Training for grip strength is an aspect many people miss. A strong grip leads to stronger lifts, such as deadlifts and pull-ups.
A strong grip is also associated with lower mortality risk and improved quality of life.
I had surgery on my hand a year ago and had to regain my grip strength to what it was before. By doing the 10 exercises listed in this article, I improved my grip and made it even stronger than before surgery.
Here are my recommendations for the top 11 best grip strength exercises.
- Farmer’s carry
- Hand grip tools
- Pull-up holds
- Barbell deadlift
- Zottman curls
- Pinch grip carries
- Towel/rope grip exercises
- Fat grip exercises
- Bottoms-up kettlebell press
- Wrist curl
- Push-ups with handles
If you don’t train your grip strength regularly, you could find yourself stuck with an exercise because your grip is the failing part. Your grip strength could be the determining factor between hitting a new PR or failing a lift in a competition.
In this article, I’ll explain how to do each exercise listed above and discuss why you should include them in your programming.
Why Is Grip Strength Important?
Weak grip strength is one of the main limiting factors in exercises such as deadlifts, pull-ups, and rows. A stronger grip will translate to stronger lifts. It can also help athletes who participate in sports such as rock climbing or baseball. In fact, studies have shown that better grip strength results in increased bat velocity of baseball players.
Grip strength is also important in activities of daily life. Everybody grabs and carries things regardless of occupation, age, or level of activity. Daily tasks like grocery bags, heavy paint cans, and laundry baskets require grip strength. These simple daily tasks may start to become a burden because you can not hold the item due to a lack of grip strength.
Different Types of Grip Strength
Three types of grip strength are crush, pinch, and support.
- Crush grip is the ability to squeeze something between your palm and fingers in your hand. Imagine you are making a fist. The best exercises to improve this are the hand squeezer exercise or hand crunch using a hand grip strengthener tool, Zottman curls, and barbell deadlifts.
- Pinch grip is the ability to squeeze something between your thumb and fingers. Think about crab claws pinching together. The best exercises to improve this are pinch grip carries.
- Support grip is the ability to hold an object for an extended period of time before grip strength fails. The main focus of this type of grip is endurance. The two best grip exercises to work on support grip include pull-up holds and farmer’s carries.
11 Best Grip Strength Exercises
1. Farmer’s Carry
All the exercises on this list are great for improving grip strength, but farmer’s carry is my favorite. There are tons of variations of a Farmer’s Carry. Increasing weight, distance walked, or time holding the weights is an easy way to make the carry more challenging.
Everybody should be implementing this simple yet effective exercise into their training. The only equipment needed is two dumbbells or kettlebells. This exercise will translate to real-life events such as carrying grocery bags.
How To Do Farmer’s Carry
- Start with two dumbbells or kettlebells on the floor.
- Squat down to pick up the weights, engaging your core the entire time.
- Stand tall with an upright posture, keeping the weights at your hips with your shoulder blades tucked back and your chest tall.
- Walk forward for a set distance or time while holding the weights and taking normal steps. My facility has a turf space 30 yards in length, so I like to do 60 yards.
A great time to do these grip training exercises is after your workout as a finisher. When your muscles become fatigued at the end of a workout, you can do a farmer’s carry burnout, meaning you simply do a farmer’s carry to exhaustion with a lighter weight.
The farmer’s carry is an isometric contraction on your forearm flexor muscles (meaning your forearm muscles contract, but your joints don’t move). Isometric contractions build maximum strength. Farmer’s carries also work grip strength endurance. You need endurance for exercises such as pull-ups or high-repetition deadlifts.
2. Hand Grip Tools
A hand grip tool is a simple but effective way to train your forearms and grip strength. You can adjust the resistance on these tools to fit your current level of grip strength. You can upgrade to a new gripper with stronger pre-set resistance as you get stronger.
How To Use Hand Grip Tools
- Set the resistance on the hand grip tool to your appropriate level. For a beginner, I would start around 60-100 lbs of resistance. If you are more advanced, I would recommend starting around 100-140 lbs of resistance.
- Find the base of your thumb and place one end of the gripper just above that. Place your fingers on the other end of the gripper, keeping your fingers tight together.
