Get A Grip: How to Improve Your Hand Strength And Wrist Mobility

This is an article from NF Head Trainer Jim Bathurst

Do your wrists hurt during the day?

Do you find grip a limiting factor in the gym (I see you chin-ups and deadlifts) or in everyday life (looking at you, pickle jars)?

If so, don’t worry! We’ve got a handle on this (pun 100% intended). In today’s article, we’re going to outline a number of helpful, handy (sigh) stretches and exercises to help eliminate pain and build you some powerful, useful hands.

Like, Fists of Fury. Or…hands of Fury? Wrists of Fury?

Either way, today we’re going to teach you everything you need to know about hand strength. This is a favorite area of expertise for me. I’ve worked my grip for years and years, and recently won a local grip competition!

In fact, I’m currently typing this one handed while squeezing coal into diamonds with my other hand.

Not really, but I promise my grip strength is above average.

Now, it goes without saying that the hands and forearms are anatomically complicated areas. I am also not your mother, or your doctor. If anything in the article below causes pain, or your pain is not alleviated by these stretches – call in the pros! See a physical therapist or sports massage practitioner!

Grip: A Brief Overview

We use our hands for EVERYTHING. 

Whether it’s everyday tasks like carrying groceries, opening jars, and lifting suitcases, or gym-related activities like chin-ups, rows, and deadlifts. Of course, you probably also type at your computer for hours – with resulting aches and pains at the end of the work day.

Guess what? Stretching out the hands and building up a strong grip can help in all of those areas. A strong grip has even been correlated to lower mortality rates – and you can also imagine the usefulness of a stronger grip for aging individuals if they happen to slip.

Our point is that it’s always better to have a stronger grip! A weak grip will hold you back in so many areas!

BUT WHERE TO START?

The hands are complex, and training them can seem just as complicated. We’ll simplify matters a bit and you can categorize the grip exercises into the follow general types:

CRUSH

 

This is what you probably think of when you think of a “strong grip”. This is the whole hand closing in around something. A strong handshake. None of that dead-fish handshake stuff!

PINCH

Think of making an alligator mouth with your hands, and chomping down. In this grip, there tends to be a lot more work/stress on the thumb. This is important to work, as the thumb is a vital part of a strong grip!

SUPPORT
This is similar to crush, but rather than the ability to close, this type of grip tests the ability to hold.

EXTENSION
Every action has an opposite reaction, right? This type of grip work is all about strengthening the opposing muscles. We were built to grab and hold onto things, so these muscles will not be as strong.

WRIST WORK


Wrist movement and wrist stability is the focus here. In order to be able to transfer energy from the body through the hands (for opening those pickle jars) we need to make sure every link in the chain is strong.

When putting together a grip routine of your own, it’s a good idea to cycle through these different types of grips over the course of the week, in order to work different muscles and different angles. If you have to pick just two though, I’d put my money on stretches, crushing and extension to get your hands strong and keep them healthy!

How To Improve Grip Strength

Alright, you’re ready to jump into grip strength training! I’ve outlined a number of stretches and exercises for you to do, no matter where you are and what equipment you have. Skim over and see what you can add into your daily mix or gym training!

STRETCHES AT YOUR DESK

You might be reading this while sitting at your computer right now. We put a LOT of stress on our hands and wrists over the course of a day, so take the time to take care of these hard workers!

Below is a quick and dirty stretch routine, just three moves. This is good for a warm-up or just for overall hand health. We spend a lot of the day at our computer with our elbows bent and our hands in a pronated position (palms turned down), therefore stretches with our elbows extended and hands supinated (palms turned up) is a good idea.

A post shared by Nerd Fitness (@nerd_fitness) on

The stretches from the video:

  • Fingers back, palms on desk: You can stretch straight backwards, or rock gently left to right. 10-15 repetitions.
  • Finger back, palms lifted off desk: You can lift the palms and get a bit more stretch through the fingers and first knuckle. Again, stretch straight backwards, or rock gently left to right. 10-15 repetitions.
  • Fists together, back of hands on desk: Make two fists, with the thumbs on the outside of your fingers. Bend your elbows and put the knuckles together like two cogs in a machine. Bend your elbows and put the back of your hands fully on the desk. Keep your fists together (this will be tough) and fists tightly closed (this will also be tough) as you bend and flex your elbows. 10-15 repetitions.

Give it a shot, I bet your hands feel noticeably different (and better) afterwards.

If you have additional time, the first two stretches can also be done with your fingers forward!

