Working smaller muscles, especially the ones in your upper body like the hands, can give you the power to hold the bar firmly and lift heavier weights, but can also improve your overall health.
Besides the benefits of a strong grip while working out, grip strength is known for revealing health conditions. In women, hand grip strength is related to bone density (mostly in postmenopausal women). Some specialists consider that grip strength can be used as a screening tool for women at risk of osteoporosis and may predict one’s overall mortality. Plus, a weak grip strength may be associated with loss of protein and muscle mass.
Signs your hand muscles could use grip training
Common signs of hand weakness are numbness of the hands (including the fingers), hand pain, pain inside the elbow, and clumsiness using the hands and the fingers. Weak grip can be a limiting factor even for simple tasks, like not being able to carry groceries or other things you could do before.
When you’re at the gym, one sign can be when you drop the barbell while doing some deadlifts not because the weight in the bar is too heavy but because your hands are tired and sore. Same thing goes for movements that involve hanging in the bar, like pull ups or toes to bar, or even bodyweight exercises that put pressure on your wrists like push ups. But don’t worry, this is perfectly normal. Grip failure is more common than you think because it engages small muscles that tend to fatigue quicker and that we often neglect to train.
Best grip exercises to improve your grip strength at home
There are a lot of workouts that use gym equipment like barbells and dumbbells to work your hand muscles. But, in this article, we are going to explore the best exercises at home and with little equipment for grip strength. We hope that these movements become your favorite exercises and you include them in your grip training journey.
The aim is to work your hands’ muscles and generate a stronger grip and arm in a safe way. So next time you are weight training (at the gym and while carrying groceries) you will be able to endure more thanks to your strong muscles, and hopefully be free of palm or wrist pain.
Grip strength exercises
This is a basic movement that can help you increase grip strength and lower stress very easily and fast. All you need is a tennis ball, a stress ball or any ball that fits in your hand.
You can be standing or sitting, but in either case, keep a nice long back and squeeze shoulders to open your chest.
Hold the stress ball in the palm of your hand. Then clench firmly around it with all your fingers but the thumb and relax.
Switch hands and repeat.
You can do at least 50 reps per day for each hand. Don’t forget to bring your breathing into the movement (inhaling for clenching, exhaling for opening the hand, and holding the breath when you switch hands).
Hand doorway hanging
That’s right, all you need for this exercise is a firm door.
Besides your grip strength, this exercise will help you work on your core, thighs and ankles.
Stand in front of a halfway opened door with feet hip width and toes pointing forward. Raise your right arm in front of you at the level of your waist, grab the door with your fingers on one side and your thumb on the other (think Lego hands). Normally, your grip should be placed a little lower than the door handle, but it can vary depending on your body size.
With a firm grip grabbing the door:
- Inhale and bend your knees so that your thighs are as parallel to the floor as possible. Your knees should be pointing out in line with your feet, and your chest should lean slightly forward over your thighs.
- Keep your inner thighs parallel to each other and press the heads of the thigh bones down toward your heels.
- Squeeze your shoulder blades to open your chest. Push your tailbone down toward the floor to keep your lower back straight.
- Stay for 30 seconds to a minute.
To come out of this pose, straighten your knees with an inhalation, lifting strongly through your hand grip. Exhale and release your grip, then switch to the left hand.
For adding intensity and fun, you can start by using only 3 fingers and the thumb and build from there until you are grabbing yourself with just one finger and your thumb. This can also help:
Same starting pose as the hand doorway hang but this time grab the door at the level of your chest. Keep your body as straight as possible and start leaning your whole body back (like a scaled rope climb). Once the arm is straight, bring yourself up pulling with your grip and keeping the core engaged. Repeat switching sides.
You can bend your knees for a shortened pull to decrease the difficulty.
Suitcase Single-arm Deadlift
For this grip work, you need a suitcase loaded with books, bottles with water, or any heavy items you have around you.
Start by standing with your feet hip width apart, toes slightly pointing out, with the suitcase on the floor next to your right foot
Bend your knees and squat down, keep your feet flat on the ground, core tight and grasp the suitcase with your right hand making a fist.
Allow your left arm to hang straight down at your side, keep your gaze focused on a point on the floor in front of you.
From here, engage your abs, keep your lower back tight and chest up, take a deep inhale then push “the floor away” using your legs while holding the suitcase with your right hand as you stand up.
When you reach the standing position (legs fully extended), exhale as you thrust your hips forward slightly and squeeze your quads, glutes and back for a brief count.
Inhale deeply and repeat. You can aim for three or four sets of 10 to 12 reps each side (right hand and left hand).
If you are at the gym you would easily grab a couple of dumbbells but in this case, fill two buckets with sand or water (or use two suitcases). Maybe you want to wrap a towel over the handles for a thicker grip and protection.
Start by standing up, feet parallel and shoulder width, and with a bucket in each hand.
Without pushing your lower front ribs forward, lift your upper chest straight toward the ceiling. Allow your shoulder blades to squeeze toward each other and down, away from the ears.
Let your arms relax beside your torso, palms facing in.
Walk forward in a straight line without letting the buckets swing.
Continue for 30 to 60 seconds. Rest for 30 to 60 seconds, then repeat. Do three to five sets.
The longer you can hold while walking the better!
