Grip Training

In a nutshell, wrap a beer towel around your dumbell handles.

Yep, that’s it. You can stop reading there if you like, that’s¬†all you actually need to do to use this tip.

Oh you’re still here? What do you mean, you want to know why?

The simple fact is no one knows exactly why this works, per se. What we do know is that when we use unusual surfaces and “awkward” grip shapes, our neural pathways through the arms light up more, the bit of our brain that receives sensory input is stimulated to a greater degree, and the bit of the lower brain that pushes action potential sends more powerful signals. Weirdly, other neural paths i.e. to the legs ALSO display more activity.

Huh. So by gripping a 1″ handle made into a 2″ handle because of a beer towel means our neurological system lights up like a christmas tree. How does that benefit anything?

Two reasons. First, the increased stress on the neurons makes them more efficient and multiply, meaning more connections working more efficiently. Theoretically, if you push a massive action potential (electric charge) through someones nervous system you’ll make their muscles recruit fibre contraction 100% rather than the normal 5-40%. Effectively, this would mean a skinny guy bench pressing a bus for one rep.

Only the one though, as the fibres would burn out. Think trip switches.

So, if someone who can bicep curl a 10kg weight ten times max were to increase their action potential by 20% they would automatically be able to curl a 12kg weight 10 times – without needing to grow more muscle fibres.

So that explains why some skinny guys are so freaky strong, right?

Yup. Second reason: when the same person moves identical loads, one time with easy, ergonomic grip, one time no grip at all, and one time awkward grip, the resultant post-workout growth hormone (GH) release is different. Negligible difference between no grip and easy grip, but awkward grip shows a marked increase in GH production. (and before anyone jumps in with main mover theory, this also held true in a study where the test groups’ only exercise was the barbell back squat. Yeah baby, explain that eh??)

More GH = more muscular adaptation; which way that adaptation goes depends on what you’re doing with your training of course.

So if I wrap a beer towel round my bar I’ll get bigger quicker?

Weeeeell not as such: you’ll get stronger, that doesn’t necessarily mean bigger.

Will I get fitter?

Yes in the sense of muscular endurance, as when you go back to a normal grip your body will “think” it’s a lesser load and move it more times.

Can I use this to get bigger?

Yes, but it requires a structured plan; use it on your “light” day before your “pump/heavy” days and you effectively surf a hormone wave, getting more bang for your buck when you lift heavy or git chore pump awn ūüôā

You mentioned injuries – does it give them, cure them or prevent them?

All three! Doing a whole load of bent over rows and romanian deadlifts with a supine grip and some FatGripz on the bar last week twanged something in my wrist – made holding a chopping board to wipe a cloth over it a bit of a tricky time. Cleared up after a few days, but I heal fast and had I have trained longer (it didn’t become apparent till the next day) it could have been worse.

I regularly use this stuff on shoulder, wrist and elbow issues. Not every case will benefit, so if that’s you, check with your trainer or a physio first. A lot of rotator cuff issues don’t like it until about 60-80% of ROM has come back.

Injury prevention is achieved through a sort of radiation effect – the nerve lines to and from the hands doing the gripping travel through the shoulder after all; net result is synapse fire quickens and the shoulder is more secure mechanically (and indeed structurally too, but that seems to come along afterwards)¬†and much more responsive to “danger stimulus”.

One of my guys used to be plagued by shoulder problems after motorcross competitions (he also does that stuff where they go round and round a track doing ridiculously high jumps – picture the impact absorption though the shoulders as you drop out of a 25m jump holding handlebars!!). Three months of various shoulder exercises (most of which were little more than variations on the stuff he was already doing) and he ALWAYS had something messing up his grip and he was pain free for daily life. Fifteen months and a few comps later: no issues, no pain, happy days.

So why does grip alteration from the hands do this? Does it work with other body parts?

We don’t know, because no, it doesn’t work with other body parts. Theoretically the same thing should happen with stimulus from the feet – it doesn’t. Oh sure the same nervous system developments occur, balance training and so forth builds proprioception there’s no argument there, but that GH response doesn’t happen. Zilch increase.¬†It’s like the hands have a broadband to the brain and endocrine system while everything else is on dial up.

Do you use this for just for strengthening arms or can it help with legs?

Ah not such a daft question as it first appears – when you’ve read the above, and the research, the quick response is Of Course It Will, Weren’t You Listening? and recommend some lunges holding dumbells with towels round them. In some powerlifters however, the grip work required to build up to being able to hit the heavy loads with a bigger grip is never going to happen, so isn’t used as much. As a result, the answer to this question is yes for 90% of folks out there training.

Will this help me burn fat?

What data we have says no, Ollie says hmmm. I think if you’re hitting the weights nice n light, getting the pump, then logically¬†this should add a sneaky bit of calorie burn on top of what you’re doing without excessive¬†injury risk, plus consider¬†the hormone surge the next day . . .

Then again, just because it’s logical doesn’t mean it’s true. No firm data either way (yet).

What if I don’t want to use towels and stuff? Are there any products out there that address this?

Yes, they are called FatGripz. They snap on and off the bar very quickly, so beat beer towels on convenience but they are one size – e.g. you can’t make them smaller for building in whereas with towels you can start by adding just one wrap, building to two, then three and so on.

Are there any other grip training techniques?

Pinch grip is good, like using a barbell disc for a bent over row, and crush grip for medicine balls and sandbags where you have to squeeze with your chest and shoulder muscles to get purchase. Fingertip pinches are nice, say for climbers and wrestlers; put a lifting strap round a weight only use thumb and 1st finger, thumb and 2nd finger etc.

You also have Grippers, which can make a lovely active rest exercise on Push days (I’ll throw in a little gem for you here: try holding them closed for the duration of a sprint. Watch what happens – love, Ollie) and are nicely quantifiable if you invest in graded resistances.

On a final note, Forearm Bars will build extra grip strength – simply the nature of them really, the exercises you’ll do with it will naturally focus the intention and action potential to the hands, and a Thors Hammer will do the same.