Having a strong grasp, a firm grip, an iron hand, is a game changer. You may have a sense of your grip strength from pull-ups or barbell exercises like deadlifts and traditional weightlifting movements. For most beginner and intermediate trainees doing functional fitness exercises coupled with weightlifting, there’s a good chance that some ancillary grip work isn’t a bad idea. It couldn’t hurt. Now, while we’re going to focus on exercises here to build the muscles of the hand and its digits, it’s probably a good idea not to neglect your forearms and wrists because they do play a role in overall grip strength. After all, the muscles controlling fingers and thumbs lie in both the hand and the forearm.
The Musculature of the Hands and Forearms
Flexors (fist bump)
- Pollicis longus (thumb flexor)
- Flexor digitorum superficialis and flexor digitorum profundus (all finger flexors)
Those three muscles also flex the wrist along with the palmaris longus, flexor carpi ulnaris (adductor), and flexor carpi radialis (abductor).
Extensors (high five)
- Extensor pollicis longus and brevis (thumb extender)
- Extensor digiti minimi (pinky finger extender)
- Extensor indicis (index finger extender)
- Extensor digitorum (all finger extender)
Those four muscles also extend the wrist along with the extensor carpi ulnaris (abductor), extensor carpi radialis longus (abductor), and extensor carpi ulnaris (adductor).
As you see, there are many multiple-function hand and digit muscles. To completely isolate the digit muscles, therefore, is impossible. However, there are some exercises that place more stress on the fingers and thumb that you can incorporate into your grip-strengthening program.
Pick up two bumper plates, preferably smooth, no bevelled edges that can ease the grip. Use a pinch grip, literally like pinching the plates between your thumb and fingers, and try and pick them up. It’s not going to be easy and if you can’t do it then, drop down to a lower plate weight.
Make sure you take some care because there is a chance that the plates may slip, or you may drop them when you get fatigued, and you don’t want to train your toes for collision damage.
If you feel emboldened, you can walk with the pinched plates, adding a little more of a degree of difficulty to the exercise, and giving you a way to measure the length of the pinch other than counting the time in your head.
One of most functional grip strength builders is the dead hang. It is just like what it says, you jump up on the pull up bar, get a good grip, make sure your feet are off the ground, and you hold on for dear life. You probably do something like this as a way to stretch yourself out. This time, you’re doing it to keep that grip strong.
The other great thing about a dead hang is that you can mix it up with your grip:
- Pull-up grip with the palms facing out
- Chin-up grip with the palms facing in
- Hook grip, a must for the weightlifter
- Finger isolation, try holding the bar with three fingers active only or two
- Mixed grip, with one palm facing in and one out, might make it easier to hold on longer
- Palms facing each other using a parallel grip
- Rope hang to really challenge that grip. Just wrap a towel, a rope, anything you can hang on to safely, over the bar and grip the ends.
It gets called a lot of things, loaded carry and farmer’s walk are among two. Dan John, the exercise guru, has been noted as saying, “The loaded carry does more to expand athletic qualities than any other single thing I’ve attempted in my career as a coach and an athlete.” Moreover, Dan thinks of the farmer’s carry as the “King of Carries.” Chief among its benefits is, of course, phenomenal grip strength.
The simplest things you can use for a carry are kettlebells or dumbbells. You can also use hex bars and from there, anything from the giant bottles you use on water coolers to an actual suitcase. In fact, if you grab water bottles at the neck and carry them that way, as opposed to the handles they usually have on the side, you can get a really strong grip workout. Whatever you do, a heavy carry is a total body workout irrespective.
That’s it. Very simple. Very effective. Your grip should be getting a workout on the barbell and bar exercises that are a part of our regular workouts. These supplemental exercises are there to give you that added support in building up your grip strength.
That’s plenty of options to help you target your hands and fingers and thumbs because, like we said earlier, there are plenty of muscles in your hands and arms to work. Our opposable thumbs, our typing skills, our ability to play the piano, all these things make us more human and they can all get a little more love if you have strong hands and a strong grip.