- Make a fist by squeezing your fingers towards your thumb.
- Complete 3-4 sets of 10-15 repetitions.
Hand grippers are great for changing the type of muscle contraction you are doing. Before doing repetitions, you can hold an isometric contraction for 20-30 seconds. You will recruit more muscle fibers, maximizing the effects.
These are inexpensive devices that you can purchase at most sporting goods stores. You also don’t have to use these at a gym during your workout. You can use these tools and do a hand squeezer workout while at home sitting on the couch, for example.
We discuss more about how hand gripper tools strengthen the forearms in Will Grippers Build Forearms? (Yes, Here’s How).
3. Pull-Up Holds
Pull-up holds are an isometric contraction of your forearms, upper back, and core muscles. This exercise is beneficial for improving grip strength and pull-up abilities.
How To Do Pull-Up Holds
- Position your hands on a pull-up bar one fist-length wider than your shoulders.
- Face your palms away from you in an overhand grip.
- Jump to the top, so your chin is above the bar. You can put a box or bench under the bar so the jump is easier if needed.
- Keep your chest tall, and shoulders tucked down. Do not shrug your shoulders up to your ears.
- For beginners, 3-4 sets of a 10-15 second hold will be enough. You can increase the time to 20-30 seconds as you progress.
If you cannot hold yourself at the top position of a pull-up, use a pull-up assistance band to help you. The band will assist you in controlling the hold while maintaining proper form.
Endurance will be improved because you are actively using your grip to hold yourself up at the top of the bar. Pull-up holds are also the first step in progressing to do a pull-up.
4. Barbell Deadlift
The deadlift is a compound movement used to build strength in your legs and lower back. No matter how perfect your form is, you need grip strength to hold the bar through the entire range of motion. With each deadlift rep, you can work on your grip strength to be stronger for this movement.
How To Do Barbell Deadlifts
- Stand with your feet hip-width apart in front of the bar. Your shins should be touching the bar.
- Hinge with your hips so you can reach the bar with your hands. Grip the bar with both hands in an overhand grip, slightly wider than where your feet are placed.
- “Bend the bar” so your shoulder blades are set, and your upper body is tight.
- Brace your core as you drive through your heels to move the weight upward.
- Your hips will come forward as the bar finishes at mid-thigh height. Keep your chest tall and your shoulders back, and squeeze your glutes tight at this top lockout position.
- Descend the bar back down to the ground, hinging at the hips and guiding it to the floor.
- Perform 3-6 sets of 4-8 repetitions.
Lift barefoot or in flat shoes or deadlift shoes. Shoes with a higher heel will give you more height to lift the bar and angle you forward. Both of those factors will alter your form.
This strengthens the entire posterior chain in your legs and upper body and your grip and core strength. Deadlifting heavier weight will increase your grip strength because you need a stronger grip to hold a heavy barbell.
Learn more about the importance of your grip on deadlift strength in How to Maximize Your Deadlift Grip (Never Fail Again On Grip).
5. Zottman Curl
Zottman curls target the forearm extensor muscles because there is more time under tension and increased rotation of the forearms. This movement combines a traditional bicep curl and a reverse curl. It’s a good grip strength training exercise because you need strong grip strength to control the weight through the entire range of motion.
How To Do Zottman Curls
- Start with two lighter dumbbells, as form is crucial in this exercise.
- Start with your arms extended at your waist and palms facing the front.
- Begin with a traditional bicep curl.
- At the top of the curl, flip your wrists over so your knuckles now face the ceiling.
- Lower your wrists slowly back down to your waist, keeping your knuckles facing the ceiling the whole time.
- Flip your wrists back over so your palms face the front.
Go slow and controlled on this exercise. To get the maximum benefit to your forearms, you will need time under tension during the eccentric lowering.
With this exercise, you will get hypertrophic effects (increased muscle size) in your biceps and forearm extensor muscles.
6. Pinch Grip Carries
Earlier, I mentioned pinch grip is the ability to squeeze something between your thumb and fingers. Most daily activities involve finger strength and dexterity, so pinch grip carries are great hand grip exercises for everybody to add to their grip strength workouts.
