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February 15, 2022 9 min read

You're strong-af and your muscles have enough lifting power, but that doesn’t matter if you can’t hold onto the weight. This is why grip strength is one of the biggest reasons lifters back out of sets early. 

Read this guide to learn the 10 best grip strength training exercises to help you grab bars and handles more forcefully and hang onto them for longer.

What Muscles Power Grip Strength?

Intrinsic hand muscles produce grip force along with a few extrinsic forearm muscles. The intrinsic muscles are located on the hand while the extrinsic muscles begin on the forearm and connect at various places on the fingers. 

The primary grip strength muscles include:

  • Flexor digitorum profundis
  • Flexor pollicis longus
  • Flexor digitorum superficialis
  • The extensor digitorum communis contributes to grip relaxation

Thankfully, you don’t need to memorize the names of these muscles. All you have to know for lifting purposes is that grip strength exercises focus on the forearm and hand muscles with some motion at the wrist. While you are going to see some forearm exercises in this guide, we’ll also include some that target those intrinsic hand muscles to give you extra gripping power.

Benefits of A Strong Grip

Are we doing all this just to get more lifting power and increase our one rep max on the deadlift? Alright, maybe we are. But increased grip strength has some other benefits, too. Beyond making it easier to do daily tasks like opening jars or carrying groceries, grip strength is also a fairly accurate predictor of  health-related quality of life.

So not only will the exercises in this guide help build huge forearms, but they could also be a boon for your health overall.

Building grip strength by targeting the muscles that cross the wrist can help avoid the risk of repetitive strain injuries like tendonitis or carpal tunnel syndrome. It might even be related to some cardio benefits, although far be it from us to recommend the grip strength exercises in this guide for a cardio boost rather than plyometrics.

The 3 Different Grip Types

If you pay attention to it throughout the day, you’ll quickly notice that you’re using different grip types for different purposes. The mind may go straight to a full-finger and palm grip, but sometimes we pinch with the thumb and fingers or use only the fingers and palms. 

Certain exercises also use different grips.

We’re not talking about grip styles like overhand grip, underhand grip, or neutral grips, either.Grip types have to do with what parts of your hand are touching the object you’re trying to hold rather than the direction your hands are facing. The 3 types of grip are the crush grip, pinch grip, and support grip.

Here’s how they’re different:

  • The crush grip is used when the palm and fingers all have contact with the object but the thumb doesn’t.  Grabbing a suitcase, holding a can of coke, and shaking someone’s hand are all examples of the crush grip in use.
  • The pinch grip only uses the fingers and thumb to create pressure. Ripping a piece of paper, lifting a weight plate, and gathering small amounts of loose material like salt all require the pinch grip. It’s for manipulating fine objects. 
  • Finally, the support grip uses the thumb, fingers, and palm to carry an object for long periods. Lugging groceries, palming a tennis ball, and opening doors are examples of the support grip. 

If you’ve been lifting weights for a while, you’ve probably also heard about the hook grip. This is kind of a variation on the crush grip and it’s used specifically when you’re lifting a bar. Rather than grabbing onto the bar with your fingers and palm, you wrap your thumb and then cover it with your index and middle finger. Many lifters use the hook grip to get a firmer grasp on the bar during deadlifts.

It won’t make up for low hand grip strength by itself, but it can help you pull bigger lifts when used correctly. Before you get to that point, though, make sure to spend some time with the following grip strength exercises. Run through them regularly - a few times a week in a dedicated session - and you’ll likely see improvement faster than you do with programs for larger muscles. 

10 Best Exercises For Improving Grip Strength

You don’t have to do all ten of these exercises during the same session. 3 or 4 of them are enough to build a quick grip strength workout routine. 

1. Wrist Curls


We’re starting off with wrist curls because they’re one of the most dependable grip strength exercises and by far one of the most convenient. All you need is a flat bench or chair and some weight. You can use a small barbell and curl both hands at once or use dumbbells one side at a time to address strength imbalances.

Follow these steps to execute a perfect wrist curl:

  • Select a very light weight and sit on a chair or flat bench with the weight in your hands. You can use your legs to support your elbows to make sure the forearm muscles and wrists are performing all the work. 
  • Make sure you’re holding onto your dumbbells or barbell with an underhand grip so that your palms are facing the ceiling.
  • Now slowly bring your palms up as close to the forearm as you can get them. Return to the starting position. You should feel the burn across your forearms. If you aren’t, other muscles might be taking over.
  • Next, let your hands lower past that starting position to add some wrist extension to the exercise. Wrist extension (moving the back of the hand toward the top of the forearm)  can increase grip strength so it’s important to include it in your workout.
  • Return to the starting position to complete one rep. Aim for 10 - 15 total repetitions on these wrist curls and don’t forget to do wrist flexion and extension on each rep.

2. Dead Hang

 

Hanging from a horizontal bar is a great exercise for improving both support grip strength and pull-up strength. As an added bonus, you can also use it to decompress your lumbar and thoracic spine. You’re going to need a pull-up bar or enough grip strength to hang from a door frame for 30 seconds minimum.

Be forewarned: the dead hang takes mental concentration.

Follow these steps to execute a dead hang properly:

  • Find a pull-up bar or get a door attachment. Use monkey bars at your local park if you don’t have time for the gym.
  • Stand underneath the bar and grab hold with both hands in an overhand grip. 
  • Let your back slacken out and decompress and let your arms hang loose. If necessary, bend your knees to keep your feet off the ground. Once your feet are in the air, start counting. 
  • Hang for at least 30 seconds. If you can practice this exercise enough to get to a minute-long dead hang, your core and grip strength will be in seriously great condition. 

