Calisthenics Grip Training

by Corey Howard on July 22, 2014

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Handshake

I’ll never forget Gary. It’s not that Gary was such an amazing person, in fact he was quite bland. Imagine shaking hands with someone’s limp lifeless, overcooked soggy noodle hand. That was what made him disappointingly unforgettable. We’ve all met someone like that, and it creeps most people out. Shake my hand like you mean it!

On the other side of the spectrum is Rich. Rich has been crowned the World Arm Wrestling Champ many times. After introducing him to my father, my dad said, “that was like sticking your hand into a bunch of bananas! I wasn’t sure I was getting my arm back!” Your handshake says a lot about you. Grip strength says even more.

Al Kavadlo Human Flag

Grip strength is an essential part of many advanced calisthenics exercises, such as the infamous human flag, demonstrated here by PCC Lead Instructor Al Kavadlo.

How can a strong grip help?  First, your grip is the linkage between your body and whatever it is you’re trying to control.  If you’re trying to put heavy objects overhead, a crushing grip can actually tighten the linkage in your shoulder and give you a safer press.  If you’re a calisthenic ninja, killer grip can keep you on the bar for more pull-ups or help your handstands as you grip the ground and drive upward.  But how on earth can you develop card tearing grip strength using only calisthenics?  According to Paul Wade in Convict Conditioning II, finger tip push-ups and towel hangs are all you need.  From my own experience, he’s right!

Finger tip push-ups are simple; just do a push-up on your finger tips!  Well, there’s a bit more to it than that.  This one killer exercise strengthens the entire hand from the fingers up through the forearms.  It’s easy to let your ego get in front of you with this one, so be sure to progress slowly and cautiously. I recommend starting these as incline push-ups.  This enables you to keep your technique spot-on and stay injury free.

Fingertip Setup Hand Position

Make sure you set your hand up with your fingers locked and spread.

It’s important to make sure you set your hand up with your fingers locked and spread.  Try and create a tall wide support structure with your fingers.  Ideally you want your fingers to look like they are flowing right up into your arm, there should be no odd bends or strains.

As you make progress with these just keep moving closer to the floor, and once you’re able to do 8-10 quality fingertip push-ups, try one arm push-ups, or 3 finger push-ups.

AlKavadlo Three Finger Incline Pushup

PCC Lead Instructor Al Kavadlo demonstrates a 3-finger incline one arm push-up, unofficially known as the “Heavy Metal” push-up.

Towel hangs can start out easy, then progress to a battle of will between your body and your mind.  These work amazingly well for developing grip endurance as well as thick muscled forearms.

Again I strongly suggest starting out with a grip training drill you can do fairly well and slowly progress to the harder stuff like one arm hangs, thicker towel hangs, longer hangs, or even pull-ups or leg raises with a towel.  I would also encourage you to pull the shoulders down away from your ears while you hang.  This tightens up the shoulder complex and creates more stability.  Once you can hang for about a minute I’d suggest you bump it up a bit.  Remember, everything can be made more challenging with simple calisthenics tweaks.

Corey Howard Towel Hangs for Grip Strength

I love to use towel hangs for developing my grip!

I caution you about pushing too hard and trying to progress too fast.  Sometimes you can overwork these smaller muscles and not even know it until you have a painful case of tennis elbow.  Remember for most people, grip is the smallest link in the chain.  The last thing you want to do is allow your brain and larger muscles to overpower your grip work and cause an injury.

Grip training can be tricky but the rewards are huge! I can tell you from my own experience, Paul Wade’s combo rocks!  After doing these two movements fairly consistently I’ve had to add a link in my watch, and can no longer slip my wedding ring off for any pull-up work.  My forearms, wrists and fingers have thickened up a bit.  If you increase the size of the motor, most of the time you increase the output as well…. More grip strength!  More pull-ups!  Fire it up!!

***

About Corey Howard, PCC, RKC, CK-FMS: Corey Howard strives to constantly become stronger, and to help others to achieve their fitness goals. He is the owner of Results Personal Training, and can be reached at www.resultsptonline.com or www.coreyhoward.com.

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  • Aleks Salkin

    Great blog, Corey! I really love both of these moves, and you’re right – you’ll get a vice grip from them in no time. Thanks for reminding me about towel hangs, too. It’s been ages since I’ve done them, but I think this is my wake up call to start doing ’em again. Next time I see you, we will have a towel hang contest – loser buys lunch!

    • Corey Howard

      Aleks, I’ll take a couple fillets, Thank you!

      • Aleks Salkin

        LMAO!

  • Marcus

    Thanks Cory, I’m with you on this one. I used to use those gripper things but gave them away after reading CC2 and discovering the joy of towel hangs. Man, those things get hard fast and I’ve never had my forearms pump up like that before!

    • Corey Howard

      Marcus, I know what you mean! It becomes a test of will power after a little bit! Paul Wade hit the nail on the head with these 2 movements!

  • Lyndon Green

    Definitely agreed. Fingertip pushups and towel hangs have done wonders for my hand strength. You may be interested to know that since undertaking grip training, not only have my hands grown in strength but also coordination. I find I learn fine-motor skills MUCH faster than before (for e.g. specific finger movement patterns involved in playing guitar or piano)…

    • Corey Howard

      That’s awesome Lyndon! Very cool!

  • Tom

    I am going to try these. One grip strength trainer I like a lot is the Thera-Band Flexbar — works very different angles.

    • Corey Howard

      Tom, I’ve never tried the Thera-Band-Flexbar. Honestly I like to keep it as minimalist as possible. Anything I can do to challenge my grip with pulls or presses seems to work great. Thanks for the feedback!

