From time to time someone will reach out to me and ask me to take a look at their program. And sometimes the program is decent. It includes the right elements relevant to the goal. The volume and intensity are appropriate for the individual. And there is no interference of exercises. By interference I mean including something like deadlifts, farmer’s walks and overhead hangs on the same day. These all require grip strength and the first exercise would limit ability in the other two.
But it’s no coincidence that I include exercises involving grip strength. Because this typically gets ignored from most training programs. And there are huge benefits to developing grip strength.
Before jumping into all reasons you should be including grip strength in your programming we should first introduce Homunculus Man.
Homunculus Man is graphic representation of the amount of sensory feedback from various parts of the body. You can see we get a lot of info from the head, specifically the lips, the hands and the feet. These body parts all send info to the sensory cortex in the brain.
With the hands occupying a large section of real estate in the sensory cortex it makes sense to develop our grip and thus benefit overall with our training.
The first benefit of training our hands is for safety. Our brains have something called neural inhibition which means we will be prevented from doing something if it will harm us. Imagine doing a heavy deadlift and not being able to complete the rep because the bar slips from our hands. This is an example of the body sensing the magnitude of the lift and causing our grip to open and thus drop the bar. It would be better to not complete the rep than to risk further harm to other tissues and structures in the body.
Training grip strength can also help with elbow injuries as lateral and medial epicondylitis. These are more commonly known as tennis and golfer’s elbow. Well-known strength coach Charles Poliquin has the following to say about elbow pain:
… “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 the forearm flexors, uneven tension accumulates in the soft tissue and results in elbow pain”.
So too many exercises that bend and straighten at the elbow and not enough exercises to bend and straighten at the wrist could lead to elbow pain.
A strong grip is also beneficial for sports performance. There are the obvious sports such as MMA and obstacle course racing where a strong grip is essential. But every sport with an implement would benefit from more strength at the hand, wrist, forearm and elbow. Think of a hockey player getting off a wrist-shot. Or a golfer hitting from deep sand. Or a squash player hitting a boast shot. Better grip strength translate to more force developed in less time. In other words you could potentially hit shots with more power. And if more power is not required you can dial it back and be more precise with better control. Another example, a pickleball player must have better grip and wrist flexion in order to have better swings. Using the best pickleball paddle can also be a huge difference-maker in his/her performance.
For those looking to simply getting stronger and leaner in the gym, grip strength matters. We’ve already discussed deadlifting but what about exercises where you don’t have to worry about hanging on to the weight? Let’s look at the bench press.
With the bench press we’re on our backs with the bar over our torso. We lower the bar to the mid-chest and then press it back over the head. And there’s a reason, besides safety, that the lifter’s use a closed versus an open grip.
When we hold the bar with a closed grip we can generate more neural tension and thus produce more force. If you’re not sure of this try squeezing someone’s hand with an open versus a closed grip. With higher force production you will push a heavier load or the same load for more reps.
The last aspect of grip worth mentioning relates to confidence. When you have a strong grip you typically make a better impression when you meet someone and shake their hand. I’m not talking about someone that is willfully trying to crush your hand. You can tell when this is the case and it doesn’t fool anyone. Instead I’m talking about people with naturally strong hands and when they shake your hand they look you in the eye, with shoulders back and an easy confidence about themselves. They know they are strong. And by their grip you know this as well.
Going forward look to incorporate more grip and hand strengthening exercises into your program. There are numerous benefits described above and it provides some variety to the traditional exercises done in training. For help on which exercises to include in your program and how to perform them properly make sure to connect with one of our coaches.