Grip strength can be improved using a wide number of gripping implements.
One of the primary ways is to use a grip strengthener device, also knows as a “hand gripper”.
So how do hand grippers improve grip strength? The hand grippers work your “crushing” and “support” grip strength, which is your hand’s ability to close together and make a fist. The best way to use grip strengtheners is to implement various protocols that focus on: high reps, low reps, eccentric reps, drop sets, and isometric reps.
In this article, I’ll detail the best ways to train your grip and how to use the hand grippers properly by providing a sample routine. In addition, there are many levels of resistance when it comes to using a grip strengthener, so you need to know which one is going to be most appropriate for your ability level.
Let’s get started!
The Importance of Grip Strength
Focusing on your hand and grip strength is one of the most critical aspects of your overall strength development.
There is a common saying in the world of strength sports that “if you can’t hold it, you can’t lift it”.
Most exercises in the gym will involve some level of grip strength. However, the two common exercises where grip is a big limiting factor are pull-ups and deadlifts.
The pull-up and deadlift are exercises that, no matter what your fitness goal is, you’re going to want to do some variation of these movements in your training program. This is because they’re the most effective exercises for building your back, glute, and hip strength.
You might experience grip loss under two scenarios: you’re either (1) performing a set of high reps and your grip endurance is lacking, or (2) performing a set of low reps with a heavy weight and your max strength is lacking.
For example, you might be a Crossfitter who is required to cycle through many reps of pull-ups but your hands fail before your back and arms. Alternatively, you may be a powerlifter deadlifting a 1 rep max, and just before lock-out you drop the barbell because your grip isn’t strong enough.
Whatever the scenario, you need to train your grip strength so that you never fail a lift or are prevented from what you want to do in the gym because of weak hands. We’ll detail a step-by-step approach to training your grip later.
Check out my reviews of the best hand grip strengtheners on the market.
Different Types of Hand Strength
There are three different types of hand strength that you need to be aware of:
- Crush Strength: The ability to clench your hand into a fist
- Support Strength: The ability for your hand to hold an object for an extended period of time
- Pinch Strength: The ability to squeeze something between the tips of your four fingers and the thumb
The “crush” and “support” strength can easily be trained using a spring-loaded grip strengthener device. These two types of gripping abilities are the most practical for strength athletes and those looking to improve their hand strength in the gym and everyday life.
The “pinch grip” cannot be trained using a grip strengthener device and is less practical, so we won’t cover it in this article.
Getting A Hand Strengthener: What To Look For
In order to train your hand strength, you need a hand strengthener device.
There are multiple spring-loaded hand grippers on the market. But not all of them are made equal. In fact, most are really poorly made, and the metal spring that creates the resistance is often not calibrated properly, or will breakdown over time.
In other words, you might buy a hand strengthener that offers a particular resistance today, but over time, it loosens up and becomes less effective.
The only gripping device that I recommend is the Captain of Crush Grippers (check details on Rogue Fitness). I’ve been using them for the past 12 years. As well, they’re the only grippers that professional grip athletes use when competing in grip competitions. This is because of the superior calibration compared with other types. And yes, being a “grip athlete” is a thing.
So if it’s good for competitive use, it’s good for your recreational use as well. Let’s now talk about which size you need.
Hand Strengthener Sizes
The Captain of Crush Grippers come in different sizes, which are made for all types of skill levels.
There are 11 different sizes to choose from:
- Guide: 60 lb (Novice, rehab)
- Sport: 80 lb (Warm-up, conditioning)
- Trainer: 100 lb (Strong guys start here)
- 0.5: 120 lb (Bridge to the No. 1)
- 1.0: 140 lb (Already gripping, start here)
- 1.5: 167.5 lb (Bridge to the No. 2)
- 2.0: 195 lb (Life-saving levels of grip strength)
- 2.5: 237.5 lb (Bridge to the No. 3)
- 3.0: 280 lb (World-class)
- 3.5: 322.5 lb (Bridge to the No. 4)
- 4.0: 365 lb (Elite strongman)
Something crazy to note is that the level 4.0 Captain of Crush Gripper has only been closed by 5 people in the world. So, I definitely wouldn’t start there.