  • Silvio Bauer

    Great informative article. One of the most underrated areas in strength training is grip strength.
    Yesterday I did inverted pull-ups (hanging upside down and pulling up) from parallel bars. This cooked my hands and forearms pretty hard.
    Doing pull-ups from from edges, where you cannot grip around and have to use your fingers only, are also great.

    • Corey Howard

      Silvio, great ideas! I like to make my pull-ups a little more challenging as well by making the bar harder to hold with “fat gripz”, towels, or various items.

  • Very good article!

    I have a question though. Isn’t 8-10 reps for the fingertip push ups kind of few as a progression standard? Wouldn’t it be better for someone to go to the range of 15-20 reps, before progressing to harder variations?

    Have you tried explosive fingertip push ups? They are awesome!

    Lastly, the “Heavy Metal” push ups have to be officially recognised.
    Coolest push up name I’ve heard of! 😛

    • Rodolfo Oliveira

      The low reps on fingertip pushups is because your are training very small muscles and a lot of volume can be too much for the small joints. If you can do 15-20 you should try a harder variation ;D

  • Matt Schifferle

    I love grip training! Nothing makes me feel strong and macho like an iron fist.

    I’ve been doing the towel hangs with great success but I seem to be missing something on the finger tip push ups. I feel like I’m trying to squeeze the ground which feels more like similar muscles to the towel hangs. I really don’t feel it much in the extensors of the forearm. .Is there something I’m missing?

    • Try pushing THROUGH the ground, stud!

  • Great article, Corey!

    Heavy metal pushups, love it…

    • lebron james

      coach ı ve a few questions for ya to answer can you give me your email?

    • lebron james

      or ı can write the questions here

    • lebron james

      Coach ı have a question when doing hanging leg raise you tell to keep your gut in but ı cant do that my bellly looks like this: http://www.musclecontrolexercises.com/ottoarco64.jpg is it bad?

  • pixelzombie

    I was doing the towel hangs in the spring and I was working on Step Three until I came down with a ‘trigger finger’. Stopped all bar work for a good six weeks and had to get a cortisone shot, feels much better now and am looking forward to getting back to where I was. But I would certainly caution others about too much grip work too soon.

    • Mohammed

      How often were you working your grip until “trigger finger”? I do my grip session once a week; should I be worried?

      • pixelzombie

        Just once a week. It didn’t help that I was trying to keep my biceps horizontal during my towel hangs, that required a much harder grip. I should’ve eased into that gradually.
        I had fractured that same finger last Sept. but the dr. that gave me the shot didn’t think the two were related. Stretch your hands after you’re done, that should be enough to keep the tendons limber.

        • Mohammed

          Thanks for your reply. So keeping the arms bent and the biceps flexed during towel hangs (like in the picture above) makes it easier on the forearms?

          • Corey Howard

            Honestly, I’ve done both, but I prefer to keep my arms straight and shoulders packed. If you look at the picture of my towel hang in the article my arms are bent because I’m 6 weeks out from torn tricep repair surgery. My range of motion isn’t quite there yet but I needed a picture for the article.

        • Mohammed

          Sorry, I meant to say if bent arms make it HARDER on the forearms?

          • pixelzombie

            Yes, that would be correct. Try it out and you’ll feel the difference.

          • Mohammed

            Thank you.

  • Rodolfo Oliveira

    Great article Corey! There is nothing more empowering (and intimidating) than cobra-like forearms! Also, amazing pic hanging bro! The heavy metal fingertip pushup (best name ever) is something I will add to my repertoire so you have my appreciation for that too!

  • Halil Mutlu

    Wuddup coach shout out to you from turkey man
    I am teachin the CC to youngbloods like me I am 18 ı am a 8 month new born CCer:D I wrote a question to the comment section on Calisthenics Grip Training post but you probably didnt see it or ignored it 😀 after that ı read some of your comments and you were sayin that ı am tryna stay away from people who would get me in trouble and ı thought maybe you thought ı was a bad guy but ı really admire your all works and book man.Since readin your books ı improved a lot man.When I started ı was stiff as hell in my legs ı wouldnt squat but now ı can do full squats really comfortably really thanks bro and now ı am writing here my question after the digression ı made with squats:D in hope that you will answer these :
    1/when doing hanging leg raise you tell to keep your gut in but ı cant do that .My belly looks like this: http://www.musclecontrolexerci… is it bad?
    and another question
    2/I have been keepin a trainin log since ı started workin out and 6 months ago ı had measured my body parts.My arms were 33 cm and İts now 35 cm coach ı ve been doin veteran routine for like 6 months and ı have gained only 2 cm in a whole 6 months.Dont you think it is a little for 6 month ?
    3/I have been doing veterano routine for 6 months after each workout ı never felt sore even once but yesterday ı did 3 sets of max wide pull ups and 3 sets of max straight bar dips and today Since ım feelin really really sore on chest biceps and back and lats do you think it is better for muscle building?
    4/I ve been doin upper lower body routine you mentioned in C-MASS but since there are 2 push exercises or 2 pull exercises in one session my reps dropped drastically such as in handstand pushups from 2×8 to 2×4 do you think ı better keep training with veterano routine?
    PS: Da man !!! One of my biggest dreams is to meet you in person one day and workout with you .Do you think there will be a dream-come-true?Hope you answer all these question after the energy draining time ı spent while fasting:D

  • Good stuff, have been working through CC2 grip strength for about a year now, it’s literally improved every exercise I perform on the bar.

  • Marawan Abd El-latif

    may i ask paul wade a question if i have lax joints for hereditary reasons , do you think cc2 finger tip progression good or bad

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