Fitness

How to Improve Grip Strength
7 Exercises That Will Develop Your Hands

Man opening a jar
Written by Isaac

How often do you give up on a workout because you don’t have a strong grip?

If your answer is “too often,” then I have good news for you: it doesn’t have to be this way!

Grip strength can be improved just like muscle gain or distance running. With proper training and regular exercise over time, your grip can strengthen and completely change your workouts.

And even if you aren’t interested in grip strength training to improve your workouts, you may still be interested in improving things in your everyday life, such as your handshake, or your overall health.

Studies show that exercising your grip is just as important to your fitness as exercising other parts of your body.

According to Maria Cole, a physical therapist with the Spaulding Outpatient Center, 


“Weak grip strength can limit your enjoyment of many life pleasures, so you need to ensure your hand and grip strength always are up to the task.”

Maria Cole

If you’re dedicated to strengthening your grip, it is important that you learn the differences in hand grip types so you know which kind of grip will benefit you more.

​Hand Grip Types

There are several different types of hand grips including pinch grip, crush grip, and support grip.

The type of grip training you do depends on what you are trying to accomplish and what grip you are trying to strengthen.

For instance, martial artists would probably focus on the support grip, as compared to rock climbers, who would focus on the pinch grip. 

Learn the differences of each kind of grip to know which one you will need to focus on.

grip strengthening exercises
  • ​Pinch Grip: The grip between your individual fingers, or between your other fingers and your thumb. This is the grip you use when pinching something or when touching each finger to your thumb.
  • Crush Grip: The grip between your fingers and your palm. This is the grip you use when closing your hands or when crushing something with your hands
  • Support Grip: The grip your use for holding something. Your support grip is what determines how long you can hold anything.

No matter what way you look at it, improving your grip is an essential part of your overall health and fitness. Now that you know that, it’s time to get to work! [1]

7 Grip Training Exercises

There are 7 different grip training exercises you can do to strengthen your grip including using hand exercise tools, plate curls, plate pinch holds, deadlift holds with a barbell, farmer’s walks, dumbbell head grabs, and towel chin-ups.

Each exercise focuses on a different grip. When you add all of these together, you will increase your overall grip strength.

Some of these grip strengthening exercises can also double as wrist strengthening exercises, so you can target two birds with one stone with them.

You can also choose to focus on exercises that target the specific grip you want to strengthen for your own purposes. [2]

1. Hand Exercise Tools

These tools are great for quick hand strengthening exercises. 

The Hand Gripper is great for strengthening your crush grip, while the Digi-Flex Finger Exercise System works on your pinch grip. The Digi-Extend, on the other hand, works on your support grip while helping to strengthen your whole hand with the rubber band.

To complete these exercises, all you need to do is pick up each tool and complete the desired number of reps. They are super easy to use and can be done while doing other activities, like watching TV.

barbells and kettlebells

2. Plate Curls

To perform a plate curl just grip a plate, palm up, with your thumb and fingers. Your wrist should lift and leave a gap between the plate and your palm. 

Bending at the elbow, lift the plate up, hold it for a moment, and then lower it back down. 

Start practicing plate curls by using smaller and lighter plates, and then slowly upgrading to heavier plates as your grip strength improves. 

Repeat this exercise 5-10 times with each hand.

man with plate

3. Plate Pinch Hold

Increase your support grip and the length of time you can hold heavy things using plate pinch holds.

To do so, place a 10-pound plate on the ground or on a box or seat. 

Lower your body to pinch the plate with your fingers. Do not wrap your thumb around the plate. You should be holding onto the plate with your fingertips. 

Stand straight up, holding the plate by your side. Lift the plate up so your arm is parallel with your shoulders and hold this position for 5-10 seconds before lowering the plate back down. 

Repeat for 5-10 reps and with your other hand.

Man holding 2 plates

4. Deadlift Holds with a Barbell

Squat and grip the barbell with both hands with your wrists up in an underhand grip, just outside of your legs. 

Looking up, lift the barbell until you are standing straight up and hold it for as long as you can. This exercise targets your support grip.

