Forearm, Grip Strength Training, and Hand Strengthening Exercises | Not Your Average Fitness Tips

Forearm, Grip Strength Training, and Hand Strengthening Exercises

In my opinion, forearms and hands are some of the most underrated muscles in the body.  While forearm, grip strength training, and hand strengthening exercises won’t necessarily add mass or build impressive looking muscles, these types of workouts can help develop functional strength.  General forearm strength is required for a number of different lifts.  If you’re forearms aren’t strong, they can be a limiting factor.  Additionally, once you start doing forearm exercises, you might be surprised to find that your other lifts actually improve.  Hand and grip strength can help with everything from a simple activity like carrying a suitcase to any number of sports such as wrestling, martial arts, football, and baseball.

Popeye may have overdone forearm strength training just a bit

Forearm Exercises

Building strong forearms can help you get stronger at other lifts.  For example, it’s very tough to do pull ups or deadlifts if you can’t hang onto the bar.  Generally speaking, your forearms get a lot of the training they need from exercises that require pulling motions.  However, it can be beneficial to add additional forearm training exercises to your routine.  A few examples include:

1.      Wrist curls
2.      Reverse wrist curls
3.      Rotating unilaterally loaded dumbbells

In doing forearm exercises, I generally work in the 10 rep range.  This is one area of strength training that I think benefits from a slight endurance approach.  Overall, forearm exercises are a great place to start building functional strength and should help improve your lifts, but if you really want to take it to the next level, you should focus on grip and hand strength training.

Grip Strength Training

In my opinion, people can have strong forearms without having strong hands, but can’t have strong hands without having strong forearms.  Grip strength training should help improve both hand strength and forearm strength.  In general, there are four types of grip strength:

1.      Pinch grip: squeezing something between your thumb and fingers
2.      Supporting grip: holding onto something
3.      Opening your hand
4.      Crushing grip: shaking hands

Bruce Lee had incredibly strong hands.  He was able to stick a finger through the side of a full can of soda and perform two finger pushups:

Incidentally, my current workout routine involves getting strong enough to do one-arm pushups.  Maybe after that, I’ll work toward two fingers pushups.

Hand Strengthening Exercises

To properly train your hands, you should try to include training for each specific grip type.  For pinch grip strength, you can hold a heavy object such as a weight plate (or two weight plates) between your thumb and fingers.  Supporting grip strength is attained by holding really heavy objects, such as dumbbells, in your hands or alternatively hanging from a pull up bar.  You can train your extensors, the muscles responsible for opening your hand, by wrapping rubber bands around your fingers and opening your hand against the tension.

For crushing grip strength, you’ll need hand grippers.  Unfortunately, the ones sold in most stores are really cheap and built for very high reps.  You’d get just as good a workout from simply trying to crush a tennis ball.  To get a really good strength training workout, I’d recommend getting Heavy Grips or Captains of Crush.  These are for serious hand strength training, and it will be highly challenging to close the grippers with 350+lbs of torque resistance.  I won’t outline a full workout routine, but you can perform a standard squeeze, inverted squeeze, and negatives where you squeeze the gripper as long and hard as you can.  The hands heal very quickly so you can perform a routine upwards of 4-5 times per week if you’d like.  I stick with 3 days per week to allow one full day of rest though.

Stronger Hands, Stronger Lifts

If you haven’t given forearm, grip strength training, or hand strengthening exercises a try, I’d recommend including a few of the above exercises in your routine.  Stronger hands will help you with pulling exercises and help you gain functional strength.  Maybe one day you can even accomplish the same feats as Bruce Lee.  For starters, just focus on getting strong enough to carry a 60lb suitcase through the airport without wheeling it along.

23 Responses to “Forearm, Grip Strength Training, and Hand Strengthening Exercises”

  • Yes you are right hands and for me a lesser extent foremans limit my deadlifts and hanging leg raises. I’ve tried to build it up with Farmer’s Walk (I refuse to use straps) so perhaps Heavy Grips might be the way to help?
    Probably Bruce Lee’s hand strength came from Wing Chun That was his initial background, I did it for for a couple of years and Iron Palm training was very big component. I remember 1 of the hand workouts was to continuously punch a bag of dried peas against a solid brick wall .. it hurt.
    Raymond

  • Dave,

    I used to do forearm isolation exercises but decided they were taking too much time for what I was getting out of them. I do a lot of pull ups, deadlifts, and cleans and have found them to be awesome exercises that automatically strengthen my grip.

  • Raymond,
    I’ve enjoyed using the Heavy Grips. Definitely beats any gripper you can buy in the store. Nice insight on Bruce Lee. I imagine another common exercise was performing pushups on his fingertips.

    Darrin,
    I agree that forearm isolation exercises aren’t a great use of time compared to compound exercises. However, the great thing about grip strength training is that you can just do it while watching TV, even separate from you regular routine.

