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.
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.
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.
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.
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.