Note that the key to using deadlifts to improve grip strength is to not use mixed or alternate grips because it turns into a strength exercise if you do.

man lifiting barbel

5. Farmer’s Walks

To complete a farmer’s walk, use dumbbells, kettlebells, or plates with towels fed through the holes to create loops.

Squat, then grip the dumbbell, kettlebells, or plates palms down with an overhand grip, and stand up straight. 

While holding the dumbbell, kettlebells or plates off the ground with your arms lowered, walk 25-50 yards and repeat for 8 sets. 

This exercise builds muscle and increases the weight that you can grip and the amount of time that you can grip it.

grip strength exercises

6. Dumbbell Head Grab

Mimic opening the lid of a jar by grabbing a dumbbell head about the size of your hand with your fingertips. Do not lay your palm on the dumbbell head. 

While still holding the dumbbell head this way, lift it up and hold it in the air for at least 30 seconds. Repeat the desired number of reps to increase your pinch grip.

Be careful not to choose a dumbbell head that is too wide because if you do, you run the risk of straining your thumb. 

lady with dumbbell

7. Towel Chin-Ups

A towel chin-up is performed much like a normal chin-up, except that you are using a towel to pull yourself up. 

To do this, throw a towel over a pull-up bar, do not tie any knots in the towel, and pull yourself up by pulling on either side of the towel. 

Do as many chin-ups as you can to strengthen your grip. This exercise not only improves your grip but also works your forearms as well.

towel pull ups

Tips for Improving Grip Strength

There are several things you can do to with every exercise you execute, even if it does not target grip, to make it even more effective in increasing your grip strength. It’s like working on your grip without having to learn brand new exercises!

If you want to see even more progress with your grip strength, you can challenge yourself by increasing the difficulty level of all of your workouts that involve your hands.

Follow these tips on your next trip to the gym so you can start seeing results faster.

dumbbells and plates
  • Drop the Straps

Using tools like straps will not improve your grip or help you build muscle even though they make lifting easier. In fact, they can actually even hinder your progress. 

Straps make it easier to lift heavy weights by taking some of the load off of your grip instead of actually working your grip muscles to strengthen them. 

Instead of using straps, use a lower weight until you can hold it up on your own and work your way up to using a heavier weight.

  • Cut Out the Chalk
    While chalk is mainly used to decrease slippage and make sure you have a good hold on the bar, cutting it out could actually strengthen your grip. [3]

    Without chalk, you have to keep the equipment steady or decrease slippage on your own. This works to activate more of the muscles needed to for a stronger grip.
chalk on hand
  • Lift Heavy
    Instead of doing a lot of reps when doing wrist curls, do more work with less by doing heavy deadlifts. 

    Not only does it work more of your body, but it also requires fewer reps to strengthen your grip. Continuously challenging your muscles is key to strengthening them.
improving grip strength using weights
  • Squeeze the Bar
    While performing a set or routine, try to squeeze the bar as hard as you can for an added way to increase grip. 

    This goes for any exercise you do — even if it's just around the handles of a cardio machine. Squeezing the bar activates more muscles and leads to a stronger grip.
squeeze bar
  • Use a Fat Bar/Fat Gripz
    Adding tools like these is another way to activate more of your grip when performing exercises.

    These tools increase the size of the area you are gripping and work even more muscles during workouts. This is also a good way to further your progress without adding more weight. [4]

FAQs on ​Grip Strength Exercises

lady with dumbells
  • How can I improve my grip strength for pull-ups?
    You can improve grip strength for pull-ups by doing grip training exercises like plate curls, deadlifts, and farmers walks.

    Towel chin-ups and hand exercise tools are also great ways to increase grip strength for pull-ups.
  • What are the benefits of improved grip strength?
    The benefits of improved grip strength include increasing the muscles of your forearm, strengthening your hand, improving your hand endurance and dexterity, and even a healthier heart function. [5]

    Grip strength is the base of all exercises, so improving it will also improve your performance in the gym. 

Studies have also shown that hand grip strength can be a good indicator of the quality of life in old age.

