Lifters often do not know how to effectively train their forearms, leading to grip issues and unbalanced physiques.
Grippers are one way to address and improve those lagging forearms.
But, will grippers build forearms? Grippers are a great way to train your forearms, providing a unique stimulus compared to other exercises. Lifters should use a full range of motion and maximal force and incorporate training protocols such as drop sets, eccentrics, isometrics and supra-maximal loading when using grippers.
At the end of this article, you will understand how to use grippers most effectively, their benefits and how best to set up your gripper training.
I will cover:
- How to use grippers most effectively
- The benefits and drawbacks of gripper training
- A sample program you can follow
- Alternative methods to forearm training
Using Grippers To Build Forearms
You can maximize your forearm strength and size by using grippers in two ways:
(1) Performing the proper “gripper technique”, and (2) using effective “gripper protocols”.
Let’s cover both of those concepts now.
1. Gripper Technique
There are 3 technical aspects to consider with gripper training:
- Use a full range of motion
- Hold the peak contraction
- Use maximal force
Use a Full Range Of Motion
When using grippers it is easy to cheat yourself out of progress by either not fully opening or closing the hand each rep.
Each rep should start from the gripper and your hand being opened as wide as possible and finish with you fully closing the handles together to touch.
Hold The Peak Contraction
As you finish each rep and touch the handles together, hold this peak contraction for 1-2 seconds each rep.
Use Maximal Force
When using grippers, especially the lighter sets or the easier sessions, it is easy to become complacent with the effort you are putting in.
Ensure every rep, set and session you do is performed with maximum intent and force.
Hold the peak contraction and continue to grip with as much force as possible.
2. Gripper Protocols
There are 4 protocols I recommend including to get the most out of your gripper training:
- Drop Sets
- Slow Eccentrics
- Supra-Maximal Eccentrics
Drop sets are great for increasing the overall intensity of session, accruing more volume and increased metabolic stress, all of which lead to more overall muscle size.
To incorporate a drop set you would perform a working set as normal, and as soon as you finish, perform another set with a 25-50% load drop.
Isometrics are simply performing an exercise that loads the muscle without any movement.
For a gripper with would be closing the handles together and holding this peak contraction for an 5-20 seconds.
These can be done with a range of loads, lighter loads are useful for longer holds and creating more overall stimulus, but heavier and shorter holds are great for developing grip strength.
Slow eccentrics are where you slow down the handing opening phase of the movement.
Squeezing the handles together as normal, then slowly opening your grip for 2-4 seconds until you are back in the starting position.
Supra-Maximal Eccentrics are where you use a load that is more than your maximum gripper capabilities.
Using both hands, close the gripper and then perform a controlled eccentric as above.
These are a great way to overload the forearms and start building the strength and capacity for grippers you have but may not be strong enough to perform full reps and sets on yet.
For a full overview of how to maximise your forearm progress, read our article How To Increase Forearm Size (Complete Guide).
Build Your Forearms Using Grippers: Sample Program
Putting together the protocols properly is just as important as the protocols themselves.
This 3 day sample programme will act as a great way to incorporate grippers into your forearm training.
- Supra-Maximal Eccentrics – 3 Sets of 3-5 Reps – Use a load you cannot complete a full normal rep with.
- Isometrics – 2-3 Sets of 10-20 second holds – Use a light-medium gripper, progress loads once you hit 20 seconds across all sets.
- Medium-Heavy Sets – 3-4 Sets of 8-10 Reps – Using a medium-heavy gripper perform 8-10 reps, once you hit 10 reps, progress load.
- Drop Sets – 2 Sets of as many reps as possible (AMRAP) – Drop 25-50% in load and perform an AMRAP set, then drop another 25-50% in load and perform a second AMRAP set.
- High Reps – 3-4 Sets of 15-20 Reps – Use a load that is challenging for 15 reps, look to increase the load once you hit 20 reps.
Looking for further forearm training recommendations? Read our article Can Forearms Be Trained Everyday (Yes, Here’s How).
There’s one gripper that stands out above the rest: IronMind’s Captains of Crush Hand Grippers.
IronMind is the go-to brand for competitive grip athletes because of its unmatched standardization. You can guarantee when using the IronMind gripper that the resistance is always going to be as advertised, and it won’t breakdown over time, which is a problem for other brands. The IronMind grippers also come in beginner, intermediate, and advanced sizes, so you can increase your resistance as you get stronger.
These grippers are a fixed type, which means you will need to purchase multiple sizes/strength levels to maximise your progress.
There’s up to 10 different levels available, but here’s what I recommend you get:
- Beginner or Women’s Set: Guide (60 lbs), Sport (80 lbs), and Trainer (100 lbs)
- Men’s Set: CoC 1 (140 lbs), CoC 1.5 (167.5 lbs), and CoC 2 (195 lbs)
- Advanced Set: CoC 1 (140 lbs ), CoC 1.5 (167.5 lbs), CoC 2 (195 lbs), and CoC 2.5 (237.5 lbs)
- King Kong Set: get one of Every CoC Grip
For more recommendations read our article, 7 Best Hand Strengtheners Reviewed: Are They Worth It?
