Monday, October 17, 2011

Grip Crazy!

Generally speaking, lifting straps make as much sense to me as thumbless pull-ups: they don't. Yeah, I'm aware that there are beginners with weak hands or trainees compromised hands out there. I've been one of those on a rare occasion when I forgot that my thumbs go forwards only and not backwards. Sometimes, there's a need to make things easy on the hands.

Then we see people who we know could use their full grip- but don't. I don't get deprioritization of the grip. Maybe it's a part of the gaps in strength training. There's a gap that exists between the look of being strong and actually being strong. There's another gap where strength is defined by game and strength to finish real work. Two gaps, like the holes in the middle of whatever you're grabbing without your damn thumb! Strength, perceived and demonstrated, comes from the hard shit that we grab and how well we manipulate it when it's in our hands.

Maybe that standpoint has something to do with my heritage. Living in Northern Vermont and having a healthy dose of French-Canadian descent, I've got a great deal of respect for the old-time strongmen of the turn of the 20th century. Quebec was quite the hotbed of that time, producing some very notable strongmen.
The most obvious, big-daddy of all Quebec Strongmen: Louis Cyr!

It kind of makes sense if you live in the area. If you hang out on the east side of Vermont, you'll see logs constantly heading south from Quebec. If you enter Quebec from North-Western Vermont, you'll note that most of the old houses are made out of field stones. Those stones didn't move themselves any more than the trees cut themselves down 130 years ago. It was a harsh land of hard work that made powerful men.

The kind of work that you don't get done with half of a grip!
Were I to pick a favorite French-Canadian strongman of yore, I'd have to go with Arthur Dandurand. If forearm power is your thing, how could you not be impressed with a guy who had 15.5" forearms on a 5'8", 180 lbs frame? Apparently, the guy put them to good use by pushing a wheel borrow with 4300 pounds 23 feet. That's got to be one of the most uniquely insane feats of strength I've ever heard of!

So, this all means that I'm beginning to morph into something of a grip strength junkie. I consider it an affront to both my reputation as a strong man and my strongmen-laden ancestry to not be. With few exceptions, I look at nearly everything I do and wonder if I can use it to enhance my grip.

Grip training is really the only thing that I do that comes close to isolation exercising. I started using CoC grippers early April, barely able to close a Number 1. Now, I'm within striking distance of closing the Number 2. Getting closer...

I don't consider doing pull-ups unless they are hell on my grip. Thick bars, towels, lifting straps, uneven "ladders", and most especially using my 3" thick rope.
Yes, I haven't forgotten or disregarded my 3" climbing rope.

It's not too uncommon to see lifting straps used for deadlifts. Not only do I not own them, I look for deadlift variations that require more grip work than usual. My latest favorite has been the Steve Reeves style deadlift. More on that later.FYI, I do use my thumb on these.

I'm sure that a few of my readers are new to my blog, finding out about me from Paul Wade's newest book, "Convict Conditioning 2." I still use fingertip push-ups on a regular basis. A week doesn't go by without me adding some 5 finger (one hand, 5 finger) and handstand-fingertip push-ups. To add insult to injury, they're usually super-setted with either rope climbing or pull-ups!
This is where one of the pics in CC2 came from!

Maybe the grip is a limiting factor in doing a lot of moves that we do. Maybe I could deadlift more weight and do more pull-ups if I could try to use less grip. Well, I'm not a powerlifter and there's no pull-up rep count contests. As a freelancer strength trainer, I can do whatever I want to do and I choose to make my hands as close to vices as I possibly can.


Anonymous said...

Hey Justin

Long time no see. I can say I am really surprised that you can't close the COC2, its ironic that you didn't like grippers long ago though. I can't help but think that the grip exercises you do don't really carry over to grippers, since they are a specific type of equipment. I recommend that you warm up and do a only 2 sets on the COC1.5 without going to failure, three times a week.

-Ahmed AKA Workout Warrior

Justin_PS said...


Good to hear from you!