You can also stretch the thumbs out on the desk. Moving into and out of the stretch shown below. You may be surprised how good this feels if you’ve never done it before. Again, 10-15 repetitions.

A final stretch, if you have the time between updating Excel and checking Facebook for the 100th time (I kid, I kid), is stretching your wrists in the direction of your thumb. If you think about how your hands are often oriented on your keyboard, you’ll see that they are often bend toward your pinky.

So let’s stretch them in the opposite way!Make like you’re about to karate chop someone with one hand. With the other hand, grab the chopping hand and pull it sideways in the direction of your thumb.

Going gently into and out of this stretch for 10-15 repetitions. It may not feel as intense as the previous stretches, but it will still help.

This is certainly not an exhaustive list of hand and wrist stretches, but it should give you plenty to work with!

EXERCISES AT YOUR DESK

Do you know there’s already an excellent piece of grip strengthening equipment present in many offices? What is that?

The rubber band!

Snag one off that rubber band ball in your desk and do these simple rubber band extensions:

 

If one band gets too easy, put two or more on! This is a super easy exercise to do while you’re on a phone call or that conference call (that you’re not paying attention to anyways) that gets the blood moving through the hands and helps balance out your vice-grip like hands.

Another grip exercise that can easily be done at your desk is closing grippers. Now, this does require an investment (~$20/gripper), but you’ll find that these grippers last FOREVER (I still use some grippers that are over a decade and half old!)

 

I would personally recommend Ironmind’s “Captains of Crush” grippers.

They are built to last and strong. If you are just starting out with your grip, I would look at the guide and/or the sport. If you have a bit of strength, the sport and/or the trainer is the way to go. If you can close the #1, you’ve got a pretty solid grip. If you can close the #2, you have way above average grip strength, in my experience.

A fun bonus with these grippers at your desk is that EVERYONE who sees them will try and pick them up and close them. Great way to start a conversation with your coworkers!

You may be thinking, “eh, I’ve already got a gripper I bought from the store”. I’ll tell you that the strength in that gripper is probably miniscule compared to Ironmind’s. Time to upgrade!

You may also be thinking, “eh, I’ve got a tennis ball/stress ball that I can keep by my desk and crush”. Both of those might be better than nothing, but not by much. The grippers will allow a smoother movement and quantifiable progress. Did I mention they’re just $20 a pop?

“Jim, I can’t wait. I want to work my grip NOW.” Ok, ok, grab the biggest, heaviest book in the office you have. Grab it in that pinch grip position (fingers on one side, thumb on the other). This may be easy, if so, then “walk the book” in your hand by moving your fingers up and down the spine while you hold it in mid-air. Do this for several trips! Tough!

Improve Your Grip Strength and Mobility At The Gym

STRETCHES AT THE GYM

The only addition I have to your stretching routine that can be done at the gym is banded wrist stretches. The addition of the band can help open up your wrist joint a bit more. The band should be pulling in the opposite direction of the stretch (fingers face one way, band pulls the other way). 10-15 repetitions.

EXERCISES AT THE GYM

While we recommend picking up some grippers as specialized grip equipment, there are TONS of options to work the grip at the gym with existing equipment! This is certainly not an exhaustive list, but should give you plenty of ideas.

The one warning I give for any of these exercises is WATCH YOUR TOES. The grip can give out fast and unexpectedly, so we don’t want to crush any little piggies!

Watch this video as I go over a few options:

The exercises from the video:

  • Dumbbell head grab: Put a dumbbell on its end and pick it up by the head. Could anything replicate a pickle jar more? Be careful with this exercise if the dumbbell is too big, as the thumb can easily be strained if it’s stretched too far. Hold for time (~30 seconds) or go for heavier weight.
  • Farmer’s walks: Grab a pair of heavy dumbbells (heavy for you) and walk around! Don’t have space to walk? Just stand there! 30 seconds minimum!
  • Plate curls: A wrist strengthener that works the biceps too! Anything past 25 lbs becomes insanely hard. ~10 repetitions. Watch the face!!
  • Plate pinches: If you’ve got a pair of smooth metal plates, you can sandwich them together with the smooth side out. You can also use thick bumper plates. Pick them up with one or two hands and hold for time (~30 seconds) or go for heavier weight. World class grip athletes can pick up a pair of 45 lb plates with one hand!
  • Barbell finger rolls: How to work the crushing grip without grippers. You can use an empty bar or load up some weight. Get the bar to your fingertips, then squeeze and crush! ~10 repetitions.
  • Towel chin-ups: Regular chin-ups too easy? Throw a pair of gym towels over the bar and challenge that grip. A great exercise to prepare for rope climbing!

