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Part one
By Martin Whittred

Why a strong grip?

Although a certain level of hand and forearm strength is necessary for the uses of everyday life, most of us will never really need the additional strength that can be developed from a well-designed course of hard grip training. However, developing hand, forearm and wrist strength is rewarding and results can be seen quite quickly, if the required work is put in. Before embarking upon grip training you need to have an idea as to why you would like stronger hands. Some will want a better grip for sport; others would like to be able to perform the old-time strongman feats of strength such as nail bending and card tearing; maybe shutting the #3 is your goal (Ironmind CoC #3 grippers, one of the hardest grippers in the world to close). Often, trainers feel their hands and forearms are the weak link in their physiques and would like to rectify this. The personal reason that you have is necessary for goal setting and developing and maintaining drive and focus. Contrary to popular belief, conventional weight training or bodybuilding will not develop strong hands. A little more strength than average will be noticed, as any training produces a crossover effect, but to develop mighty hands, specific training is required.

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The specifics

Grip training is an umbrella term that covers crushing, pinching and holding. I am going to categorise wrist and forearm work under this term also.

· Crushing: Squeezing grippers, pliers, hands, nutcrackers etc. Crushing strength can be developed using either the Captains of Crush range of grippers or the Ivanko Supergripper. Crushing strength can also be developed using a variety of other tools including plate loaded grippers, high density foam and self resistance work.

· Pinching: This area utilises the thumb and fingers and for training purposes strength is usually developed isometrically. Training tools are easy to improvise, and wood blocks of various thickness attached to weights are easy to make and convenient. Block weight lifting using the sawn off ends from cast dumbbells is rewarding and fun. The thumb can also be developed using self-resistance work.

· Holding: This is the ability to hold onto thick handled dumbbells between 2-3” diameter (or any heavy, thick cylindrical object) for time. Exercises include thick handled dumbbell rows, shrugs and ‘farmers walks’.

· Wrist work: Wrists can be trained using isometrics or isotonics though I personally feel isometric wrist training to be more beneficial in developing functional strength. Exercises for the wrist include lever bar work, reverse curls and nail bending.

· Forearm work: The forearms respond well to low repetition work despite high repetition work often being cited as more productive for this area. All muscles adapt according to the stimulus provided and also the nature of the stimulus. Some forearm exercises include wrist curls and reverse wrist curls, hammer curls, reverse curls and to a certain degree all grip training.

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Creating a workout

A good all round beginners workout would include an exercise from each of the above groups. Three to five sets per exercise would be ample. The most important factor in grip training is the intensity applied to every rep of every set. An absolute beginner should spend a few weeks staying below maximum intensity to allow the hands to adjust. Don’t forget that the muscles and tendons in the hands are very small and although they are capable of applying enormous force, they can be easily overtrained or damaged.

A sample beginners workout could include:

Mon: Crushing and Pinching
Thurs: Wrist and Forearm work
Sat: Holding work using thick handled dumbbells to train the upper body.

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A good starting point for crushing would be 3-5 sets using the Ivanko Supergripper or Captains of Crush grippers. As a beginner one warm up set may be necessary. Additionally warm up your hands before beginning any crushing training. This can be done by holding them under the hot tap (be careful that it’s not too hot!) or in a bowl of hot water. Warming the hands like this can really make a difference to the amount of force that can be generated. Once past the absolute beginners stage all non warm-up sets should be performed to failure to maximise the training response.

There are a variety of training techniques that can be employed using the grippers. These include partials, negatives and forced reps. Strap holds have proven popular in working up to closing the next level gripper, and I employed them effectively myself when training to close the #3. I will go further into depth with these particular methods later. As far as the number of repetitions to be used, always consider the results that you are trying to achieve. If you want to be able to perform many sub-maximal squeezes; train at a lower intensity with that goal in mind. Likewise if your goal is to generate great power in one squeeze, plan your training accordingly.
I have used practically every training method and technique in my quest for grip strength and most have yielded results. I have found that the two most important factors are intensity and rest.

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To develop tremendous crushing power in the hands every squeeze should be performed as if your very life depended on it. There should be no half-hearted attempts here. If you find it helps, psych yourself up before each crush to increase your focus. Your goal is to try and generate and transmit every single ounce of power you possess to your hands, for one almighty burst of energy. If performing reps I would suggest no more than five and go to failure on a sixth attempt.

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Rest and recovery

The amount of rest that you take between workouts is absolutely vital when using maximal intensity. Five days would be the bare minimum amount of rest needed before another workout. Seven days would probably be better. The theory that muscles begin to atrophy after four days or 96 hours is, to the best of my knowledge unproven. The human body is much more efficient than that. In my own case, I’ve gone three weeks between workouts and found that I have increased in strength.
My own workouts are constantly evolving and it is impossible to give any hard or fast rules for developing grip strength, as so many different training methods have worked for me. I can state however that training to failure only once per week has given me the best results so far. Training this way should yield results every workout. If results are not seen each workout, then either the stimulus applied was not significant enough to trigger a response, or the amount of rest time was inadequate to allow the response to occur. Another factor limiting the response is that the trainer has nearly reached his or her genetic potential, but I think that for practical purposes each one of us can count this out.
Another benefit of this training method is the amount of time saved each week.
I currently train my upper body one set per bodypart to failure each week and have been seeing a consistent strength increase every workout. Admittedly I haven’t utilised the one set method for my crushing training yet (although I still train my crushing only once per week), but for my other grip training this method is working extremely well.

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Contrary to popular belief I feel that nutrition is the most overestimated aspect of training culture. I don’t believe that it is necessary to eat more than 3 or 4 meals per day and certainly not necessary to work out precisely the protein, carbohydrate or fat amount per meal. I eat when I’m hungry and stop when I’m full.
The human body is a highly efficient adaptive organism and can develop quite well on a hard training routine and balanced diet. I feel that it is also unnecessary to consume vast amounts of protein each day. Who decided that this was necessary for your body anyway?
I eat peanut butter or salad sandwiches and some fruit for breakfast (I have to eat breakfast on the train to work) and lunch. For dinner its potatoes or rice with vegetables and bread. For supper I have cereal with soya milk. (a one litre carton will last 3-5 days). If hungry during the day I might have an extra sandwich or handful of nuts.

As unique, thinking individuals we should lead balanced, well-rounded lives with time for meaningful relationships and varied interests, which allow us to develop fully as human beings. The goal of weight training or any exercise program should be to enhance our life; not be our life.

( Ed Note: This is only part one of Martins journey into the fascinating world of grip training, more installments will follow)

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