THE IMPORTANCE OF GRIP STRENGTH
When is the last time you trained your grip strength in an effort to improve your workout of the day (WOD)? Whether your WOD is a metabolic conditioning mix of rowing, pull-ups and kettle bell swings or a strength challenge like a max dead lift or barbell snatch your grip may be what is holding you back. It is definitely important to focus on the major muscles of the hips, legs, shoulders and arms since they produce the strength and power to move large loads over long distances quickly. However, if you want to crush your WOD and litter the whiteboard with personal records (PR’s) then you must train those forearm muscles too.
Before you roll your eyes and assume that this will necessitate a globo gym-esque routine of wrist curls, think about how often your grip is challenged in a WOD. There are two types of grip strength necessary in CrossFit: crushing strength and support strength. Crushing strength is best thought of as the strength necessary to squeeze something such as a barbell in your hand as you manipulate it. Support strength is the type of strength used to hold something or carry it. Although support strength is slightly more passive it is just as essential as crushing strength.
The list of exercises where grip strength is essential includes pull-ups, any barbell work, rowing on an ergometer, farmer carries and ring work to name but a few. However, the importance of forearm strength is often overlooked in exercises like handstands. Here the muscles of the forearms must provide balance and control which can be just as important as strength. Finally, there is a conditioning element necessary for these smaller muscles. Without sufficient endurance in these muscles an athlete will surely be hampered during longer grip-intensive WODs such as rope climbs and dead lifts.
To improve your grip strength start by manipulating thick handled barbells. These can be bars such as tire axles or fat bars or you can improvise by wrapping a thick towel around a traditional barbell. Start by using this thicker bar once every other week or so in your dead lifts. Shoot for 10-20 repetitions to start but as you get stronger work all the way up to your one rep maximum (1RM). Then try adding a towel to the pull-up bar and follow the same progression. Once you have mastered that try legless rope climbs.
Grip strength can also be strengthened using exercises such as farmer walk. Grab two dumbbells or kettle bells of decent weight and carry them for at least 100 meters. When that gets too easy try loading up two barbells and carry them the same way. Next try pinching weight plates between your fingers and see how much weight you can handle and how far you can carry the weight plates. If you are stuck in an office during the day try buying a pair of hand grippers. (These are simple implements that are spring resisted and work by grasping, squeezing and releasing). Make sure the pair you get has enough resistance that five repetitions at a time is initially challenging.
Finally, work those extensor muscles as well. Wrap a rubber band around your fingers and work on spreading your fingers as wide as possible. Look at that as a functional use for all those rubber wrist bands everyone seems to have these days.