Bucket Hammer Curls
Hammer curls develop your grip strength by activating the long head of the bicep and the brachioradialis muscle (one of the key forearm muscles). Hammer curls put less pressure on your wrists than the traditional bicep curls and target the hand muscles and the forearm, your wrists stay in a neutral position during the entire movement.
For the equipment, grab the same buckets that you use for the Farmer’s Carry or any other load that you can easily control. The hammer curl is a relatively simple exercise, you will master it fast.
Start by grabbing both buckets with each hand and stand up straight with your feet hip-width apart and slightly bend your knees. Stand tall, shoulders away from the ears and push your upper chest forward.
With your feet flat on the ground, stand firmly to create a stable position on your entire body.
Hold the buckets by your sides with your palms facing forward (instead of towards your body). Your arms should be fully extended with a slight bend in your elbows.
Engage your core muscles and while keeping your upper arms still, squeeze your bicep and bend your elbows until your wrists are in front of your shoulders, no need to touch your shoulders. Squeeze your biceps and pause for 1-2 seconds at the top of the movement.
Slowly extend your arms and lower the buckets to the starting position.
Try to maintain a neutral neck and spine position through the entire movement by tucking your chin down toward your chest. Imagine you’re holding a tennis ball between your chin and chest.
Keep your upper arm still during the whole range of movement. This will help keep your wrists in neutral and target the forearm and grip muscles.
The wrist curl is the most basic forearm flexion exercise. This movement can help you especially improve your climbing grip.
This is a good and accessible exercise to incorporate into your grip training that builds your upper body strength. They look pretty easy, but you need to maintain proper form, to prevent injuries, but also to improve grip and forearm strength.
The equipment needed is: a bench (like the bench press at the gym) or other flat surface with some padding and the buckets you used for the hammer curls.
Starting position: kneel down behind the bench.
Bend forward from the hips and rest your forearms on the bench about shoulder-width apart with your palms facing up.
Keep a straight back by squeezing your shoulders together and down away from the ears. Your wrists are in a neutral position (in line with your forearm).
Take a deep inhale and when you exhale curl your wrists upward. Perform this movement slowly to engage the forearms and not overuse your wrists.
Extend your wrists downward as far as they will comfortably go on an inhale.
Return the wrists to a neutral position. You can do this in three to four sets of 10-12 reps each.
VARIATIONS: Reverse Wrist Curls (wrist extensions). The only difference between the wrist curls and this movement is that your palms are facing the opposite direction. Instead of having your palms facing up, they are going to be facing down toward the floor. The rest of the movement is the same.
This variation targets the wrists more than the forearms. It’s a good idea to alternate between regular wrist curls and this reverse variation.
For this movement the equipment needed is a pull-up bar and a medium size towel, a tea towel works fine.
This is a very effective grip strengthener. On one hand, the effort of pulling up is intensified by grasping a towel instead of the bar, making the whole move harder. Also, the hand position when gripping the towel for a pull-up keeps the wrists mostly neutral, which strengthens the wrists and forearms without any uncomfortable twisting.
Start by looping the towel around the pull-up bar. Grab the towel fists facing upwards. Pull yourself up keeping a tight core and legs closed to each other (you can cross your ankles if you want). 5 pull-ups is a good goal.
If you aren’t strong enough to do a pull-up, hang from the towel without your feet touching the floor for as long as possible. Use one hand on top and then switch hands between sets.
Wrist and Fingers Stretches
Wrist Extension Stretch Fingers Up
Extend the right arm out in front of you, flexing the wrist and stretching your fingers. Take your left hand and gently press your right wrist back to your level of comfort. Hold for 3 seconds and change hands.
This stretch will help strengthen the tendons in your wrists to discourage carpal tunnel syndrome (numbness, tingling, and pain in the hand and forearm).
This pose stretches and opens tight wrists and hands. Plus it’s an amazing counter-pose for activities that require gripping your hands!
Starting position: with your feet flat on the ground, stand firmly to create a stable position on your entire body.
Bring your arms behind your back and join the palms together (like in a prayer) with fingertips facing downward.
Take a deep inhale and turn the fingertips inwards towards your back and bring them facing upwards, the blade of the hands should be firmly against the back.
As you exhale, slowly turn the fingertips downward.
Repeat 7 times and then shake your hands. Go slowly, be gentle with your wrists.
Overall strength in the grip is a result of the interaction of many muscles that start in the forearm or hand and insert into the hand and fingers. The grip strength exercises that we introduce in this article target specifically both, the hand muscles and the forearm muscles. Plus, there is a direct relationship between the grip strength and the wrists, which is why we also propose wrist and finger stretches to round out the entire arm.
These exercises will help you improve grip strength and encourage stronger wrists, and therefore, your ability to perform other exercises that engage the upper body muscles, such as pull-ups and deadlifts; but also with everyday life tasks like carrying groceries or opening jars.
If you notice any discomfort or pain while doing the exercises please lower the intensity and, if the pain persists, talk to a physical therapist.
Keep in mind that grip strength decreases with age. When we get older the body starts to naturally lose muscle mass and the grip strength decreases. To slow this process, you need to include grip strength into your fitness goals. Keep in mind that the tissues in our bodies act as a “use it or lose it” kind of dynamic. Start now with these grip exercises and develop a powerful grip, prevent cardiovascular disease, and be in better health.
Giuliana is a yoga instructor and Crossfitter from Peru who is currently living in Chiang Mai, Thailand with her Crossfit Coach (and husband) Tim.