    Dave

  • Dave,

    I’m glad you touched on forearm and grip strength exercises since not many people focus on them. These are very important exercises for rock climbing also. I know some climbers who regularly train their forearms.

    Alykhan

  • Josh:

    Captains of Crush grippers are awesome. Farmers walk is also an excellent way to go.

    After my deads, I like to do heavy holds. Just load up a bar, lift off the pins, and hold as long as you can. Watch your deadlifts improve within weeks.

    Very good post Dave, about an overlooked piece of the fitness puzzle.

  • Josh,
    I have the Heavy Grips but supposedly Captains of Crush are the best of the best. Your forearms must burn by doing holds after your deadlifts. Great way to really work grip strength though. Hold on like your life depends on it!
    Dave

  • Dave,
    When I first started powerlifting, the first thing my coach did was take my wrist wraps and throw them in the corner. He said don’t ever wear them when you are deadlifting, you can’t wear them on the platform, so don’t wear them while you train. It took a little getting used to, but my grip was never the weak link with my deadlifts. I think doing heavy holds like Josh recommends is a great way to improve your grip and your deadlifts! Bruce Lee was a beast! I wonder what it would be like if he was still around.

    -Kelly

  • Kelly,
    Sounds like your coach did you a big favor! Heavy holds, hanging from a pullup bar, or anything that forces you to maintain your grip is great for forearm training. I’m not sure we’ll ever see another like the great Bruce Lee…
    Dave

  • Dave, ever tried a wrist roller? Amazing for engaging the forearm. Btw – a balanced forearm routine will prevent injuries too.

    Also these ==> Rotating unilaterally loaded dumbbells are great for preventing forearm imbalance from too much pulling training.

    Yavor

  • Yavor,
    I used a wrist roller way back in high school and that was the foundation of my training. I wanted to have a really strong grip and forearms for wrestling so that once someone got in my grasp, they couldn’t get away. Thanks for reminding me about this excellent exercise. Excellent point about the unilaterally loaded DBs as well.
    Dave

  • I remember the first time I went wakeboarding, I could not get up as I could not hold on to the bar. I spent the following winter strengthening my forearms and it also made a huge difference in my lifts. I also used the wrist roller. its the best exercise in my opinion, funny that its not part of gym culture anymore.

  • Alejandro,
    Thanks for another wrist roller testimonial. It’s becoming clear that I should probably start using one again.
    Dave

  • Toni:

    Believe it or not, I’ve found that kettlebells have helped my grip strength tremendously. The one-arm swings really helped my left side gain strength (I’m right-handed).

  • Toni,
    Kettlebells are great for forearm and grip strength as are any type of hanging exercise like pullups or even hanging leg raises. Just one more way to improve your overall fitness level.
    Dave

  • Toni:

    I can completely tell that my forearm is stronger b/c now I can take a heavy pan filled with food from the stove and turn it sideways into a serving platter or bowl without my arm shaking which used to happen A LOT. One of the many benefits of getting stronger, lol.

  • Toni,
    Definitely an added benefit to increased forearm strength. That’s what functional fitness is all about!
    Dave

  • Toni:

    Dave,

    I noticed too with my forearms getting a bit stronger that I’m able to bang out sets of *regular* push-ups like nobody’s business, lol. I NEVER used to be able to barely do two in a row without feeling like my arm was going to give out – seriously. I ALWAYS had to modify to the ‘girl version’ of the pushup. I’m starting to realize that although I was slender, my overall strength was very much lacking. That’s been extremely eye-opening for sure.

  • Toni,
    Glad to hear you’re getting stronger. Increasing forearm and grip strength with help with weight lifting or pullups too.
    Dave

  • Toni:

    Dave,

    What do you think of those forearm and hand exercise things that they sell in the sporting goods stores? They almost look like the bottom of pruning shears. Do they really work? They are dirt-cheap but I always hesitate b/c I think maybe it’s just a lot of hype.

  • Toni,
    Are you referring to the simple hand grippers (see the pic in the article)? If so, the ones in the sporting good stores are pretty weak meaning you should be able to squeeze them very easily. I use them for warming up before moving on to Heavy Grips which provide a lot more resistance. I train my hands like I train other muscles using low rep, heavy weight (or in this case, heavy resistance). Store bought grippers are better for high rep, light resistance training so are best just for increasing endurance, not strength or power.
    Dave

  • Stig:

    Yep, kettlebells are awesome. I’ve also always just done simple two knuckle pushups to build up my forearms and wrists. They are very very effective.

  • Stig,
    Good though on the pushups. I’ve also being doing finger tip planks which I feel like helps hand strength.
    Dave

  • Rick:

    I’ve seen those fat grips that you put on dumbbells and barbells so that your grip gets worked more. I haven’t tried them though, but I can see how they would help. They are way too expensive for what they are though…

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