The above list is certainly not exhaustive, but it’ll get you started! Other easy grip exercises to integrate:

  • Bar hang: Simply hanging from the bar or gymnastic rings will build up your grip strength! If you can’t hang freely, put your feet on the ground for an assist. Couldn’t be simpler! Work up to one minute or more!
  • Wrist curls/Reverse wrist curls: What many may think of when they think of “grip strength” exercises. Not bad for some wrist strength. ~10 repetitions. Pictured – Left: Wrist curls, Right: Reverse wrist curls
  • Barbell levering: We’re getting into crazy town with this one. An unbelievable wrist exercise that is not for the beginner. Grab the bar with one hand, off-center, and lift it to parallel. You can lift to the front and the back. I would also recommend using a 15 lb/5 kg bar, or one of those lighter “bodypump” bars for this. The leverage is crazy! This can also be done at a faster pace with with PVC pipe.

Things can get really crazy when you start combining exercises…Plate pinch farmer’s walks with bumper plates, anyone?

Exercises You Can Do At Home

If you work out at home, there are still a few things you can do.

  • Bar hang: A home chin-up bar is one of the most useful pieces of equipment to have. Just like the gym version, you can put your feet on the ground to assist. Work up to one minute!
  • Grocery bag farmer’s walks: What’s better than taking only one trip to bring your groceries inside? Absolutely nothing. You can use those tough, reusable bags and load them up with anything. Stand in place or walk around the neighborhood.

  • Sledgehammer/Barbell/heavy bar levering: As with the barbell levering at the gym, this is a tough exercise and should be approached slowly. Grab closer to the sledgehammer head to make it easy, farther to make it tough.

Get Started With Rings And Handstands, Level Up Your Grip!

No (wo)man is an island, and no exercise exists in complete isolation. These grip exercises are a blast, but we hope you can also use them to help strengthen a deadlift, or work toward your first chin-up.

There are also various bodyweight exercises that will help strengthen your upper body AND build your grip strength at the same time.

THE FALSE GRIP HANG

For example, here is a video from our Nerd Fitness Rings course on doing a false-grip hang – and then doing scapular retractions. This is a killer grip strength exercise:

 

The false grip is an incredibly challenging grip variation that one must learn to build up to a muscle-up (a pull-up that transitions into a dip). Just like before, you can put your feet on the ground to assist this exercise.

CROW POSE

Here’s a video of an exercise that builds up grip and wrist strength, pulled from our Nerd Fitness Handstands Course:

 

A staple of yoga classes everywhere, though we’ll be focusing on it for a different reason than a yogi might. We’re using this exercise as a foundational exercise to build up into the handstand. You won’t believe how much grip strength is involved in the crow pose until you are digging your fingers into the ground!

A Strong Grip Is Always Helpful!

It’s been said “There’s never been a strong man (or woman) with weak hands.” We’d have to agree whole-heartedly. There is never going to be a point in life where you say “Boy, my grip was too strong!”.

You have a pair of incredible useful tools at arms length, might as well make the most of them!

We hope you now have a handle on things (have to bring it back full circle). Go out and get a grip!

Leave any questions you have on grip strength or wrist mobility below in the comments.

-Jim

PS: Our two newest courses for Nerd Fitness are now available in the NF store! Check out NF Rings and NF Handstands!

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  • Wendy Holmes

    LOVE the desk exercises. Already working my rubberbands. Thank you for all the great ideas.

  • http://www.annanorris.ca Anna Norris

    I love this article BUT, re: pickle jars:

    My grip strength is excellent. I can do 10 strict pull-ups, never have any problem deadlifting, and did bars in gymnastics for years without grips. And yet… every so often, I have to ask my husband, who cannot do a single pull-up and has never touched a barbell, to open jars for me. I researched this, because it is pretty genuinely upsetting to me. and found out that the reason women have a harder time opening jars isn’t because of grip strength, it’s because the collagen structure in our skin is different. Men have criss-crossing collagen, whereas women have straight up-and-down collagen. Meaning that, from my perspective, my husband is WEARING RUBBER GLOVES 24/7. men have rubber gloves built into their skin. Very unfair. Anyway, point is, ladies, don’t be so quick to blame your grip strength if you can’t open the pickle jar.