Musalek, Kirchengast, 2017

If you use your grip every day, don’t you want to keep it in good shape?

Grip Training Guidelines

Dumbbells

When you are ready to start grip training, it is important to follow a few simple rules to prevent injury. Injuring your hands can be show stopper and if you have never worked on grip strengthening before, you may be more likely to get injured. The key is to go slow and steady with your grip exercises. [6]

  • Start off Small 
    Don’t just jump into full-on grip training exercises right away, especially if you have never done any before. Start by making small changes to exercises you already do, like using a towel to do chin-ups. Once your hands are used to being targeted, you can move on to harder grip training exercises.
  • Progress Slowly 
    Once you move on to a full grip strengthening workout, don’t rush to incorporate them everywhere every day of the week. Start by only doing 1-2 grip exercises once a week. 

    After a few weeks of that, add an extra exercise into your workouts and do it an extra day. Do this and work your way up every few weeks to 3-5 exercises done three days a week.
calendar
  • Don’t Go Overboard
    After you start strengthening your grip at least 3 days a week, keep yourself from going overboard on the amount of sets and reps your complete. Most people see good results with only 3-5 sets and 3-5 reps each set.
  • Don’t Forget the Rest of Your Hand
    When Strengthening your grip, it is important to make sure the rest of your hand can keep up. To do this, take the time to strengthen the muscles on the back of your hand, the extensors.

    A simple and easy way to strengthen your extensors is to take a strong rubber band, like the ones you find on produce, wrap it around your thumb and fingers, and slowly open your hand. Hold your hand open for 2-3 seconds and complete as many reps as you can.

​What We Learned ​On ​Improving Your Grip Strength

getting ready for grip exercises

Improving your grip strength is as simple as regularly performing hand grip exercises and adding a new technique to exercises that don’t target grip.

By targeting all three types of grips in different ways, your overall grip strength will begin to improve and so will your performance in various other exercises and workouts, as well in your everyday life.

After all,


“Hand grip strength is increasingly seen as an appropriate indicator of physical wellbeing and social, psychic and somatic health. There is no doubt that hand grip strength is, first of all, a strong indicator of muscle strength and muscle mass"

Musalek, Kirchengast, 2017

Strengthen and maintain your grip by doing these simple exercises starting today. Stop letting your progress plateau because of your weak grip and start impressing people with your strong handshake and jar opening abilities!


References

​​​​1. Christina Musalek ​& Sylvia Kirchengast, Grip Strength as an Indicator of Health-Related Quality of Life in Old Age—A Pilot Study, retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5750866/

2. Richard K Shields, Ken C Leo, Andrew J Messaros, Virend K Somers, Effects of Repetitive Handgrip Training on Endurance, Specificity, and Cross–Education, retrieved from https://academic.oup.com/ptj/article/79/5/467/2837059

​3. Gazzetta Medica Italiana, Does the usage of gymnastics chalk have a positive impact on hand grip strength?, retrieved from https://www.researchgate.net/publication/327500102_Does_the_usage_of_gymnastics_chalk_have_a_positive_impact_on_hand_grip_strength

4. Cummings PM, Waldman HS, Krings BM, Smith JW, McAllister MJ., Effects of Fat Grip Training on Muscular Strength and Driving Performance in Division I Male Golfers., retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/28195977

​5. Gregory, Tessa, Get a Grip: Stronger handgrip may be linked to healthier heart function and structure, retrieved from http://researchnews.plos.org/2018/03/14/get-a-grip-stronger-handgrip-may-be-linked-to-healthier-heart-function-and-structure/

6. Heart.Org, Preventing Injury During Your Workout, retrieved from https://www.heart.org/en/healthy-living/fitness/fitness-basics/preventing-injury-during-your-workout

About the author

Isaac

I’m a personal fitness trainer and nutritionist living in sunny Indianapolis, IN. I’ve spent the last 8 years staying at the forefront of the health and fitness industry. In that time, I’ve helped hundreds of people shed the excess weight and get into shape, maintaining their healthy new lifestyle through proper training and eating habits.

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