Another guest post, this time from an effortlessly strong coach and friend of mine, Adam Glass. Clients of mine reading this, you know we discussed how your grip may limit your performance when the rest of the “machine” is still capable. Here’s in-depth article you can all benefit from, going beyond some of my knowledge (I am not afraid to admit), on many levels, without having to turn your forearms into Popeye’s 😉
I am sure you have heard the popular claim of kettlebell training as an outstanding method for increases grip strength.
Maybe you have even experienced some benefits yourself?
Are you interested in getting greater results?
My name is Adam Glass. I am 29 years old, I live in Minneapolis. At 6’2” and 218 lbs, I am acknowledged as one of the best grip athletes in my weight class and as having some of the strongest hands on the planet for the things I do. I excel at heavy partial pulls, fatbar lifting, and pinching. I am a certified Captain of Crush, a very good steel bender, and I believe I am the best in the world at tearing decks of poker cards.
I share all that with for two reasons. First I want you to know this is not another grip article like those popping up all over the web written by someone who just closed their first 50 lbs gripper. Second I am not someone who was built to do this. I had friends who were 260 lbs in high school with massive 9.5 “ hands. When I first started on this stuff, I was nothing special. My success is the result of proper training, dedication, and being willing to change things when they were not working.
Do you know what one of the keys was to my hand strength foundation?
However it is not accurate to say kettlebell training, done as it is currently taught will allow you to build similar levels of strength. There must be some modifications, and that is what this article is about.
Grip Strength and Kettlebell Training
An area of interest with many kettlebell lifters and trainees is grip strength. The primary lifts of swings, cleans, and snatches demand finger endurance and a sustained hook position. Those of you who enjoy high rep sets of snatches and swings know the incredible forearm popping pump that comes with the rapid loading of the tendons from these outstanding total body movements.
It doesn’t matter if your KB training is centered on endurance or fat loss, you are going to experience the limitations of grip at some point.
So how can we make this situation better?
I will tell you what will not work well – adding more and more support grip work. That is the most common advice I see passed around when this question comes up. Frankly that advice sucks.
If you told me running 7 miles every morning was hurting your squat numbers, would it make sense if I asked you to keep running, add in leg pressing and squat even more?
Most people would agree that is a bad answer.
What is the problem?
KB training employs a tightly closed hand position, which grip focused athletes call “support grip” or holding grip. The hand is not moving, the weak point is the strength and endurance of the finger flexors from a fully flexed position. The hand is very strong in this position.
The problem is this is only one of many hand positions and motions of the hand. The only other motion that is commonly used in KB training is an open hand with slight wrist extension at the top of snatches and pressing motions (depending on who teaches you the KB kung fu).
Let me ask you a question; what happens if someone ignores their shoulders and back and only bench presses? That’s right they become a mullet. Well, that and their posture is terrible. Shoulder pain, rotator cuff pain, mid spine pain.
What is wrong there? Too much benching?
Too little rowing. Too little overhead.
If the trainee adds in those, we find they can typically INCREASE how often they press now as they achieve greater proportionate balance.
So back to the KB grip. The problem is not actually the tight fist support grip, nor is the solution to do MORE support grip with a closed hand. .
The solution is at the tip of your fingers.
The Basics Of Grip Training
We can look at the structure of the hand and classify exercises according to position and motions.
First function is support grip, which you KB lifters know well.
The fingers and thumb are flexed around an object and held in position. In terms of gross weight moved- support grip is the strongest quality of hand movement which allows the most quantity of weight moved. When you do swings, you are using the support grip.
The next form of the hand is closing, or crush grip
This is what people are doing when they squeeze a torsion gripper such a captain of crush. The crushing strength of the hand is inferior to its gross supporting strength. I will add from examination of my personal training, and the training of other accomplished grip athletes: A powerful crushing grip does not automatically equal a strong support grip. It’s really a specific quality. I know some people who routinely one hand swing 48 kg bells for sets of 25-30 reps without breaking a sweat who struggle to mash a COC #2 (Captain Of Crush, the #2 gripper is one difficult one to close, FYI). They are not weak people, they are simply untrained to that task.
The opposite is true as well – closing tough grippers does not equal exceptional hand endurance…unless the task is closing grippers. It is that specific.
HOWEVER – if you add in some crushing, you will likely find a benefit to your support grip. That is provided you continue to train both characteristics.
Specific to kettlebell trainees, I believe more crushing strength is the lowest pay off for more grip strength. Most people figure out that crush gripping the bell burns out the hands faster, allowing you to do less work. The support grip used in KB training is a softer type of hold. Heavy gripper training in particular is very intensive on the recovery systems of the body and demanding on the tendons. Add in crush grip training at your leisure, but cut back if you find your hands are excessively sore or tired from it.
The third form of the hand uses the forceps power of the thumb in the pinch grip
When we look at pinching, we find dynamic pinching and static pinching. The closing and holding strength of the thumb plays little role to the support grip, especially a closed hand support such as when you hold the kettlebell.
Do you know what that means?
Pinch Training is critical for your hand health!
Back to our bench pressing mullet friend. He is always doing the same motion, he ignores the opposite patterns. He starts having some problems. He then begins to train the balancing movements, and presto he finds not only does he feel better, but his bench begins improving.
A moderate amount of pinch training will be a big pay off for you. The objective here is to make you better with KB’s not turn you in to a grip athlete. You will only need to add in a minimal amount to see a large return.
Ok you sold me, what do I need to do?
I am going to recommend 3 very easy-to-do pinching movements. Try them out, and do these twice a week after your primary work load. You will not manage too much volume, so take it easy on the reps and load. The key thing here is training the motion which you currently are not getting rather than working towards a huge pull.
Two of these can be done with a hex dumbbell. Hex bells are VERY common, and are actually awesome to have around. The shape of the bells allows you train these two movements which are great for thumb strength.
Two Hands Neutral Grip hex Lift and Two Hands Hex Curl
Watch this video
This is a powerhouse hand strength movement. Very simple, I know. Simple doesn’t mean ineffective. Very simply – try this out.
One hand plate bouncing
This is a great way to build your dynamic thumb strength, the motion of squeezing the thumb towards the fingers. It also requires very little resistance.
Take a few small plates, try out three to four 5lb plates or three 10lb plates and stack them on a platform about waist height. Sandwich them smooth-side out and place one hand on top of the stack. Your fingers will be on one side, your thumb on the other. Now pinch them and lift them 1 inch off the platform, then set them down fast and immediately pinch again and lift. Do this over and over. You will be getting many reps per set. The key is the rapid gripping and regripping of the plates.
Do not drop the plates on yourself. Be safe about it.
This will help with my kettlebell training?
Yes it will. Even a moderate amount of thumb training will increase your support grip.
If you could increase hand strength by 15% over the next 4 weeks, how many more reps would you get in your swings and snatches each training day? How would that extra work total up at the end of the next 3 months?
Try this out. It will make your hands healthier and stronger. I can tell you one for certain – not a day has past in which I was not finding a use for a stronger grip. I have not had too many situations in life where a 500 lbs squat was the fix, or where a big bench would have helped. I find stronger fingers and thumb make life easier. From pickle jars to cleaning out garages, I am never sorry my hands are strong.
Adam Glass is chief trainer for Movement Minneapolis and competes in both Grip Sport and All-Round weight lifting. He has trained thousands of people to build strong healthy hands. You can learn more about grip training at www.IndustrialStrengthGrip.com and his training blog www.AdamTGlass.com