  • http://www.robhorton.net Rob Horton

    Great article Jim! Awesome stretches and really like the idea of the barbell work for crushing. That’ll hold me till my Captains of Crush grippers get here!

  • S3r3nity

    The twisting grip you need to keep opening jars, tightening screws, etc. seems to be missing here. I’ve got a stack of PVC attachment pieces I play with to keep things working but I’d love to see a progression for this.

  • Kimberly Crawford

    “What’s better than taking only one trip to bring all your groceries inside? Absolutely nothing.” Hilarious! I just did my version of the farmer’s walk loaded up with bags in one hand, and carrying my angry preschooler under the other arm. Should be a name for this!

  • http://www.sailingblogger.com/ Mike Bayer

    Thanks Jim. This article came at the perfect time. Just started Jiu Jitsu and realized my grip strength sucks. Looking forward to working on this.

  • Tony Langdon

    Excellent article. There’s a lot I can incorporate into my routine. My grip has always been good. I thank Dad for all that manual work in my younger years, but my wrist mobility could do with some work. I’ve noticed that during yoga classes. Definitely some good things to add in here.

  • http://www.beijinggigguide.com/ Alex Searson

    That was really interesting!! Thank you 🙂

  • http://Aesthetic.id David Juanda

    nice and details information of excercises! thank you for the tips!

    aesthetic.id

  • Jim Bathurst

    You’re welcome! Glad you found them helpful!

  • Jim Bathurst

    And people with bigger hands will have less trouble too. The point is we can still focus on things that we can actually improve – that includes our grip strength!

  • Jim Bathurst

    Sweet! I think you’ll really enjoy the CoCs. Start light and easy with higher reps (8-10).
    Also, for the technique, take a look at the gif I have above. One handle deep in the palm, thumb facing forward. The fingers down at the bottom of the other handle for the best leverage!

  • Jim Bathurst

    I could’ve written 1,001 more grip exercises with a variety of objects. Heck, you could even just practice opening jars!
    If you feel that jars are still beating you, focus on the dumbbell head grab, the dumbbell wrist curls, and the barbell levers.
    Not quite sure what PVC attachment pieces you’re talking about, but I think you might enjoy John Brookfield’s grip exercises. You can find a mess of them for free through IronMind, and they sell several of his books too (which are more of the same novel grip exercises).
    Have fun with the training!

  • Jim Bathurst

    My groceries don’t scream and kick, so I think you’ve got me beat there!

  • Jim Bathurst

    I did BJJ for a number of years. Towel chin-ups are your best friend, as well thumbless towel chin-ups, to better mimic grabbing the gi. You’re suppose to grab a gi with no thumb, right? I’m sure someone will correct me if I’m wrong on that.

  • Jim Bathurst

    The finger/thumb stretches and the fist stretch will change your life. I spend a lot of time on my hands (acrobatics) and they are key!

  • everstar

    Thank you for this because a) I know I spend way too much time on the computer and b) I also knit, which isn’t gentle on the wrists either. I had two questions, though. The first is about the first and second stretches in the video: I can’t get my wrists that close together and have my hands flat on the table. I can do it if my hands are shoulder-width apart, but not any closer. Does it matter how close my hands are to each other? (My wrists felt like creaky door hinges sound when I was trying these, so I think they’re probably good for me.) My second question is about the thumb stretch: is there a written description of how to do this one or a video somewhere? I can’t tell what I’m supposed to be doing in that one so I’m just sort of mashing my thumb against the tabletop like I’m trying to fold my thumb joint backwards. Thanks!

  • Jim Bathurst

    Play around with hand width. You can also use a lower surface to start (a desk is convenient, but anything solid will work).
    For the thumb stretch – put your hands down flat, lift your palms to the outside. Play around with the angle to find a stretch that works best for you!

  • egamerhealth

    Love the CoC grippers and have had the #1 for some time. The rubber band extension exercises are so great and easily forgotten! Great article.

  • Don Rowlett

    The wrists need to be wrapped or cuffed for hammer levering to protect the arm and wrist bones from separating under high torque. I prefer leather cuffs so that I can maintain blood circulation in the hand. Hammer levering can lead to steel bending.

  • Don Rowlett

    Gorilla Grip gloves from Home Depot increase hand strength. Even though my hands are freakishly strong, I wear these gloves when I have to work with my hands. The gloves protect the finger nails and skin. Think of the gloves as compression gear for your hands.

