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When it comes to improving grip strength, many people consider isolation exercises the best route. These might include using a grip-strengthening device, squeezing a tennis ball in your palm, or stretching a thick rubber band looped around your fingers.

There’s a place for isolation work, but our experts prefer incorporating grip work into functional, full-body exercises. Chris Gagliardi, CPT, of the American Council on Exercise and Cori Lefkowith, NASM, a personal trainer in Mission Viejo, Calif. share some of their favorite tips.

1. Mix Up Your Handles

If you lift weights, simple tweaks to your equipment can add an extra grip challenge, says Gagliardi. For example, if you normally do rows with a dumbbell, try using a kettlebell. Or choose a barbell with a thinner or thicker diameter — swapping a 45-lb. barbell for a 35-lb. one, or mixing in some reps with an axle (“fat”) bar. Companies like Fat Gripz make sleeves to wrap around handles to increase their diameter.

For a different challenge, tie a dishcloth or gym towel around the handle of your dumbbell or kettlebell — or use a towel in place of a standard cable-machine attachment. This will help you strengthen your grip during rows, carries, biceps curls, pull-ups, swings, and deadlifts.

2. Take a Heavy Walk

One of Lefkowith’s favorite moves for grip and overall strengthening is the farmer’s carry. Pick up something heavy in one or both hands — a kettlebell, heavy bucket or can of paint, sandbag, weight plate, or packed suitcase or duffel bag are all great options. Hold the weight by your side(s), making sure that you’re not leaning to either side, hunching forward, or leaning back. Stand tall, shoulders away from your ears, and start walking. Set the weight down gently once you feel your grip loosen or your form deteriorate. (For more carry cues and variations, visit “BREAK IT DOWN: How to Do a Kettlebell Carry“.)

3. Hang Out in a Dead Hang

If you have access to a pull-up bar or monkey bars at a playground, try dead hangs or pull-up holds to build grip strength, Lefkowith says. To do a dead hang, jump or step up to grasp the bar with both hands; hang straight-armed for as long as possible, taking care to retract your scapulas to draw your shoulders down and back away from your ears. Add a challenge to the hang by doing a pull-up and holding the top position. (For more on this often-overlooked move, see “The Benefits of the Dead Hang.”)

4. Reverse Your Biceps Curl

In this biceps-curl variation, instead of starting with palms facing away from your body, begin with palms turned toward your body. You can use dumbbells, a barbell, or an EZ bar for this challenging move.

5. Flip Your Kettlebell

The bottoms-up kettlebell press does double duty as both a grip strengthener and a shoulder mobilizer. Start with a light kettlebell and hold it upside down in one hand at shoulder height. When held upside down, the kettlebell will want to sway and fall back into a traditional rack position; keeping it bottom-side up will require your hand, shoulder, and core to engage. Once you have balanced the kettlebell at shoulder height, press it overhead in a straight line, taking care to keep your hips and shoulders level. Reverse the move and repeat. (For a refresher on overhead-press form, visit “BREAK IT DOWN: The Overhead Press“.)

6. Grab Some Battle Ropes

Battle ropes are typically used for muscular and cardio conditioning, but simply holding onto the ropes can be a challenge. Grasp an end of the rope in each hand and try doing double waves (simultaneously moving both arms up and down rapidly) and alternating waves (raising one arm up while lowering the other). ( For a battle-rope workout, visit “Using Battle Ropes“.)

This was excerpted from “Get a Grip” which was published in Experience Life magazine.

Lauren Bedosky

Lauren Bedosky is a Twin Cities–based health-and-fitness writer.

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