Monday, November 9, 2009

Training your grip

Came across a cool article in Gracie Mag that had some great advice about increasing your grip strength.
Thought I'd share:

How to Develop a Bone Crushing Grip

For years, I was never able to beat him, but he was always there to help with advice on how I could someday win. A one time Olympic caliber rower, my father would brag of how thick the calluses once were across his hands and he would always impress me with feats of hand strength like driving a single finger through the lids of jars of peanuts and coffee.

I also had an Uncle that was a three-star general in the Air Force who would crush my hand with his grip at every family reunion. No matter how hard or long you held his grip for, he would always wait until you released first. It was an impressive show of dominance of one man over another.

These two men had powerful influence over me when it came to training my hands. I remember with joy seeing my first callus forming in my palm when I started lifting weights around 13 years old. As the years went on, my dad’s advice paid off and one Sunday evening our grips were locked in a battle and I almost beat him. Interestingly, we never arm wrestled again. Not only was he strong, he was smart too.

There were many years of training that went by following that time of my life when I was convinced that grip training was essential not just to being an athlete, but to being a man. When I began training jiu jitsu in 1998, I was again reminded not only that grip training was important, but also that my grip was not as strong as I thought.

Training with the gi was tough on my hands at first, and although I had strong hands in the gym, I quickly learned that there was more work to be done before my hands could be considered battle tested. In addition to this, I started training and working with ADCC medalist and UFC veteran Sean Alvarez around this time.

Sean was helping me with no gi takedowns one training session and he clamped down with both hands on my left wrist like a bear trap. Not only did I know I wasn’t getting my hand back, but I was also worried he was actually going to break my arm with the sheer power of his hands.

This event was the final straw that made sure that grip work became a staple in my training with fighters. Since that time, many of the fighters (Renzo, Ricardo Almeida, Roger Gracie) may have cursed me for what we have done to our hands, but their grips have never let them down in competition.

Simply put, if you have a strong grip, you have an advantage. If you have a weak grip, you have a liability. Regardless of what you might like to believe if you fear training the hands hard, a vice-like grip can be the difference between getting the takedown or not, finishing the submission or not, or ultimately winning or losing. Without a strong grip, your hands become the weak link in the chain of the entire body.

The deadlift is a great example of this statement. Imagine that you are trying to deadlift 450 pounds from the floor and you have the arms, back and legs that are strong enough to do it. The only problem is that your hands can only hold 300 pounds. Do you see that the heavy lift is now impossible and that the entire body will be limited in how much it can perform? Now take that same concept and apply it to your fight game. The last thing that you want is holes like this in your game holding you back.

Now that I have your attention, this article is designed to show you new ways for training the grip that you may never have either seen or tried before. The great news is that training the grip does not require expensive equipment. Most of the training we do is with simple pieces that you already probably have, or can get rather easily.

Below is a short list of 5 exercises I like to use with my fighters to develop a bonecrushing grip. Over 300 more full color exercises for all parts of the body can be found in my new book, Training for Warriors: The Ultimate Mixed Martial Arts Workout.

Bar Grip Exercises

1. Band Deadlifts

This exercise is a real challenge for the grip. By using elastic bands connected to the bar, as the athlete lifts up the bar gets heavier and tries to rip from the athlete’s hands. We do sets of 5 reps and hold the first 4 reps for 5 seconds at the top and the last rep for 10. This way we are building leg and back strength in addition to a powerful isometric grip.

2. Fat Bar Holds

We use a fat bar to challenge the grip. If you don’t have a fat bar, you can place tape or clothes around the bar to make it thicker. At that point, each athlete lifts a certain amount of weight (we usually use 225-275) and see who can hold it the longest. This is a killer on the forearms.

Gi or Canvas Bag Grip Exercises

1. Gi Chin Ups

In addition to bar work, I have found that you must still replicate the demands on the hands of the gi to truly train the grip for competition. The first place we started was with the gi looped over the chin up bar. We do sets of 6 and add weight if we can do more. We use grips on both the lapel and the gi material to toughen the hands correctly and work different angles of grips.

2. Sandbag Lifts

A sandbag is an easy tool to make and a great tool to challenge the grip and the rest of the body. All you need is a big canvas duffel bag or two, some sand and some duct tape and you are ready to rock. I fill one duffel bag with a certain amount of sand, tape the bag shut and then place that bag inside another bag and tape that one shut. This way, there is no mess and you have a great training tool. We use a 120 pound bag for bag lifts. During this lift you grab the bag with the grip and lift with the legs and place it up on a high box.

Rope Exercises

1. Rope Climbs

If you have somewhere safe to hang the ropes, rope climbs are also a great exercise for the fighter. Although I like standing more for function and safety, this is another demanding exercise that is a must if you want a strong grip. Depending on the height of the rope, that will determine how many sets and climbs you do.

The grip is an area of the body that is often overlooked and under-trained. When I hear talk of some legendary fighters like Mark Kerr and current stars like Minotauro, I hear a common thread that athletes that have competed against them say: they had an iron grip! Until you have appreciated a competitor’s grip that could not be broken, you may not take this article as serious as it is, but I hope this article is a wake up call. Now get to work on that grip!

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