  • Kristina Mooney

    I always have assumed I would always have poor strength because of carpul tunnel, fibromyalgia AND an awesome titanium hand/wrist set up – just like the Terminator. lol. Now, I am excited to make myself stronger.
    Any ideas on helping with fine motor skills? Like buttoning a shirt, for example?

  • http://kcprocter.com/ KC Procter

    Wow! This is way more information and tips than I was expecting. Thank you! I can rep 235lb on benchpress, but I’ve got chicken forearms and want to improve grip strength. These stretches and exercises are awesome.

  • http://kcprocter.com/ KC Procter

    P.S. It’d be great to have all these as a one-page downloadable PDF for quick reference at the gym.

  • Jim Bathurst

    Haha, good reminder. Slim Farman has broken his wrists multiple times that way, right? The guy levering the sledge in the picture is a buddy of mine – who scrolled the grip trophy for the competition (which I pictured). He knew he’d be ok!

    Have gotten into steel and nail bending slightly. Basic timber ties and 60D nails!

  • Jim Bathurst

    Practicing the skill itself for multple repetitions can build strength. There was also a hand dexterity course that I came across years ago. I’d recommend looking at resources for piano players – as they need some fine motor control in their hands!

  • Jim Bathurst

    It’s in the plans 😉

  • Kristina Mooney

    Thank you! Learning the piano is one of my NF goals, so that works perfectly. Two in the hand?? lol

  • Don Rowlett

    The Hammerman is a legend. I found timber ties to be some of the easiest 60d nails to bend. Sometimes the nail breaks on the crush down. The ironmind blue is consistent and much harder. There is variation in technique. I used a style similar to what David Horne demonstrated. Tom Black demonstrated a mixed grip style. That is good scroll work by your friend. Not many benders can do scroll work. Scrolling a cobra with the ironmind white is quite the hand workout.

  • Don Rowlett

    Along with Jim’s suggestion, in Jowett’s “Molding a Mighty Grip” is an exercise where a heavy book is placed on the hand and is lifted by individual fingers or two-digit combinations. A lighter book is needed for the extensor muscles (palm down). John Brookfield describes a finger walking exercise using a broom or axe in “Mastery of Hand Strength”. Remember that fine motor skills are not typically performed against appreciable resistance. Finger walking a sledgehammer will not improve piano skills much better than finger walking a broom.

  • neha saklani

    love this exercises. but i am very lazy.i would be try this .visit my site – http://www.aspmantra.com/

  • VickiKate

    This is just awesome and exactly what I needed! My wrists feel so much better and the desk exercises are perfection.

  • shani ayalon

    I plan on starting some of the exercises shown here – thanks for the motivation!!

    Shani Ayalon, shay87@gmail.com

  • Evan Stanley

    I love the take on Gaming and fitness Jim! It would be great to discuss fitness articles with you at my business email 180Ripped.com@gmail.com. Also Please check out my article on 3 fun, Fat Burning and Muscle Preserving workouts http://180ripped.com/2017/03/26/3-fat-burning-muscle-preserving-workouts/, perfect for all the gamer’s out there, let me know what you think!
    Evan, creator and founder of 180Ripped.com

  • Kristina Mooney

    That sounds really difficult, but I will give it a shot. Thank you. 🙂

  • Jim Bathurst

    Love Brookfield’s stuff and had the pleasure of talking with him several years ago. The book walking was looking to replicate the same movements! Again, I could’ve put 1,001 grip exercises in this article!

  • fitnessandfueling.com

    Great article and lots of information. Shocked that Fat Gripz are not listed. They work excellent for grip and forearm development! I have an article on Fat Grips if you are interested. Thank you.

  • https://www.teambeachbody.com/tbbsignup/-/tbbsignup/free?referringRepId=667138 Sean

    These are some exellent exercises for grip strength! I will start incorporating them into my obstacle course race training routine.

  • https://www.teambeachbody.com/tbbsignup/-/tbbsignup/free?referringRepId=667138 Sean

    I can see how grabbing with the thumb could put it at risk for a sprain when you or your opponent moves.

  • Kimba

    Anyone else having problems seeing the video for stretches at desk? Everything else looks good but unable to see that particular vid. Great article tho, thanks! 😉

  • https://www.mr2ndopinion.com Seth Carnett

    I can’t believe you have so but oh so many ways to improve your wrist empowerment exercises. Hard work rewards!

  • http://mylatestfitnessfad.org MyLatestFitnessFad

    Great article, hadn’t thought about using elastic bands – what a great idea. Just recently found your site after being recommend by my significant other. Really enjoying it. Thanks for all the great advice