I’m going to fill you in on a little secret. During a race, Spartan loves to beat your grip down, run you a few miles, then hammer you once more with a gauntlet of grip obstacles. You will need your grip strength throughout every second of a Spartan Race, regardless of the race length.
As obstacle course racers, the topic of grip strength has been pounded into our heads from day one. If you don’t know by now, your grip can make or break you out on the Spartan Race course. Today, we are not going to cover its importance. Rather, let’s talk about different ways to beat every grip strength obstacle, outside of strengthening the normal dead hangs.
When we start talking about grip strength, we need to also talk about the joints involved in your grip. When you make a fist, you can feel your muscles contracting from your fingers, palms, and wrists up into your shoulders. That’s right, your shoulders, elbows, and wrists all play a role in grip.
Now you’ve seen the videos; you’ve heard the stories. Going backwards on The Twister saves your grip and is the easiest, most effective way to beat the obstacle. Why is this? Going backwards initiates your pulling mechanics throughout your back and your arms. These mechanics involve your strongest muscle groups, allowing you to maintain a contraction throughout your biceps and your lats and other back muscles.
But what about us shorties who cannot reach the handles or don’t have the bicep strength to hold ourselves up for the obstacle? Holding a rigid, contracted body, similar to the backwards bicep grip, will actually fatigue your forearms quicker, decreasing your likelihood of beating the grip strength obstacles later in the race. This is the same with holding a consistent “L” throughout your Monkey Bars, Multirig, and Olympus. The more contracted your body, the more energy your muscles are utilizing.
Rather than fight gravity with a rigid body, use your momentum and your mobility to swing or move freely. You will want to train your shoulder and your wrist mobility to maximize your momentum; then, the purpose of your grip becomes less about holding on and more about control through the motion. This preserves your grip muscle energy longer.
My absolute favorite exercises for shoulder and wrist mobility include arm bars and halos. Remember though: you want to still maintain a tight core to decrease your perceived body weight on your shoulders and your grip.
While you’re working your wrist mobility, notice the parts of your hand that you tend to favor throughout your grip. Do you find yourself holding onto a monkey bar or a pull up bar with your thumb on the same side as your fingers in an open grip? This is a common technique for most people. By strengthening in an open-grip, as opposed to a closed-grip, you are disinhibiting your thumb and index finger musculature, weakening your “pinch grip” mechanics. Training in the open grip is not wrong, but it's not right either. Make sure that you are strengthening your wrist and forearms in various grip techniques, including a closed-grip where you wrap your thumb around the opposite side of the bar or rig.
When I program grip strength, my absolute favorite thing to do is to fatigue the grip early, then train clients to push through the fatigue every little bit possible through to the end of the workout. Particularly, I’ll program all body weight hangs, pull ups, and inverted rows as a final burnout.
This is going to be my challenge to you with every grip workout you do moving forward. Regardless of if you can hold on to a weight, a hang, or a swing for an extra minute or just an extra second, you are increasing the resistance placed on your body. The greater the resistance on the body, the greater the body’s adaptations.
Next time you tackle any grip strength workouts, add a little extra strategy and technique to your exercises. Add these three techniques into your regiment and you’re on your way to beating every grip obstacle you face out on the course.