Here’s what I suggest:
- For men, I would get three sizes: Trainer, 0.5, and 1.0.
- For women or those new to gripping, I would get two sizes: Guide and Sport.
As you get stronger, you can add more sizes to your arsenal.
You might think that when you get stronger the lighter grippers become obsolete. That’s not the case, as you will still use the lighter grippers for warm-ups, higher rep work, drop sets, and isometric training. I’ll explain all of these concepts later.
Again, you can check out the Captain of Crush Grippers on Rogue Fitness.
Gripping Position: How To Hold A Grip Strengthener Properly
In order to use a grip strengthener most effectively, you need to hold it in your hand properly.
Here are my top tips for how to hold a grip strengthener properly:
1. Place The Handle 45-Degrees In Your Palm
The bottom handle should be placed in your palm at a 45-degree angle.
What you want to avoid is having the handle pointing completely horizontal (sideways) because it will be much harder to position your pinky finger on the end of the handle. The pinky finger has an important role in the final effort in closing the handles together.
2. Place The Device Just Above Your Thumb
Find the base of your thumb and place the device just above it.
If you place the device on your thumb, you will take away the strength that your thumb can contribute to squeezing the device. This is especially the case during the early stages of you initiating the movement.
3. Place Your Fingers As Low On The Device As Possible
You want to put your fingers (pinky, ring, middle, and index fingers) as low on the top hand as possible.
This is going to look like your pinky finger just hanging on to the bottom of the gripper. In fact, some of your pinky finger may be hanging off the gripper slightly. This is okay so long as the majority of your pinky is still on the device.
4. Keep Your Fingers Tight Together
You want to keep your fingers as close together as possible. Avoid any separation between your fingers.
You can create better tension through your whole hand when your fingers are together. As you squeeze your fingers into the gripper, you also want to think about squeezing your fingers together.
The tension that you create by squeezing your fingers together will allow you to activate the muscles around your knuckles more effectively.
5. Use Two Hands To Position The Handles Properly
While you’re setting up the previous steps, you want to use your ‘free hand’ to help keep the device in the proper position.
Once you get the gripper in the right spot, you want to avoid it slipping or moving prior to you starting the movement. The best way to avoid this is to have your other hand on the device holding it in place and only letting it go just before you’re ready to start squeezing.
6. Squeeze Your Pinky Finger
At all times, keep your pinky finger engaged on the gripper and squeeze it as hard as possible.
A lot of people neglect how much their pinky finger can contribute to hand strength. As such, it’s important to cue your pinky finger so that you’re not forgetting about it. This is especially the case near the end of the movement, as it can make the difference between closing the grippers or not.
7. The Handles Must Touch Between Reps
In order for the rep to count, you need to make sure that the handles touch together.
This is an important standard that you must follow with your hand gripper training if you’re going to increase your grip strength.
5 Different Ways To Use Hand Grips
Now that you know how to hold the hand crushers properly, the next important part to understand is the different ways you can train your grip.
There are 5 common protocols that you can use to increase your grip strength by using grip strengthener devices:
1. High Reps
High reps are a great way to build your strength endurance, which will increase the ability of your hand to hold onto objects for longer periods of time.
Using the grippers for high reps typically involve 15-20 reps. I also like to implement reps as high as 30.
This is why when you’re looking to get a set of Captain of Crush Grippers, it’s important to get at least 3 sizes. One should be lighter so that you have no problem implementing high rep training into your grip routine.
Using high reps is also a great way to warm-up your hand prior to heavier sets with greater resistance.
2. Low Reps
Low reps are a great way to build your max strength, which will increase the ability of how hard your hands can make a fist.
