Introduction Hand strength through Gripers Finger Strength through Pinch Grip training Finger Strength through Tearing or Ripping
Introduction to Grip Sports and Gaining Strength in the hands and fingers.
For me training "grip" was originally one of most neglected areas of strength development but is now one of my most important areas and one I am passionate about. I was lucky in my younger years that I worked on a farm which helped give me more than average hand and forearm development and then I further improved my grip strength when taking up power lifting. I chose not to use straps (Raw power lifting), but instead relied on my grip to hold a heavy object such as in dead lift or bicep curls. Despite not being genetically gifted with large hands and thick wrists these activities gave me what I thought was a pretty strong grip and indeed compared to the average man it was solid; and served me will during my time as a submission wrestler. However it was not until I became acquainted firstly with grip sports enthusiasts and arm wrestlers that I realized my grip although strong compared to average was still well behind what it could be. Setting my ego aside and joining the world of grip sports has set up a whole new plethora of total hand strength training techniques; that has added incredible strength to my fingers, wrists and hands; that I previously thought impossible. Apart from the obvious cross over into sports such as grappling, wrestling, rock climbing, martial arts, and the obvious combat and fighting applications, a strong grip and fingers can also help improve functional strength and therefore be extremely useful in everyday life and certainly a lot more so than just having a large chest or six pack.
Grips Sports revolve around feats that involve such things as closing grippers, lifting wrights with pinch blocks, rolling thunder type handles, hub caps or using thick handled bars and so on. I will discuss a few of these below. For me the quickest way that I have improved my grip in proportion to all others is by the gripper and pinch blocks. The gripper tends to focus on crushing strength in other words the ability to apply crushing force with the whole hand while the pinch block improves the strength of the fingers to pinch and hold onto a weighted object. Incidentally tearing is also a fantastic way to improve grip as was recommended to me by grip enthusiast Martin Arjoon This can be performed by tearing boxes magazines and if at a good level whole packs of playing cards or phone directories; no easy feat even when skill and technique is used In such feats as tearing cards there does not appear to be a huge gender or weight bias in the ability to compete. In fact one of the best rippers or tearers I know is a Taiwanese woman of only 40kg who has learned to tear magazines and decks of cards very quickly (faster in learning it than most men). Although as with any other sport weight and gender do play a role in total forces generated but it seems less so in grip sports than most other strength sports. There are indeed many women who can out perform men especially when it comes to finger pinching strength, tearing cards and small object metal bending.
The ability to crush is often found in abundance among many manual laborers particular those involve in construction or other jobs which use the hands a lot such as mechanics and plumbers. If one is confused as to what is hand crushing power then think of putting an apple in the palm of your hand and then crushing until it explodes. One of the best way to improve crushing power is in my opinion the use of a "Gripper". Indeed there are now many certificates and competitions that involve the closing of grippers to demonstrate hand strength. The use of a gripper is not quite as straight forward as just holding it and closing it as although that obviously works to improve grip strength there are certain techniques that can be used to fully exploit the potential of a gripper. There are a wide variety of grippers on the market and most are calibrated to certain kilograms or pound classes in rising difficulty level. Ranging from around 50 pounds op to 300 pounds or over. Any gripper that requires over 250 pounds of pressure to close is in my opinion classed as a "heavy" gripper and anyone who can close a gripper of over 200 pounds or above has some serious grip strength. Obviously the size of the hands helps in grip but there are grippers on the marker that are designed for smaller hands. I would advise anyone who wants to progress in gripper training to get some gym chalk as one of the major problems in closing a gripper when at serious poundage is the slipping of the gripper handle on the skin of a non chalked hand. It is also essential to place the gripper into the hand correctly with the dog end of the gripper handle lined up with the thumb (the more angles side of the gripper head). Below I show some of the various grippers and a video of my friend Martin Arjoon closing a 250 pound gripper the correct way, and with great ease!