3. Plate Pinch


There’s no better conditioning for the pinch grip than plate pinches. Lifters with home gyms and gym access tend to use two-weight plates to do this exercise, but you can use a large book, a brick, a sack of potatoes, or anything else you have lying around that you can hold long enough in a pinch grip. We’ll describe the steps using weight plates. If you’re using something different, just jump in after the first step.

  • Put two weight plates together smooth sides out to make one 20-pound weight. 
  • You can do this exercise sitting if you prefer, but it’s not necessary. Stand or sit next to your chosen weight, then reach down and pick it up with your fingers and thumb only. 
  • Lifting the weight off the ground so that your back is straight and your arm fully extended. It doesn’t matter how high it is off the ground so long as you’re in a completely upright position. 
  • Hold the weight in that pinch grip for thirty seconds if possible. Work up to it if needed and if it becomes too easy, add more weight to keep building grip strength. 

4. Farmer’s Walk


You’ve probably seen people doing farmer’s walks with tractor tires and trap bars. Those are both solid options, but if you don’t have them you can also use two loaded dumbbells. Work your way up to heavier weight - even if you’re a farmer, this exercise will wear you out if you’re not used to it. 

This exercise is also called a farmer’s carry. In addition to your forearm muscles and wrists, it also targets your quads, calves, glutes, hamstrings, lats, traps, spinal erectors, abdominals, biceps, and triceps. If that sounds like a killer exercise for building full-body strength in almost any targeted workout routine, that’s because it is.

Follow these steps to do a flawless farmer’s walk:

  • Set your weight up. If you’re using a trap bar or tractor tire, stand in the middle of it. If you’re using kettlebells or dumbbells, set them on either side of you with the handles parallel to your body. 
  • Squat down and grab hold of the weight. With kettlebells and dumbbells, use a neutral grip. Tire carries use a special kind of crush grip with palms facing outward. 
  • Stand tall and make sure you have a good grip, then start walking forward. Get as far as you can go in 60 seconds, then put the weight down.
  • Run through three of these carries with a short break in between.

5. Grippers


Hand grippers are one of the easiest ways to get a forearm workout and build grip strength without stepping foot inside a gym. Leave one in your desk or lying around where you can pick it up so you can fit some grip work in during your free time.

Follow these steps to use hand grippers effectively:

  • Grab the grippers in a crush grip with one of the arms against your palm and the other against your fingers. 
  • Set the resistance if necessary, starting low if you’re a beginner and working your way up from there. 
  • Compress the grippers by applying pressure with your palm. Do ten of those with the right hand and then move on to the left, or get two grippers and alternate until you’ve done ten reps on each side. 
  • Increase the pump count or, if your hand grippers allow it, increase the pressure and stick to 10 reps. Once you can hit 10 comfortably, increase the resistance again. 

6. Fat Gripz Biceps Curl


Research has demonstrated that fat gripz reduce the amount of weight you can lift but  concentrate the lifting work in your forearms, making them much better or building grip strength. If you can’t find these attachments anywhere, you can also wrap a towel around the bar.

Follow these steps to execute a fat gripz biceps curl:

  • Once your dumbbells are wrapped, take hold of them with both hands in a neutral grip.
  • Lift the weight up toward your shoulders and then bring it back down to complete one rep.
  • Repeat for 8 - 12 total repetitions. 

7. Towel Chin-Ups


     


    If you lack the strength to do many chin-ups, you can get a stronger grip with towel dead hangs instead.

    Grab a towel then follow these steps to execute a towel chin-up:

    • Throw a towel over a pull-up bar and make sure both ends are even. Twist it a little and grab hold of each tail. You can also use two towels and place them shoulder-width apart to get a closer approximation of a regular chin-up.
    • Lift your feet to get into a hanging position and then pull yourself up until your chin clears the bar. Lower yourself to complete a rep and try to do at least 5 more, up to 10 total if you’re able. 

    8. Barbell Levering


    You don’t need to put any weight on the barbell for this exercise. It’s all about building wrist control to help with your grip endurance as well as overall strength in your hands and forearms. 

    Follow these steps to do barbell levering:

    • Stand holding the middle of the bar with a neutral grip in your right hand. 
    • Tip the front of the bar toward the ground and pull it back just before it hits the floor, then do the same with the back of the bar. 
    • Continue this seesaw motion for 10 - 15 reps.

    9. Rubber Band Hand Extensions


    This really fast exercise can be done at the office or just about anywhere else. It focuses on hand extension rather than abduction, which is what you’re doing when you grip something with your fingers. 

    Follow these steps to do rubber band hand extensions:

    • Pinch your fingers and thumb together, then wrap a rubber band around them. 
    • Slowly extend all your fingers, getting as close to an open hand as possible. 
    • Return to the starting pinch position and repeat 10 - 15 times, taking care not to go too quickly. 

    10. Deadlifts


    Great news for all you powerlifting enthusiasts out there: if you have the overall strength to deadlift for at least 6 reps, you can use them to build a massive amount of gripping power, especially in tandem with the other exercises in this guide. If you can’t get more than one or two reps down, then you can hold the barbell in the locked-out position for as long as possible and still build grip strength. 

    Consult this guide to deadlifting to learn all about this classic strength training exercise and how to do it properly. 

    Improve Your Big Lifts With These Grip Strength Exercises

    All the grip strength exercises in this guide are straightforward and easy enough to do with some practice. A few you can do pretty much anywhere, while others take some equipment and know-how. Run through a few of them occasionally to prepare yourself for more weight on the big compound lifts in your regular workout.