By SGX Coach Mark Barroso, NSCA-CPT
From endurance to strength to precision, most athletes’ performance will improve with an increase in grip strength. After all, at one point or another, sports involve holding onto something. In the sport of obstacle course racing, grip strength can be the deciding factor between winning or losing a race, as many obstacles require hanging from or traversing difficult structures.
During a Spartan Race, your grip strength will be tested on obstacles such as the Multi-Rig, Rope Climb, Farmer’s Carry, Tyrolean Traverse and Monkey Bars. Regardless of your body weight, the muscles of the back, arms, hands, shoulders, and core all contribute to successfully being able to hold on to or squeeze things. That said, the important factor with these muscles aren’t their size–it’s their strength and endurance—and although sometimes bodybuilders may be able to muscle their way through rigs without any grip training, it’s best to prepare your body for high grip demands to avoid failing obstacles and prevent injury.
Try these eight exercises to improve grip strength and never fail a Spartan obstacle again. (Plus, these moves will boost your other gym lift numbers too.)
1. Dumbbell Farmer’s Walk With Towel
How to Do It: This exercise requires two small towels (For example: 14 inches wide and 22 inches in length). Loop one towel around the handle of each dumbbell and hold onto the end of each towel while standing upright with shoulders back. Walk 25-50 yards around your gym floor or outdoors. You can also use weight plates for this exercise. If the plate has more than one opening, such as a top and middle hole, loop the towel through the top opening and hold onto it from there. A longer towel may be required to loop through the center hole of a 25-, 35-, or 45-pound weight plate.
2. Dead Hang
How to Do It: Grip a pull-up bar or any sturdy overhead structure with a pronated (overhand grip). Slightly elevate the scapula to engage your core and activate the back muscles. Hang from the bar as long as possible. Aim for 15 seconds, then 30, 45, and 60 seconds. Once you’re able to hang for 60 seconds, you can get creative and move your hands horizontally during the hang, traversing from side to side on the bar.
3. Fat Gripz Dumbbell Curl
These grip-enhancing tools can be used for a variety of strength training exercises, but using the Fat Gripz on a dumbbell curl works your biceps and forearms at the same time.
How to Do It: You can use a Fat Gripz, Harbinger Big Grip or any branded rubber tool that adds thickness to a barbell or dumbbell or this exercise.
Place one Fat Gripz over the handle of each dumbbell, and hold each dumbbell using a supinated (palms facing forward) grip. Standing with feet shoulder-width apart and shoulders back, curl the dumbbells to chin height, keeping the wrists flat and palms up the entire time. Return hands to starting position. That’s one rep.
4. Barbell Shrug
You can shrug a straight barbell, a trap bar, dumbbells, or even a machine to increase grip strength, but the barbell shrug is the exercise you should definitely incorporate into your strength and conditioning routine for better grip.
How to Do It: Hold a barbell using a pronated (overhand) grip at shoulder-width in front of your hips with arms straight. Stand holding the barbell with your shoulders back and head facing forward. This is the starting position. Keeping your arms straight, raise your traps and shoulders towards the ceiling, and pause for three seconds. Then, return the weight to the starting position. When the weight gets heavy, you can use weightlifting straps to keep the bar from rolling out of your hands.
How to Do It: (Learn how to do a deadlift with this article.) To use the deadlift for grip training purposes, try not to use an alternated (right hand over with left hand under grip) at all during your sets. If the weight is getting too heavy and you have to use a mixed grip, your goals have now become absolute strength and not grip strength. Also, you can deadlift in the 8-10 rep range when training the grip. On the final rep of each set (aim for 4-5 sets in any given workout), hold the bar at the top for as long as possible before lowering it to the start position.
6. Reverse Barbell Wrist Curl
This exercise serves solely to increase muscular endurance of the forearms muscles, which should transfer to the aforementioned Spartan obstacles.
How to Do it: Hold a barbell with an overhand grip behind you, so it’s 2-3 inches away from your lower back. While keeping an upright posture, let the barbell roll onto your fingertips then while keeping arms straight (not bending them). Next, make a fist and contract the forearms to grip the bar again with a closed grip. That’s one rep. Do this exercise slowly and be sure to not use momentum by shrugging the shoulders or swinging the body forward. Do this close to a barbell rack so you can safely place the bar back when you’re done.
7. Resisted Hand Opening
How to Do It: Touch all of the fingertips together so thumb is touching the tip of the other four fingers. Place a rubber band around the DIP joint (the bendy part of your finger closest to the fingernail). Push fingers against the band until the hand is open, as if you were giving someone a high five. Bring fingers back together. That’s one rep.
Hand X Band is a great tool for this exercise as it allows you to insert each of your fingers into a rubber hole prior to opening your hand against the interconnected rubber holes. This exercise trains the forearm extensors and finger joints which are essential to opening and closing the hand, which when strengthened, allow you to actually grab things faster and with more force. So, it’s less about holding onto something and more about gripping it correctly in the first place.
8. Pinch Grip Plate Holds
This exercise trains the ability to hold onto something for extended period of time.
How to Do It: Place a 10-pound plate (or a heavier one for more advanced athletes) flat on the ground. Keep a bench or box nearby. If the plate can stand on its own, have it stand up. Grab the plate with right hand using just your fingers, so without wrapping your thumb around the plate. This means the thumb is one on side of the plate and the other four fingers are on the other side. Stand straight up with the plate so it’s at your side. Pause for 5 seconds then place the plate on the bench or box. Repeat for 5-10 reps. To increase difficulty, pinch two plates, hold one plate for longer (30 seconds), or do a snatch with the weight and hold it above your head with arm extended.
Ready to build some incredible grip strength?
Then get off your phone and exercise!