Holding the gripper in the correct position is essential and it must be treated with as much caution as any other strength building apparatus. For example good rest periods are required and personally I have found two days a week of gripper training more beneficial than over three times a week. This is because over training is possible with grippers as with any other form of weight lifting. In addition to this I use elastic bands to help strengthen my hand and fingers in the opposite direction to the force applied on the gripper (as in picture above). Balance, rest and caution is required in grip training as much as in any other strength training. Keep in mind that you need your grip in every day life even for such menial things as picking up a cup of coffee, so steady progression and care is required and strongly advised and the best and safest way( for me) is in slow progressive steps, getting plenty of rest time. Grip expert Martin Arjoon suggests that to contrast soak hands in cold and warm water after every heavy grip session and I have found this very useful for both recovery and progression; although I sometimes do it with hot and cold balms rather than water when to soak in water is inconvenient ( I do much of my training in the mountains so rely on balms a great deal).
Pinch Grip Training.
The idea of pinch grip training is more or less explanatory in the name. It is the training of the ability of the fingers to hold an object without palm contact on it. Pinch grip training allows amazing strength in the fingers to be developed in a very short space of time. It is probably my most favorite and most rewarding area of strength development, and once attained you will wish as I did that I had started this form of training earlier. Generally when younger we tend to ignore those parts of our body that are the most needed for functional strength; such as the fingers and hands and focus more on the aesthetically pleasing or what is considered to be a sign of strength by society. Men generally relentlessly pursue the goal of attaining large biceps and chests and women good shoulders legs and abdominals (generally speaking); while ignoring those areas most vital to strength training such as fingers!. I am of the opinion that finger strength is certainly the most neglected part of training. Crushing grip is also generally neglected too but not as much as fingers for the ability of a solid handshake is sometimes sought which can be brought about with gripper and other crushing exercises, but having strong fingers is almost purely a functional attribute as the ability of the fingers to get larger through training is very limited; although an increase in finger strength is sometimes accompanied by an increase in forearm size; but the effects are still overwhelmingly on a functional level rather than an aesthetic level. I have improved my pinch grip training mainly by the use of weight lifting plates. Simply by pinching the plates together and lifting them. Below is a picture of old time strong man athlete James Fuller doing pinch grip.
A second method is slightly more equipment intensive and requires at least a pinch block with the ability to connect some weight to it. The set up below I have used a loading pin which Olympic weights can be added to and a SILARUKOV pinch block. I lift and hold for as long as possible, a kind of endurance lifting.
Thirdly what is known as hub cap lifting is extremely challenging and an excellent way to build that finger pinching strength. Hub cap lifting is more or less what it says it is in other words lifting an object resembling the hub cap of a car off the ground with the fingers. Certain weight plates can be used or a specialist hub cap as shown below
Finally if there are no tools available then basically pinching any object between the fingers as hard as possible is also an effective option although more creativity is required.
Tearing and Ripping
Tearing phone books or ripping cards is an extremely challenging activity but one if practiced will result in both incredible hand and finger strength. Tearing itself is an effective exercise and not just to show the result of increased hand or finger strength from other exercises. Beginners will typically start by just tearing pieced of cardboard, a thin magazine or a few playing cards of a deck at a time. Just tearing unwanted boxes or magazines and so forth is a great way and a cheap way to massively improved hand strength. A good "tearers" may not look massively strong and indeed a few I have seen and met are pretty skinny individuals who are hiding a massive unseen force in their hands. Tearing is not something I am naturally good at although I am improving at it and have seen great results in overall hand strength. Tearing is a great humbler to the ego as often big hulking guys cannot tear the same amount as a female weighing half their size. Indeed one of the best people at tearing I have seen and actually coached in the technique is female who weighs just over 40kg (the self defense applications for a woman having fingers that are literally deadly weapons are obvious) The ability to tear and improve this area of strength is tough and hard but the results are amazing. Tearing and ripping should be done with good technique as it can result in cuts to the hands if done over zealously without correct form. Technique and form help in tearing and even when technique is good using all the so called "tricks" in the book, a great deal of finger and hand strength is still required. The video below shows Martin Arjoon ripping through a phone directory with frightening ease.
There are some outstanding grip sport enthusiasts not very well known to the general public but very well known among Grip Sports enthusiasts such as David Horne of the UK, Jed Johnson of the Diesel Crew in the USA, Joe Musselwhite in USA, Jerome Bloom and Adam Bushaway of the UK, Maria Bascetta of the USA, James Fuller of the USA, Nikolay Vitkevich and Dennis Shmarev of Russia and my own grip sports mentor Martin Arjoon.