How To Do Pinch Grip Carry
- Grab a plate in each hand using only your fingers and thumb. I recommend starting with a 10-pound plate and then working your way up to heavier weights. The heavier the weights are, the thicker they are, making the pinch grip more difficult.
- Stand tall with an upright posture, keeping the plates at your hips with your shoulder blades tucked back and your chest tall.
- Walk forward for a set distance or time while holding the weights and taking normal steps. As the dumbbell farmer carries, I like to do 60 yards in distance since my facility is 30 yards in length.
Walk slowly as you complete this carry. If you walk too fast, the weights may sway to the side, making it more difficult to maintain your grip. Walk at a slower pace and focus on squeezing the plates between your fingers and thumb.
This will target your finger and forearm muscles to improve grip strength. Since you are not gripping with the palmar aspect of your hand, your fingers and forearms will have to work to maintain the grip.
7. Towel/Rope Grip Exercises
You can add variation to your traditional exercises and place more of a focus on grip by using a towel or rope. For example, you can substitute the handle of a machine with a rope attachment. I will use the example of a cable row with a rope for this.
How To Do Towel/Rope Grip Exercises
- Swap out the handle on a cable machine with a rope attachment.
- Start with your arms fully extended and palms facing each other in a neutral grip.
- Row your hands towards your body, keeping your chest tall, and your shoulders tucked back.
- Perform 3-4 sets of 8-12 repetitions.
If the workout facility you go to does not have a rope cable attachment, use an old dish towel. Bring one with you to the gym and insert the towel through the carabiner of a cable machine so that the towel is now your handle.
Using a towel is an example of a crushing grip. Your deep hand muscles must produce high levels of force to maintain the grip on the towel while doing the exercise.
8. Fat Grip Exercises
Fat grip training involves lifting dumbbells or barbells with thicker handles. The thicker handles make the weight more difficult to grab onto. This will work on your grip and forearm strength. I will use an example of a fat grip dumbbell hammer curl.
How To Do Fat Grip Exercises
- Place a fat grip on a dumbbell.
- Hold the dumbbells in each hand, focusing on squeezing them tight.
- Keep your biceps glued to your sides as you hinge through your elbow, and bring your hands up to your shoulders.
- Lower the weights back down to the starting position.
- Perform 3-4 sets of 10-15 repetitions.
The premise of fat grip training is to increase the diameter of where you are holding the weight. If you or your facility do not have Fat Gripz, you can wrap a towel around a dumbbell handle to increase the diameter of the weight. There are also many Fat Gripz alternatives you can buy and take to the gym with you.
Having to hold onto a weight with an increased diameter will require your grip and forearms to work harder to hold the weight. This can also lead to hypertrophy in your forearms.
9. Bottoms-Up Kettlebell Press
Bottoms-up exercises with a kettlebell are a more advanced way to train for forearm and grip strength. Having the ball of the kettlebell upside down and above the handle will require you to recruit more muscle fibers to stabilize the weight.
How To Do Bottoms-Up Kettlebell Presses
- Start with two light kettlebells.
- Hold the handle and flip the ball of the kettlebell upside down, so it is above the handle.
- Keep your wrists locked, and brace your core.
- Press both kettlebells overhead, keeping the ball of the kettlebell upright and above your hands.
- Slowly lower your hands back down to shoulder height.
- The weight is typically relatively light for this exercise, so I like to do 3-4 sets of 10-15 repetitions to work on forearm endurance.
If this is difficult to do without the kettlebell falling to the side of your wrist, start with an overhead isometric. Perform this exactly the same as the press, but do not lower your hands back down. Keep your arms pressed overhead for 10-20 seconds, and then lower the weight. This will improve your wrist strength in the overhead position and help progress to the press.
There is a lot of tension through your wrists and forearms during this movement. You have to stabilize the weight through your forearms so that the kettlebell does not fall onto your wrists. This is great for muscular endurance of your grip strength and forearms and makes bottoms-up kettlebell presses great wrist grip exercises.
10. Wrist Curl
Wrist curls are a simple exercise to burn out your forearms and increase your grip strength. This exercise can be done with dumbbells or a barbell. I like to do this with a barbell to work both arms simultaneously.
