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Primal Grip: The Definitive Strongevity Measure
Techniques for a better grip
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The Primacy of Grip
The ability to carry heavy loads distinguishes humans from other animals. One could argue it is what makes us human. Our ability to carry load depends on our ability to grip the load.
Given that demand, it shouldn’t surprise us that grip strength is a powerful marker of longevity. Our hands are how we translate strength to the world around us. If our hands are weak, we cannot be strong. If we’re not strong, we’re weak. If we’re weak, we won’t live a long, high quality life.
The challenge with adding meaningful grip work to an existing strength program is that it can impact other training more than you think if aren’t careful with how you program it. Deadlifting, which requires holding heavy load in your hands, is considered one of the most systemically fatiguing lifts of all the lifts. The demands of intense grip training and the movements associated with it requires careful consideration of broader programming.
Since grip is how you translate your strength to the world, you must be careful not to impair grip such that it affects the majors.
Types of Grip Work
I think about grip work in three categories:
Holds. The most common application of grip. Holds are where you grip an object and hold it in your hands for duration. Holds include things like dead hangs on a pull-up bar, farmer’s walks, or just standing with a heavy deadlift and holding it.
Crushes. Crushes are where you’re trying to exert maximal or near-maximal grip force in your hands for a short duration. Whereas holds are are more of an endurance effort, crushes are more of a sprint. Crush exercises include things like Captains of Crush grippers and Rolling Thunder lifts.
Pinches. Pinches like crushes in that they are maximal or near-maximal force efforts, except the involve the fingers instead of the whole hand. Pinch exercises include things like hub lifts and Titan’s Telegraph. Pinches are probably the least used of the three
Ideally you incorporate a little from each category in your grip work.
Simple Grip Work Additions
Here are four grip exercises you should be able to do in almost any gym:
Dead hangs. Chalk up your hands. Grab a pull up bar. Hold on.
Farmer’s walks. Load a pair of farmer’s handles. If your gym doesn’t have one, load a trap bar or find some heavy dumbbells. Pick up the weight and walk with it.
Plate pinches. Stand up a pair of heavy plates at the gym, chalk up your hands, and pick up a plate by pinching it. You can even carry them if you want.
Clamp pinches. You can do this one anywhere. Find a standard large metal clamp. Pinch the clamp open using your thumb and fingers on your working hand.
How far? How long? How many reps?
Unless you’re training for any of these exercises specifically, I like to keep my effort on grip work around a 7 RPE or 70%. So if I can dead hang for two minutes, I might hand for 75 seconds for two sets. If I can farmer’s walk 500 for 100 feet, I might do 300 for a couple of sets of 100 feet.
Keeping the intensity relatively low lets me work these exercises in when convenient relative to the rest of my training. Sometimes I use farmer’s walks as a warm up for a lower body training day. Sometimes I do dead hangs at the end of an upper body day. Pinches the same.
Advanced Grip Work
If you really want to work your grip, here are two strongman exercises I always loved:
Rolling Thunder. The Rolling Thunder is a rotating fat grip handle made by Ironmind. It requires strong crushing strength because the handle is not only thick, but it also rotates as you try to lift it. If you can deadlift your bodyweight on a Rolling Thunder, you have a pretty strong grip.
Axle bar. The axle bar is a staple in strongman. Usually, axle work involves cleaning the bar and pressing it. Cleans with an axle are significantly harder than with a barbell because you have to hold the thick bar in your hands, and the collars don’t rotate. Use an axle for cleans or deadlifts, and you will develop crushing grip strength.
I treat these moves largely the same as the simple grip tools. Keep the RPE at moderately difficult. Occasionally test yourself for a max on the Thunder or axle. Work these after your core work, not before.
Go train that grip, and stay stronger for longer.
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