You don’t know what you have got until it’s gone.
Like when you’re trying to finish a heavy set and through a strained and gurning face you utter…
‘My grip’s gone.’
Everyone who has clanged and banged tin for long enough knows this frustration and now with the rise in popularity of Brazilian Jujitsu, calisthenics and CrossFit, the performance limiting impacts of a weak grip are exposed in plain sight.
So, if your grip is weaker than the crane dangling over the pit of cuddly toys in a funfair arcade, here is what to do:
1) I SAID GRIP
Specific Adaptation to Imposed Demands (SAID) means that we humans get what we train for. I’d be willing to bet that most people who have weak grip probably don’t do enough grip training.
This then is low hanging fruit and when we’re focused on athletic performance, it is often the best place to start.
There are 2 ways you can go with simple grip training:
More time in big movement patterns doing heavy loaded carries, deadlifts (without a switch grip or straps) and longer duration hanging from bars will all improve your phalangeal flexion.
Here are a few hang progressions you can try.
The second way is to isolate down and improve your grip by working with objects and implements that are awkward to hold.
An easy starter would be loaded carries squeezing a full-size weight plate between your thumb and fingers. This is less demanding on the shoulders and lower body and all about keeping tension with your hands.
Plate flips, fractional plate squeezes can train grip in different ways which build variability in your hand strength.
You could also buy a grip strength trainer; however, I am unconvinced they are any more effective than either of the above methods however perhaps they reduce some barriers in that you can do it anywhere.
In short, do more gripping at greater intensities and durations means you will get better at gripping. Sometimes the right answer is staring you in the face and you just need to stop looking for short cuts.
2) GO UPSTREAM
Hand grip strength ‘provides an objective index of the functional integrity of the upper extremity’ (Horsley et al 2016).
This means the amount of force you can generate in a grip strength test is correlated with the function of your rotator cuff.
This is physiologically logical. If the brain wants to grip or squeeze something the shoulder needs to be stable to maximise force generation and to be able to transfer those forces.
It’s rare in human movement that we need to grip something for no reason. It is usually part of a functional task, like opening the lid on a jar, which requires grip and twist.
If you want to pick up a heavy bar, the forces generated by your lower body need to be transferred through the shoulder to the hand.
The shoulder is the linchpin.
So, let’s hypothesise.
If grip indicates cuff function, could poor cuff function influence grip strength?
If the brain is unable to create stability at the shoulder, is it likely to permit high grip forces knowing that the system can’t integrate them into a functional movement?
I think not.
Based on this it’s highly likely (I can’t say definitely, because it hasn’t been proven in the literature yet) that improving your rotator cuff function will lead to an increase in grip strength.
Here are two exercises to get you started from our BASE online training programme working upstream on the shoulder. As a bonus incentive, adding some dynamic stability to your banged up shoulders will also contribute to improvements in all your upper body lifts.
Internal Rotation Lock and Load
External Rotation Lock and Load
Grip is a very human quality.
Babies can do it. It’s the way we initiate physical contact with people we don’t know and it’s an essential ability in being more athletic.
So, if you want to be stronger than a baby, avoid being labelled as a weakling by strangers you meet and become and athletic physical specimen, go and train your grip.
Kick-start your journey to stronger, more stable shoulders you can trust.
Are you frustrated with banged-up shoulders? Are your shoulders restricting your training and progression? Are you looking to enhance your upper body performance in sport, CrossFit, calisthenics or other gym-based strength training? Our 6-week BASE online shoulder training programme draws from our experience and knowledge of building high performing shoulders for our personal coaching clients. Now available as an online shoulder training programme to help you get started.