We all know a firm grip is awesome. I remember being picked up for a date in high school and my charismatic and overly confident gentleman caller complimented my dad on his firm grip. My dad gave a sympathetic chuckle but wasn’t amused. The Colonel – as my family called him – then reached out a second time and grabbed this guy’s hand so hard it brought him to a crippled pile of deflated testosterone right in front of me. Grip allows us to assert dominance by way of handshake, throw weights around, open pickle jars, and is even a tremendous biomarker for longevity and health. Whether you’re a contact sport athlete, CrossFitter, or competitive beer stein holder, the musculature of the lower arm is an integral part of applying force on an object.
This t-shirt commemorates First Fräulein in the Alpine Village Oktoberfest Stein Holding Competition.
Among my countless hours spent listening and obsessing over obscure podcasts, I discovered a number of relevant studies that discuss the connection between grip and health, sickness, and longevity. In addition to being a quantifiable indicator of mental and physical illness, grasping is a primitive reflex that we are born with- which is often a surprise to parents who make assumptions about their child’s seemingly conscious attempt at “human connection”. Over the course of childhood, normal development and brain maturation in the frontal lobes inhibit this reflex. With age our grip strength can go through some major evolutions based on our diet and training and luckily it can be strengthened over time through the appropriate stimulus. But how do you transform the weekend warrior and competitive athlete into strong handed individual? I was lucky enough to pick the brains of two of the strongest set of man-hands around to see what they had to say about training one’s mitts.
Everyone should have a grip guy and if you’re lucky, Jedd Johnson is your man. His resume is extensive and includes numerous Strongman and Grip contests. This seasoned grip expert and founder of Diesel Crew took some time out of his busy schedule to answer my questions about training and his thoughts on the niche sport of grip work. In Part 1 we soak in the knowledge from an authority on the subject before addressing training guidelines and implementation protocol in Part 2.
What originally drew you to grip training?
I learned about people tearing decks of cards and getting certified for closing grippers. I thought card tearing was just a parlor trick, but it is actually a legitimate feat that requires both technique and strength. Also, I thought it was cool to get “certified” so I began training grippers as well.
What would you say are some of the biggest pitfalls when training grip? Training improperly/ineffectively? Due to the smaller musculature, is there a great risk for injury or overtraining?
The biggest pitfall is that people start doing way too much stuff too soon. Their hands are not ready for the stresses from grip training and they work too hard before conditioning themselves and get hurt because of it. There is definitely a risk of injuring these muscles when you get too crazy too early. However, if you do things the right way, like I teach at TheGripAuthority.com, you can work into it the right way, at the right speed, and enjoy the training for years and years like I have.
Jedd Johnson doing what he does best.
We deal mainly with field and contact sport athletes. There are some obvious benefits that a superior grip would afford these athletes. What are those benefits, in your own words?
It comes down to three words: Lift, Hold and Control. When your hands are stronger you are able to lift bigger weights in the gym, which translates to better strength that can be used on the field. With better strength, also comes better endurance as well. This means that you can perform more reps per set and can go longer into sets without having to take breaks and shake the hands loose or keep them from cramping. Finally, when you have a better grip you are able to exert better control, both in the gym and on the field. This means, the bar is going to do what you want it to on lifts like the bench press and squat. You will have better confidence and that gives you a big mental edge in the gym.
Naturally, control is what you want in your sport too. Being able to grab onto someone and throw them to the ground, tackle them, or just maintain wrist control on the mat is HUGE. Plus, for athletes who need to swing a bat, racquet, or other sporting implement, they will see better coordination when their grip is strong, too.
As you can see, Sly Stallone is all too familiar with the serious implications of a strong grip, forearm, and wrist.
What are some of your personal favorite displays of grip strength? Odd competition events? Strange training exercises?
My favorite grip work are pinching feats. Pinching is putting your hand over top of something with the fingers on one side and the thumb on the other. Think of placing a couple of weight plates together with the smooth sides pointing out and lifting them like this with one or two hands. I have lifted 2-45’s, 3-25’s and 6-10’s like this. It really shows brute grip strength when you can do feats like this.
I actually held a world record in one of our most popular Grip Sport events, the Two Hands Pinch, which involves picking up an adjustable implement in a pinch grip and touching the loading bar to a gauge 16.5-inches off the ground. The video shows the first time I broke the record in 2009. I held it until 2012 and am looking for the chance to set it again soon.
If you want to try this in your gym, put the 2-45’s together smooth-sides-out and run a pipe through the center whole. Add weight evenly on both sides and try to pick it up to about lockout. It is a pretty accurate replication of the Grip Sport event, itself.
Big thanks to Jedd and we look forward to talking more with him on an upcoming Power Athlete Radio episode.
John Welbourn is CEO of Power Athlete and Fuse Move. He is also creator of the online training phenomena, Johnnie WOD. He is a 9 year veteran of the NFL. John was drafted with the 97th pick in 1999 NFL Draft and went on to be a starter for the Philadelphia Eagles from 1999-2003, appearing in 3 NFC Championship games, and for starter for the Kansas City Chiefs from 2004-2007. In 2008, he played with the New England Patriots until an injury ended his season early with him retiring in 2009. Over the course of his career, John has started over 100 games and has 10 play-off appearances. He was a four year lettermen while playing football at the University of California at Berkeley. He graduated with a bachelor's degree in Rhetoric in 1998. John has worked with the MLB, NFL, NHL, Olympic athletes and Military. He travels the world lecturing on performance and nutrition for Power Athlete. You can catch up with John as his personal blog on training, food and life, Talk To Me Johnnie and at Power Athlete.
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