Hold on Tight!



by Devin Sarno, NSCA-CPT

Maybe you are trying to lift heavy, or maybe even get your first pull-up or put together bigger sets. If you are having a hard time, the answer to your problems may very well be something you are overlooking. You may be strong enough in some areas, but in one key area you may lack the necessary strength to accomplish what you are setting out to do. Have you ever felt that your legs are plenty strong enough to get through a set of walking lunges with heavier dumbbells, yet you can’t seem to get through the entire set without stopping in the middle? Chances are your grip strength may be holding you back.

Your grip and forearm strength is very underappreciated, and in turn it is also often undertrained. So many people often take the easy way out when they are deadlifting heavier weight during their training by using an alternating grip or straps when that weight gets harder to hold onto rather than trying to work on their double overhand grip. I’ve been guilty of it at times myself, because it’s a very easy road to take. But by doing this, we are neglecting one of the biggest components to truly developing great strength in the deadlift or other areas of fitness that require greater grip strength. The same thing can be said for any exercise done on a pull-up bar, most namely pull-ups themselves. You can be working on pull-ups forever but be stuck not being able to do more than 6, 7, or 8 reps. But at any point during that time, did you see how long you can do a dead hang on the bar? You need to be able to grip that bar longer in order to get those extra few reps. While the forearms aren’t the primary target in these types of exercises, they are very important and can absolutely be limiting factors if you let them.

Beyond needing the strength for a number of exercises, grip strength and forearm strength is also very important for helping avoid repetitive motion injuries that plague many athletes or individuals that are active in the gym. Medial and Lateral Epicondylitis, or pain on the inside or outsides of the elbow, are the two most common overuse injuries we potentially face when we lack forearm strength and mobility. Everybody likes to have good looking arms right? Well to most people that means hammering the biceps and triceps during their training, but the forearms get ignored. According to Charles Poliquin in reference to medial and lateral epicondylitis, “…these ailments are often caused by improper strength ratios between the elbow muscles and the forearm muscles. If the elbow flexors, like the biceps and brachialis, are too strong for those forearm flexors, uneven tension accumulates in the soft tissue and results in elbow pain.”

With that being said, you probably want to know how to improve your grip and forearm strength, right? One of the more popular forearm exercises are wrist curls. Just as is sounds, similar to a bicep curl, you are curling by flexing the wrist rather than flexing the elbow. These can be performed in a standing upright position, or you can isolate the movement a little more by resting your forearms on a bench as you do them. On the flipside, you will also want to work on your wrist extensors. Wrist extensions are very similar to wrist curl, except instead of a double underhand grip you are going to want to start with a double overhand grip and extend your wrists rather than flexing them. Similarly, you will also want to probably do these with your forearms rested on a bench. Another big exercise that is very simple for helping develop those forearms are farmer’s carries. Very simply, all you need to do is pick up some heavy dumbbells and walk with the dumbbells hanging at your side for as long as you can. One of my personal favorites because they are extremely tough, are plate pinches. There are a couple of different ways you can do this. You can do this with two lighter plates in each hand, or by using one heavier plate in each hand which will allow you to keep a tighter grip and probably use a little more weight. Either way, you will want to grip the plates in each hand with only your fingers. In this case, if you have plates with handles, make sure you are pinching on a closed side of the plate without a handle. From there, just hold on tight for as long as you can while standing upright. These will make your forearms BURN!

Lastly, we have exercises that may not work the forearms directly or exclusively, but will help improve forearm strength: deadlifts and pull-up (or dead hangs). When doing your deadlifts here, utilize that double overhand grip and only your double overhand grip; not to say that you can never use the alternating grip, but in this case we want to build those forearms. When doing your pull-ups, even when you get to the point of failure, try to see how much longer you can hold onto the bar at the end of that set. By doing these particular things, you can easily work grip strength training into your normal workouts.

Make that grip a priority in your training! Don’t ignore, because it can hold you back from some of your fitness goals that you are chasing. But if you address it and make it a part of your training, it can help you accomplish so much more! For something that seems so minor, it can have such a major effect on everything that you do in the gym. So get a grip and train those forearms!




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