How To Do Wrist Curls
- Start with lighter dumbbells or a light barbell to work up in weight.
- Sit on a bench or chair with your forearms resting on your knees and palms facing the ceiling.
- While only moving through your wrist, curl your wrists towards your body.
- This will be a high-repetition exercise. I typically like to do 3 sets of 15-20 reps.
Reverse wrist curls are just as important as regular wrist curls. Perform everything exactly the same, but position your hands so that your knuckles face the ceiling and curl your knuckles towards your body. This will work on your forearm extensor muscles.
This could be used as a good warm-up before you lift. If you will be doing exercises requiring high amounts of grip strength, I suggest doing this before. Wrist curls as a warm-up will bring blood flow to your forearms and activate your muscles before training.
11. Push-Ups With Handles
Using push-up handles not only adds variation to a push-up but can also work on your grip strength. Push-ups are more challenging with handles because of the increased range of motion you will have. I recommend this exercise if you are proficient at regular push-ups.
How To Do Push-Ups With Handles
- Start in a high plank with your toes on the floor and your hands on the handles with your palms facing each other. Make sure your hands are directly under your shoulders.
- Descend into the push-up by bending through your elbows and dropping your chest to your hands at a controlled pace.
- Keep your elbows tight towards your body as you descend. Avoid flaring your elbows out wide.
- When your chest reaches your hands, push your body back to the top position with your arms. Move your body as one unit so your hips do not sag.
- As you get stronger, you can perform more reps. A good starting point would be 2-4 sets of 6-10 reps.
If you do not have push-up handles, you can use dumbbells. Holding the handle of a dumbbell will work exactly the same as if you had specific push-up handles.
Using handles or dumbbells is a great way to still include push-ups in your training if you deal with wrist pain. The handles position your wrists differently, so there is less pressure on your wrists. You can also get deeper into the push-up and work your chest more.
How Do You Know If You Have a Weak Grip?
You can use a hand grip dynamometer to determine your exact grip strength. The average reading is 72 pounds for adult males and 44 pounds for adult females.
If you do not have a hand grip dynamometer, a good general rule to follow is a dead hang test. If you can hang from a pull-up bar for 30 or more seconds, that is an indicator of a strong grip. If your hands begin to slip and fall before 30 seconds, that could indicate a weaker grip.
Tips for Programming Grip Strength Exercises
Grip strength exercises should be done 2-4 times per week. I typically program farmer’s carries and other grip workout exercises for myself and my clients at the end of a routine. This focuses on endurance after the muscles are fatigued from the workout.
Frequently Asked Questions
Does Grip Strength Build Muscle?
Training grip strength will build muscles in your forearms. Your forearm muscles will increase in size and strength from hypertrophy training.
Do Push-Ups Increase Grip Strength?
Push-ups with your hands flat on the floor do not train grip strength because you are not holding onto anything. However, push-ups with handles can increase your grip strength because you are squeezing something that challenges your grip.
Should You Train Your Grip Every Day?
You should not train specifically for grip every day. Most activities in life and exercises in the gym involve your forearm flexor muscles, utilizing grip strength. To ensure you don’t overtrain those muscles, perform grip strength exercises 2-4 times per week.
What Happens If You Use Hand Grippers Every Day?
Your grip strength will increase by using hand grippers, but the muscles involved with grip strength need to rest and recover. Using hand grippers every day can leave your forearms sore and fatigued without proper programming.
While there are many grip strength exercises, my favorite is farmer’s carries. You only need two dumbbells or kettlebells and a space to walk while holding on to the weights for maximum hand grip strength benefits.
Another easy way to train your grip is to do a hand squeeze workout with a hand gripper tool. Hand gripper tools are inexpensive and easy to find, and you can easily use them outside the gym.
The most important thing to keep in mind when trying to improve grip strength is to utilize a variety of exercises that train the three types of grip: crush grip, pinch grip, and support grip.
About the Author
Jake Woodruff has an MS in Sports Medicine from the University of Pittsburgh. His research area explored how an exercise intervention affected runners with knee pain measured by a movement screening. He is currently a strength and conditioning sports performance coach at a private Pittsburgh facility. He is a former college athlete and currently plays semi-pro soccer.