Saturday, 24 May 2014

Basic Grip Strength Training

I was going to write a post on training with my hangboard/ mini campus board. However as I thought about it I realised I would probably be doing people a disservice by not first discussing some basic grip strength before taking on something much harder (campus boarding). So this article is my take on some very simple at home grip training. There are many facets of grip training which you can read about on (great explanation of the elements of grip here), however what I suggest here is very simple, and requires very little equipment to take you a long way into grip training. I used the convict conditioning 2 book to train up to the one arm towel hang, and much of what I present here is in the book (as well as elsewhere on the internet for free). I have tried not to give away much of the CC2 book as the author has put a great deal of work into the book and it would be unethical for me to present it here for free. I will however lay out some basic training ideas to help you build an excellent base of grip strength. If you are struggling to reach much higher levels (one arm towel hang) I suggest investing in the CC2 book.

Why train the grip?

So many authors have written on this topic so it’s not necessary for me to repeat it all here. The short version is that a strong grip will make both training and lifting easier. If grip is lacking it can limit your upper body pressing and pulling, if your grip is strong you can squeeze harder and radiate more power though the body (Pavel Tsatsouline) etc. That, and grip training is just fun.

Basic hangs

I believe a one minute bar hang is a good indicator of a reasonable level of grip strength and from here you can try some hang boarding, rope or towel hangs etc. If you are unable to do a vertical bar hang from a pull up bar (or other high bar) then horizontal hangs is a good place to start. Using either rings or a low bar, hang under the bar with your body held rigid (tight abs, back and butt). Keep the shoulders held back and tight (left hand photos), not soft and high (right hand photos). You could do some ‘shrugs’ between the two positions, but I suggest focusing on keeping the shoulders back. Aim for 2-3 sets of 30 seconds to 1 minute holds before moving on to vertical hangs.

Eyes closed because its raining.
All the same rules (suggestions) apply for the vertical hang, shoulders tight, aim for 2-3 sets of 1 minute hangs. From there you could add time, aiming for a 2 or even 3 minute hang, or move onto more difficult hangs.

Squeeze the butt, point the toes, build good movement habits

Some options for incorporating this kind of hang training is to add these hangs to the end of a pulling training session, or on their own as a mini workout during the week. Personally I find that the morning is not a good time for training the grip, not sure why but I always feel much weaker in the morning. Although that may not be the case for you.  Another good option is to do your max pull ups (or rows) then continue to hang for as long as possible.

While you’re hanging

One good piece of added training while you are hanging is to do scap pulls (see Ido Portal). I haven’t been trained by Ido Portal but I believe these are done by pulling the scapular back and down, causing the chest to rise. I suspect these would carry over well to training the front lever.

Higher levels of grip training

Once you have a solid vertical hang you could move onto more difficult versions of hangs. One arm hangs and eventually one arm towel hangs are an excellent step in training both the grip and solid shoulder positions (keep the shoulder packed tight). A good exercise to do is to hang from both hands, release one and swing out, then retake your grip and let go with the other hand to swing out to the other side. Thing could be combined with shrugging the shoulders or pull ups.

Keep that shoulder tight

Other options are to use two towels for hangs, pull ups and hanging core work. I used to use these like a drop set after a harder version of hangs. I would take two towels and knock out some hanging leg lifts (credit to for the idea).

The same can be done on a short length of rope. The rope I use here cost about $5NZ per metre, I bought 3 metres and gave a metre to each of my friends who train at home.

Fat bars

Fat bars (2-3 inches) are another excellent option for grip training. I have a fat barbell and dumbbells which currently live at a friend’s house, but you can turn your pull up bar into a fat bar by wrapping it in a towel.

Two small towels wrapped around the bar

Personally I don’t often use these grip training approaches for pull ups since I am putting most of my energy into training for the one arm chin up. However if max pulling strength is not your primary goal adding these into for regular pull up workouts could work very well.

Other grip training options

There are countless other options for training the grip such as crush grippers, pinch training, block weights, ripping cards/phone books, sandbags etc. I have tried to outline the simplest options using minimal equipment to build your base before trying out different versions of grip training.

Training the extensors

Training the finger extensors (opening your hand) is important for building max wrist strength, stability and for injury prevention. I’ll cover these more thoroughly in my next post, but just quickly here, finger tip push ups, rubber band extensions, reverse curls, and rice buckets are all good options. Full article here.


  1. How finger tip push ups works finger extensors?

    1. I talk about it more in the other article - "holding the hand in an isometric position uses both sides of the hand, allowing us to get in some extensor training"