limiting factor. Straps really should only be used when doing 3 or more reps.

The next question always is “what about using a mixed grip when I deadlift?” I don’t like using a mixed grip during training for two main reasons:

  1. You can tear a bicep. Although it is rare it is a risk I don’t like to take with my athletes. It happens when there is a slight bend of the elbow during the lift.

  2. It can cause a rotational asymmetry of the hips and upper back if overused

These are rare cases as mentioned above. If you are a powerlifter then incorporating the mixed grip into your final phases of preparation is probably warranted but as an athlete of another sport you are better off using straps or working on you grip in my opinion to limit the risk of injury.

Using thick bars is another good way to train the grip. Thick bar work has been shown to activate more motor units which will allow you to gain strength faster. It builds strength that carries over to your sport and real life activities, for example grabbing an opponent’s forearm in wrestling, and picking up awkward objects in daily life. Using thick bars saves training time by training your grip and forearms at the same time, you don’t have to perform separate sessions.

If direct grip and forearm training is needed then variety is the key. You are able to perform grip training daily if you rotate exercises. There are also different types of grip strength so it is important to train all the variations using different implements. One day you may train your crushing grip, the next day may be pinch grip, the next support grip, and so on. You can use reps or time under tension when performing grip work. Most of the time, I prefer to use time under tension holds when training the grip.

You can also use specific exercises for training the grip. An example of this would be performing GI Chin-Ups with a BJJ or Judo athlete. You hang the GI over the bar and perform your sets by gripping the GI. This has good carry over onto the mat where this is what they grab a lot of the time in takedowns etc.

Some grip exercises you can use in your training:

  • Pinch grip plate holds – you can hold the centre of the plate (circle part) or put two plates together so it is thick and squeeze them together for time. It is important to squeeze with the tips of fingers and thumb, don’t sit it right in your palm

  • Thick bar holds or hangs

  • Thick bar reverse curls

  • Farmer’s walks

  • Wrist curls – all forms

  • Towel, GI, or thick bar chin ups

This is list is by no means extensive but should give you some ideas.

The grip is very often neglected until it starts to limit gains in strength. Try not to let it become a limiting factor by training it regularly using different implements and types of grip strengthening exercises. Total body strength will increase as the grip gets stronger.

Here is an article by Charles Poliquin on training frequency for grip training:

And here is a sample workout:

Hope this helps.

Nathan Waters

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