I always say that anyone who is interested in living a better life should have an interest in having a stronger body. A stronger body will make you more resistant to injury and will help you immensely in your day-to-day activities. Of course, if you want a stronger body, you need a stronger grip; your hands act as the link between the power of your body and the weight, thus your gripping strength must be developed in order to raise the heaviest weight loads possible.
Most people are oblivious as to how to build their hand grip strength, and silly wrist raises won’t cut it to build strong hands. Ergo, allow me to introduce to you 3 hand grip exercises that will build your grip and hand strength and thus have a direct carryover to your ability to hoist bigger weights: rack holds, plate pinches and one-arm rows.
Hand Grip Exercise 1 – Rack holds
This is a favourite exercise of mine that was practised by the strongmen of back in the day to build tremendous grip power. Load a barbell inside a power rack to a weight that equates 1.25x of your best deadlift (or 2x of your barbell rows if you don’t do deadlifts). The barbell should be placed at a height in which you have to minimally bend down to grab the barbell; about mid-thigh will do. Grab the barbell with a shoulder-wide grip (same grip as deadlift/barbell rows), stand up with the barbell, lock the shoulders and hold the barbell for as long as you can. Do the exercise for 2 hold sets and time how long you can hold the barbell for in each of the 2 sets.
Do not use a mixed grip, straps or hook grip to do the rack holds. Your grip should be overhand (knuckles facing away from you like in the power clean) and your goal is to every week add a few seconds to each set (from the previous week’s times). This exercise is most convenient to do inside a power rack although you can also do it using boxes or a conventional rack to have the barbell at the suitable height (mid thigh). Alternatively, you can use the Smith machine to do the rack holds, or you can grab 2 of the flashiest personal trainers that walk around your gym with their chest inflated and the word COACH written on their T-shirts, and you can use them as stands to support the loaded barbell (OK, only half joking with this last alternative).
Hand Grip Exercise 2 – Plate pinches
This hand grip exercise is a killer that especially builds your finger-pinching power. Grab a pair of weight plates, pinching each plate with each hand so that your thumb is one one side of the plate and your other 4 fingers are on the other side of the plate. Stand up with the plates on your sides (arms fully extended) and pinch the plates with your fingers hard. Hold the pinching until your grip fails, making sure to deposit the plates on the floor carefully so as to not have them fall on your feet or break them.
Do 2 sets of plate pinches and, like with rack holds, aim to add a few seconds every week to your previous week’s times. Introduce yourself to this exercise by first pinching a 25lbs plate for each hand and work over time to a 45lbs plate for each hand. You can also stack 2x 25lbs plates for each hand and stack even more plates, but first start with a single 25lbs plate for each hand and gradually increase your holding time and weight load.
Hand Grip Exercise 3 – One arm rows
While one-arm rows develop much more than your grip, they are a very rare hand grip exercise that will allow you to build your grip unilaterally. Using a bench for support, place a loaded dumbbell on the left side of the bench. Bend down while keeping your back flat and parallel to the floor, and grab the dumbbell with your left hand; use your right hand and knee for support on the bench. Pull the dumbbell up to the chest, then return the dumbbell to the floor (one rep). Do 12 reps on your left side and then another 12 reps for your right side (place dumbbell on right side of bench and use right hand). Do 2 sets, with one set being 12 reps done one both sides.
One-arm rows should be included on the day of the week that you do your back workout; alternatively, you can do this hand grip exercise on the day that you do most of your pulling work (e.g. deadlift day). You should aim to do 1 rep more every week until you get to 20 reps for each of the 2 sets; then add 10lbs more and start again from 12 reps. See the video below for an illustration on how to do this exercise:
Overall, these 3 hand grip exercises will directly build your grip strength like no other. They are exercises that require no extraordinary apparatuses than those that you’d find in a conventional gym, so these exercises are quite convenient. Work them hard and you will be rewarded with a much stronger grip that will help you hoist bigger weights in other exercises!