I never really didn't like them. I just tried to do as much as possible without other stuff. I'm really close though and I'm not going to bother with buying the 1.5.

Did you close the #2?

Anonymous said...

Hey justin

Yes I closed the no2 like 2 years ago when I was 145lbs with a parallel set. I started working out again with them like 2 months ago and can close the no.2 with a credit card set (Training with the 1.5 helped loads.

If you don't want to buy the 1.5 I guess you put a choker on your no2 to parallel and try training this way.

I hope I can close the no.3 one day!


Anonymous said...

BTW, here is video I posted three years ago. After one month of training and closing the 1.5.

I was 130 lbs at there!


K said...

one arm deads are a must for grip training

mablak2 said...


Great post. I too am all about grip training and have made it almost an obsession. I have found the fatgripz to be very solid. Great carryover to many other tasks.

I posted on facebook about your programming. Any chance of it rearing its head in the future?


Jim said...

Hi Justin,
Can you comment please on what you think of the finger tip pushup as a counter move for towel grip hangs, as recommended in Convict 2?

I do towel pulls anyway, and tennis ball pullups, after reading your blog a few years ago, and I tried finger tip plank, but I have heard anecdotal fears about arthritis from fingers.

I imagine if performed correctly at the right stage of training they are fine, but I would probably avoid them if not for Paul Wades advice. I find correct regular pushup variations hard enough.

In summary, do you believe towel grip hanging or pullups require a counter move for completeness?

I can't get my head around fingertip pushups and towel grip working different body parts... they both appear to me pushing/crushing/gripping in quality, and not pulling which would seem to be a counter. To my mind, isometric claw hand pulling back resistance would seem more a counter, as if the fingers were being pulled back by invisible rubber bands, if you get my bad description.

Thanks a lot for your opinions on this.

Justin_PS said...

Jim: If you're focused on one exercise (any one exercise) to train the grip, you're going to end up with incomplete strength in your grip. There's a lot of things that hands can do and therefore they need variety.

I agree with Paul Wade. Fingertip work is awesome and very important for strong hands. It's not dangerous as long as you use caution and work up to it properly. Start out doing finger push-ups on some chairs (or something similar) and work your way to up to more difficult flavors.

Mark: Patience...

jim said...

Hi Justin

Thankyou for your reply.

I shall try progressions to finger support work. I guess maybe I was hoping to avoid it as my towel grip isn't bad but my finger tip plank tests were difficult!

It makes sense to me that if the finger support structure and form is sound, it would be a safe base to apply weight and thus build strength in the supporting tissues, like most exercises they can be done safe or dangerously.

It also makes sense as like you say, hands work in different ways to just gripping with the palm, so completeness requires variation.

Pauls Wades system doesn't include a finger pulling back exercise, which would seem a counter move, but I can't think of many applications where hands would do this anyway, at least not in nature?

I suppose the action of finger tip pushups spreads the fingers, builds more individual strength, and strength with an open palm, and is a hand opening stress hold.

Best wishes Justin, good to see your work in bodyweight realms getting recognition, I've been looking in on your site for years now

Chuck said...

i am new to your blog....i like it. i am also into grip. i did a grip competition a month ago. i asked one of the top guys in the world who also does other strength sports, how he trains grip. he just mixes it into his regular stuff. makes standard movements harder on the grip in some way or another to enhance his strength. he barely uses grippers.

Anonymous said...

Hi Justin,

Like many, i too came to know about you through Paull Wade. I love specific grip training for some reason( I dont know why, myself!) I have worked my way up the Convict conditioning grip course and now i am on step 4 One Arm Towel Hangs. The problem is, I am starting to experience a slight persistent pain in my left shoulder. I asked my father and he said that i had dislocated a shoulder when i was around 6. Now I am 16. The shoulder had never caused trouble before. What do you think i should do? I have done a lot of internet research without result. I cannot manage to get the email ID of Paul Wade. Please can you help me out?

- Ayan