Using the grippers for low reps typically involves 6 reps or less. I don’t like to train below 3 reps very often as it can make my fingers and knuckles sore.
But when you want to test whether your max grip strength is improving, you need to use the 1-3 rep range.
Struggling with your grip strength? Check out my article on Lifting Straps vs Lifting Hooks.
3. Eccentric Reps
Eccentric strength is your hand’s ability to open (not close). Eccentric reps are a great way to overload your gripping ability with a resistance that you normally wouldn’t be able to handle.
The common method for training eccentric strength is to open your hand slowly (4-5 seconds) rather than simply letting your hand open quickly after touching the handles together.
You can implement eccentric reps in one of two ways (#2 is my favorite):
- Use a moderate resistance gripper, and instead of thinking about getting the set done as fast as possible, let your hand open slowly at a count of 4-5 seconds. This will increase the total time under tension that your hand needs to work.
- Use a heavy resistance gripper, and with both hands squeeze the handles together. Once they’ve touched, release your second hand and open your hand slowly at a count of 4-5 seconds. With this method, you should perform more eccentric reps than you normally would be able to do.
4. Drop Sets
Drop sets are when you perform a heavy resistance set, directly followed by a lighter resistance set. This will force your gripping muscles to work as hard as they possibly can.
The way that I like to implement drop sets into my grip training is to use a heavy resistance gripper and perform a set of 5-6 reps. Then immediately following that set, I use a light resistance gripper and do as many reps as possible (AMRAP).
If you perform 4 drop sets, you can expect to get more reps with the lighter resistance gripper on the first set, compared with the last set. That’s because you’ll be more fatigued by the time you get to the last set. But over several weeks of training, you should expect every drop set to improve on the total number of reps.
5. Isometric Reps
Isometric reps are when you squeeze the hand grippers together, close the handles, and hold them together for a prescribed amount of time.
Isometric reps are a great way to train your “support” strength, which is the ability for your hand to hold an object for a longer period of time. A great protocol to work on your endurance is to squeeze the handles together for 20-30 seconds.
If you want to work on your max strength, you can combine isometric reps with force reps. This would involve using a resistance level that you normally wouldn’t be able to close with one hand, but you use two hands to close it. Then, once the handles are together, you only use one hand to isometrically hold the tension for a shorter prescribed time (3-10 seconds).
Check out my article where I review: What Are The Best Lifting Straps?
Sample Grip Strengthener Routine
Knowing all of these methods are important, but now you need a routine to put them all together.
Here is a sample 5-day gripping routine that you can use with your hand strengthener devices:
- With a light resistance gripper, perform 3 sets of 15-20 reps.
- Perform 4 sets of 5-6 reps with a heavy resistance gripper. On the last set, do a drop set where you grab a light resistance gripper and perform as many reps as possible until fatigued.
- With a light or moderate resistance gripper, perform 4 sets of 8-10 reps with a slow 4-5 second eccentric. The goal is not to get the set done as fast as possible, but to maintain tension through the eccentric range of motion (hand opening).
- With a light resistance gripper, close the handles together and isometrically hold them for a period of 20-30 seconds. Perform 3 sets.
- With a heavy resistance gripper, use two hands to close the handles together, remove one hand, and slowly open your hand with a count of 4-5 seconds. Perform 3 sets of 3-5 reps.
A grip strengthener can improve both your “crusher” and “support” hand strength.
In order to use one properly, you need to make sure you get the right size. I recommend starting with 3 sizes of the Captain of Crush Grippers (somewhere between level 1-5).
Then, you need to learn how to position the gripper in your hand properly, including having the handle 45-degrees in your palm, having your fingers lower on the device, and ensuring your squeezing your fingers together.
You can then train your grip strength using a variety of methods, including high/low reps, eccentric reps, isometric reps, and drop sets. You can train grip every day, so long as you’re not doing too many sets of any specific protocol (4 sets max).