What is Grip Strength?
Grip strength is the combined force or tension generated by the arm, mainly by the forearms and fingers. Grip strength for climbing is a little bit different from grip strength for many other sports or activities. In this article we look at a large variety of ways to improve grip strength.
It often feels like we always fall during a climb because of our grip or finger strength running out or from lack of finger strength in general. This is why a lot of climbers are obsessed with improving their finger strength. Often technique, tactics and mental abilities are more important, but there are times when pure strength is the key to getting through a climb. Also all the endurance in the world won’t help you if you can’t make the first strength move of the route.
Differences in climbing grip strength and climbing endurance training:
- Muscle fiber size is increased by strength training and either decreased or not affected by endurance training.
- ATP-CP levels are increased by strength training and not affected by endurance. Glycogen levels are increased by both.
- Neural disinhibition is increased by strength training but not affected by endurance training.
Why is grip strength important? Benefits of a stronger grip
- Stronger grip means you can get through that tough crux, because you are able to hang on that tight crimp for enough time to move to the next holds.
- Increased glycogen and ATP levels in the muscle from forearm and finger strength training.
- Stronger grip means more endurance as well. This is because a stronger hand will need only a smaller portion of the maximum strength available to hold on and execute a move. You will be able to keep going through that continuous route.
- Stronger grip combined with good mobility will make you more resilient and less likely to get injuries. Not only is a stronger hand less likely to get injured when climbing, but also from hits or strains from falling.
- Everyday benefits like being able to carry all the groceries at one go, opening that jar of strawberry jam for your mom etc.
- Better grip also enables lifting more weights, a better golf swing or more ability to control your opponent when wrestling. Especially when wrist mobility is added a good grip helps in a very large variety of sports.
- Benefits at an older age. When we gain age our strength starts to deteriorate and if you have a stronger grip as you get older you will have an advantage as you will be able to grip handles and rails better for movement and avoiding falling etc.
- Better grip means a better handshake. This doesn’t mean you should go all out and squeeze the nails out of the other persons hand, but at least your hand won’t feel like a limp fish when shaken.
How to increase Grip Strength?
Increasing grip strength by climbing
Training both strength and endurance is done differently when just trying to climb as hard as you can as opposed to when you are training a specific muscle. When you are climbing you try to avoid getting a pump or from falling . When you are training strength you aim at getting a pump or when you train to failure you are training at the limit.
- Warm up really well!
- Go bouldering, especially hard routes that are not technical. These routes will force you to use and improve your strength.
- Make three to ten physically hard moves in a row to produce muscular failure.
- Get enough rest during training. You should get at least three minutes of rest between every ‘set’.
- Use added weights, such as a weighed vest to increase intensity.
- Use overhanging routes, campusing or smaller holds to get the weight more off your legs and more on your hands.
- Get more specific and use different holds and angles in getting repetitions on the same muscles. This will help to target both your weaknesses and strengths.
- Use variations and cycle your training focus to generate progressive gains in strength.
- Recover by taking more time off from training every once in a while. Taking a day off might feel enough for recharging the muscles, but for supercompensation and for the muscles to grow takes more time.
How to increase grip strength at home
- Hangboard. Hanboarding is one of the most popular ways to improve grip strength at home and to improve your climbing endurance as well.
- Pull ups. Using a thick bar, rope or a towel for grip on one or both hands adds to the grip strength needed when doing pull-ups. The pull-up motion while gripping is also similar to the motion often done when climbing.
- grip or finger strengtheners. These grip strengthening devices can be used to measure and increase your hand strength. There are also grippers you can use to build endurance, for example by squeezing the easier gripper when watching your favorite climbing movie.
- Train the antagonist muscles. It is very important to always train the antagonist muscles as well. This helps with avoiding injuries and tennis/golf elbow problems. There are specific devices for this, but you can also use a rubber band wrapped around you fingers to make it harder to extend your fingers.
- Train wrist and finger mobility as well.
- Do finger pushups, the crow pose or handstands.
How to increase grip strength when weightlifting
If you regularly lift weights here are some things you can do to increase your grip strength for both weightlifting and for climbing.
- Stop using straps or hooks attached to your wrists. Nobody who is strong otherwise should have weak hands, so when you lift weights without straps you also train your grip strength.
- Add wrist mobility exercised to your training. This will increase the range of motion, add strength to different smaller muscles and stabilize the wrist.
- Use thicker bars for lifting and pull-ups. When the diameter of the bar is larger you will have to grip it more.
- Pinch plates. Holding a plate by pinching it from above will increase in difficulty when the amount and weight of the plates is increased. This pinching is quite similar to the pinch hold done in climbing.
- Do wrist curls or basically pronations and supinations with a dumbbell.
- Farmer’s walks, which are done by basically carrying something heavy with straight arms while walking.
- switch the grip. Do reverse bicep curls will force you to need more strength in the fingers and forearms.
- Train false-grip hangs, pull-ups or even muscle ups. The false grip might be something you have trained before if you have done gymnastics or have trained to do a muscle-up.