Grip Strength
Credit: Photograph by Peter Bohler

Anyone who's ever done a dead lift, swung a kettlebell, or struggled to climb a rope knows how essential a strong grip is to fitness, not to mention our general functionality. It's through our hands, as well as our feet, that we experience and manipulate the physical world, so having a strong grip helps with everything in life. People who have a physically demanding job — mechanics and plumbers and fishermen — have incredibly strong hands. But not all of us can say the same.

In fact, if you're fit, your grip may not be able to keep up with the rest of you. For a lot of exercises, you're only as strong as your ability to hold on to a bar or grab a kettlebell. That's why stronger people sometimes need straps to do dead lifts; because the load they're lifting is too much for their hands to hold on to. If your grip begins to fatigue before the rest of your body does, it may be holding you back. And so can gripping too hard: Overgripping barbells or kettles or even the handlebars on a bike can lead to all kinds of elbow and forearm problems. Here are a few ways to work out your hands, wrists, and fingers, and even stretch them when you're through.

RADICAL FITNESS: All of Laird Hamilton's Advice in One Place

Climb a rope. 
Ropes are unbelievable for overall body strength, but they're also great for improving grip. You simply can't pull yourself up if you don't have a good grip. Even swinging and working with those training ropes you see on the ground at the gym will challenge and improve your grasp. The wider the rope, the more challenging the climb: An inch-and-a-half rope makes you open up your hand that much further, and that's going to get the grip strong.

Beef up your barbell.
A thicker bar is going to make you open your hand more when you lift it or press it, and that will challenge, and ultimately improve, your hand strength.

Fingertip push-ups.
If you ever find that push-ups are getting too easy (or even if you don't), try a set on your fingertips. This will fatigue your fingers as well as the rest of you. And if you're feeling strong, you can do them with your thumbs and your index fingers.

Hang out.
Hanging from a tree, a jungle gym, a rope improves grip strength. Instead of doing pull-ups, try hanging from the bar until you just can't anymore, like a guy holding on for dear life to a rock on a cliff. Just do it until you have to let go.

Get a squeeze grip.
You know those squishy squeeze balls that are supposed to strengthen your grip? Well, they actually work. So do the ones with the gyroscope inside and even the old squeaky ones you squeeze together.

And one stretch.
Standing on your knees, lean forward, with palms flat on the floor and your wrists turned so fingers face toward you. Gently stretch. You can also do this standing, with your arm outstretched, parallel to the ground, and your palm on a wall or door jamb.