Benefits Of Using Grippers To Build Forearms
The 4 benefits of using Grippers to build forearms are:
- They can be used away from other training
- It is a quick way to get in quality training
- You strengthen your grip at the same time
- They provide a different stimulus to other forearm training
They Can Be Used Away From Other Training
Forearm training is often left to the end of sessions when you are tired, fatigued and effort may start dropping off.
Maybe even skipped all together.
Grippers allow you to train the forearms away from your other sessions, quickly and easily at home.
This can allow you to train at a higher quality with less interference from the rest of your session and often with higher effort as you are not dragging yourself through the end of a tough session.
Higher quality training with more intent will lead to greater progress.
It Is A Quick Way To Get In Quality Training
Forearm training is often neglected, but grippers provide a quick and engaging way to improve your forearm size and strength
Training with grippers allows you to achieve sufficient volume and intensity without the need for further equipment or even a trip to the gym.
This makes training more efficient and accessible when time is short, or you are looking to decrease the length of your sessions.
You Increase Your Grip Strength Simultaneously
While grippers are a fantastic option for forearm training overall, their primary use is to improve grip strength.
So, while you are improving your forearm size, you will also be increasing your grip strength which is great for overall training and maximising your deadlift potential as well.
Want more advice on how to improve your grip? Read our article How To Maximise Your Deadlift Grip (Never Fail Again On Grip).
They Provide A Different Stimulus To Other Forearm Exercises
Forearm exercises often focus upon movement at the wrist and training the forearms through these ranges of motion.
Grippers provide a differing stimulus by targeting these muscles through closure of the hand and maximising peak forces throughout this.
Grippers also provide the option for more varied training techniques such as isometrics, drops sets and even more variable loading strategies.
Drawbacks of Using Grippers To Build Forearms
The 3 drawbacks of using Grippers to build forearms are:
- Only using grippers is not always enough
- It can become boring
- They can be expensive upfront
Only Using Grippers Is Not Always Enough
The forearms provide a range of movements and thus we often want to train all of these to maximise progress.
While grippers are great for training the forearms, they only train the movement of closing the hands which neglects wrist flexion and extension.
If you notice your forearm progress stagnates, you may want to incorporate other exercises too.
Looking for even more information on Grippers? Read our article How To Use A Grip Strengthener For Max Results (Full Guide).
It Can Become Boring
While grippers are effective, they are not the most exciting training method and using only these can be boring to some lifters.
Incorporating a variety of forearm exercises may help with training engagement and enjoyment if you find yourself losing focus with gripper only training.
They Can Be Expensive Upfront
Gripper training often requires multiple pairs of grippers.
Quality grippers can be quite expensive, or you end up buying cheaper ones that do not last as long and you replace them repeatedly.
This upfront cost may not be accessible to everyone and therefore using equipment in the gym is more accessible.
Gripper Alternatives To Train Your Grip
The forearms can be trained in a range of ways, and incorporating varied training is great for maximising progress, but also for enjoying your training too.
The forearms can be trained using various pieces of equipment and through differing ranges of motion.
Dumbbell Forearm Training
Dumbbells are one of the best and easiest ways to training forearms. There’s an abundance of exercises to choose from and they allow for a wider range of movements due to the unilateral and free moving nature compared to a barbell.
While often used primarily for biceps training, heavy hammer curls are one of my favourite dumbbell exercises as they allow you to train the forearms through a differing motion and with far more load than any other dynamic exercise.
For a range of dumbbell exercises, read our article How To Workout Forearms With Dumbbells (10 Exercises).
Barbell Forearm Training
Now while I may prefer dumbbell exercises, barbell exercises have a place in well-rounded forearm training.
Wrist curls with a barbell allow you to focus solely on the curling movement and maximizing tension and load here rather than stabilizing the movement.
Isometric Forearm Training
You can achieve this while using grippers; however, nothing quite beats a heavy barbell hold for developing grip strength.
Using a barbell with 70% of your maximum deadlift in a rack hold the bar for 3-4 sets of 5-10 seconds. Look to progress the load 2-5% as you hit 10 seconds across all the sets.
Perform these either with your standard deadlift grip, or double overhand for increased difficulty.
Grippers are a great way to build your forearm size and strength and offer a unique stimulus compared to other exercises. Lifters should look to use a full range of motion with maximal force and incorporate varying protocols such as drop sets, eccentrics, and isometrics.
Grippers also offer the benefits of being a quicker training method that can be done from home away from your other training, which can lead to increased training quality. However, do require an upfront investment and may become boring over prolonged periods of time.
About The Author
Jacob Wymer is a powerlifting coach and PhD Candidate in Biomechanics and Strength and Conditioning, researching the application of barbell velocity measurements to powerlifting. He is involved in powerlifting across the board, from athlete to meet director. Jacob runs his coaching services at EST Barbell. You can also connect with him on Instagram.