Want to Lift More? Start With Your Grip Strength

Follow these tips to build grip strength and boost the rest of your lifts.
Follow these tips to build grip strength and boost the rest of your lifts. Mel Curtis / Getty Images

Your hands are fundamental for strength. You can only lift as much as you can hold, which makes developing grip and forearm strength essential for gains. A weak grip limits the number of reps and the amount of weight you can move for pulling exercises like deadlifts, rows, and chin-ups. And that, in turn, reduces how effectively you can build your bigger back muscles. What’s more, strong hands and forearms complete the kinetic chain that transfers power into a barbell or dumbbell for pressing exercises. Translation: Those pushing movements are far easier to do. Here, our five tips will make sure grip strength is propelling you forward, not holding you back.

Tip 1: Ditch the Straps
To save calloused hands or to just lift more weight, many guys will rely on lifting straps. This neglects your actual grip strength muscles and creates a dependency on straps that will only disappoint you the second you take them off.

Tip 2: Add Loaded Carries
A great tool for training the grip is simple loaded carries like farmer’s walks, fireman carries, and atlas stone carries. For farmer’s walks, find any open stretch and simply walk as far as possible with quick strides while carrying the heaviest dumbbells you can and maintaining good form: upright torso, shoulders down and back, abs engaged. This also improves strength and muscular endurance of the shoulders and traps. Aim for a one-minute walk to start, and increasing by 15-second increments as your grip gets better.

Tip 3: Do More Pulling Than Pushing
Grip strength often stays weak simply because the pulling muscles aren’t adequately trained. Which, for 9 out of 10 guys, may mean you don’t want to do a 1:1 ratio of pull and push exercises. For most of us, muscle imbalances, dominance issues, and rear-side weakness beg for more cumulative volume of pull exercises to establish proper strength and developmental balance. Use staple pull exercises like chin-ups, deadlifts, pull-downs, and barbell and dumbbell rows often to train the back and strengthen the grip.

Tip 4: Use Higher Rep Sets
The forearm muscles and grip strength are geared toward muscular endurance more than explosive power. Doing sets of six rows and chin-ups, for example, won’t tap into muscular endurance at all. Instead, train the muscles of the forearms and back with higher rep ranges (like 12 to 15) to see real gains in muscle development and performance.

Tip 5: Avoid Mixed Grip Deadlifts
Using a mixed grip for your heaviest pulls is understandable. But using it for every single set does your grip no good. Not only are you creating potential muscle imbalances by constantly turning one arm internally and one externally, but you’re also torqueing the barbell without truly letting your holding strength do the job. Use a double overhand grip when deadlifting for as long as you can before you absolutely need to make the switch to lift a heavy load.