Over the past year or so, I’ve become a fan of grip training. My interest started when I was struggling to recover from elbow tendonitis. As part of this process, I did some physical therapy that mostly involved grip work.
After my last PT session, I decided to continue with the grip training. Sure, things like deadlifts and pull-ups strengthen your grip as a byproduct of the movement, but I wanted to continue doing grip-centric work.
I did a variety of things around the gym, including bar hangs, plate pinches, hub lifts, etc. I used David Horne’s “basic training routine” as a basis for my grip training, while being careful not to overdo it and aggravate my elbows.
Training with grippers
I also got interested in using hand grippers to improve my crush strength. I ordered some Captains of Crush hand grippers and pretty much just started squeezing. I didn’t have much in the way of a formal routine, and my results (or lack thereof) were pretty predictable…
Sure, I got a bit stronger, but didn’t really progress in the way that I had hoped. I needed a bit more structure to my workouts. After a bit of digging around, I decided to follow the basic recommendations from Ironmind, maker of the CoC grippers. Here’s a general overview:
- Warmup sets: Start by doing 1-2 fairly easy sets of 10-12 reps each. These get the blood pumping and help to get your body “in the groove.” No matter how tempted you might be, do not skip this step.
- Working sets: Using a gripper with which you can complete 5-10 reps, do 1-3 sets of 5-10 reps. I usually aim for the higher end, doing 3 sets and working up to being able to do 8-10 reps/set. That being said, you can (and should) adjust based on your ability. After several weeks with the working gripper, it will start to become easier.
- Challenge sets: Once you’re able to do a set of 10-12 full reps, it’s time to start transitioning to your “goal” gripper — i.e., the one that you are hoping to close next. Start with some partial reps or negatives/holds*. Be sure to start gradually and don’t overdo it. Over time, you may want to reduce your working sets and focus on the challenge sets.
- Frequency: Repeat this workout 3x per week, with at least one day of rest in between, and work both hands equally. And, as always, listen to your body. Don’t overdo it in pursuit of rapid progress, as it’s very easy to wind up with an overuse injury.
Note that negatives and/or holds involve “cheating” to close a gripper that you can’t otherwise close, then letting it open as slowly as possible and/or holding it shut for as long as possible. Use both hands, press it against your leg, etc. Then remove the assistance and get to work.
Improving grip strength
As you master your goal gripper, it will eventually become your working gripper, and you will repeat the process. As with other forms of strength training, progressive overload is the key to making gains. That is, you need to challenge yourself as you get stronger vs. just doing more reps.
Before we go any further, here’s a tip…
I used to keep the grippers down in our basement gym, but I didn’t use them nearly as often as I should. Now I keep them on my desk in our home office, and I never have trouble remembering to use them. If anything, I now have to stop myself from using them too often.
As for progressing to higher levels of difficulty, I have to admit that I don’t actually drop off the weaker grippers as I move up. Instead, I’m in the habit of doing a warmup set on each of my grippers as I work my way up to the working and challenge grippers.
So, for example, if my goal gripper is the CoC No. 1, my workout might look something like this:
- Warmup set with the Guide
- Warmup set with the Sport
- Warmup Set with the Trainer
- Working sets with the Point Five
- Challenge sets with the No. 1
Just be aware that the lower levels (especially the Guide and even the Sport) are pretty easy to close, and could probably be skipped by a lot of people. I own them because others in the family might want to use them. And since I have them, I figured that I might as well use them, too.