Hands…have you ever stopped to think about how weird they really are? Just a pair of bony appendages on the end of our arms that branch out into smaller bony appendages that bend around on command and are covered in skin but have little fleshy blades that stick out the ends. There are even pads of skin on the inner part that are uniquely patterned to help give us friction to grip onto stuff so the skin surrounding these bony things isn’t even uniform. In some cases there are even little hairs that grow out of them. We can use them as tools or even as weapons if the need arises (not saying they have to be)! This is how I would describe hands to an alien race if they asked me what hands are. These are things that keep me up at night.
But steering this post back on track with the title, let's gravitate around the concept that your hands are tools. Think about how often you use your hands for everyday activities. Now let's think about how hands are used in strength training. For any pulling type exercise, be it a deadlift, row, pulldown, curl, chin up, etc., the strength of the hands is the number one limiting factor. Your hands will give out before the rest of your body. So you can train your hands just like any other body part.
Many times just the act of lifting weights will help strengthen your grip but you can go deeper than just grabbing a barbell or a dumbbell. Varying your grip on different implements can help challenge your hands. The different type of grip selected should essentially be a more difficult grip. Such variations include a thicker grip, a pronated grip (depending on the exercise), a grip with less friction, a grip that is less stable, or a grip that only involves your fingers and not your whole hand. Below are some examples of what varying your grip may look like. Understand that these implements are from my own personal collection and there are many other variations.
You can then pick certain exercises that target the forearms and wrists such as wrist curls, hammer curls, reverse curls, finger extensions, or wrist rotations. These exercises can be incorporated as accessory exercises within your workout. Just understand that they will fatigue your hands so what I do is go about my normal workout and then add grip exercises at the very end to wrap up my lifting. These exercises are difficult so you will not be able to do a lot of weight - prepare to be humbled by these movements.
Now that you have been introduced or inspired to work on your grip strength, be prepared for sore hands and forearms in the near future. Have fun with it and try something new! Next thing you know your grip will start to give out less and people will compliment how firm your hand shake is….except for pickle jars….pickle jars don’t care how strong your hands are!
In the Merritt Powerbuilding program we will certainly have ample opportunities to strengthen your grip strength.
Keith Oelschlaeger, CSCS, MS is a personal trainer at Merritt Clubs Canton.