Get a grip | 5 ways to improve grip strength

Lately, I’ve found myself unable to complete the last few reps of my bent-over rows, lat pulldowns, assisted pull-ups and dead lifts.

improve grip strength

Not because I’ve lost strength (I’ve actually been slowly increasing the loads I can lift on each of these exercises for the past few months), but because my strength gains haven’t been even.

My ‘gripping’ muscles are weaker than the muscles of my legs, back and shoulders and are limiting my ability to work my larger muscle groups to fatigue. Last week, I nearly dropped a 50-lb dumbbell on my toe, not because my back said ‘enough’, but because my hand could no longer grip the weight I was rowing.

Clearly, I need to improve my grip strength. But where to start?

Know your gripping muscles

Developing a strong grip requires focus on the muscles of the forearm, specifically the flexor digitorum superficialis, flexor digitorum profondus and the flexor policus longus. When flexed isometrically, these three muscles allow you to maintain a closed-hand hold on dumbbells, barbells and cable and pulley handles.

improve your grip strength

When fatigued, they lose their contractibility, resulting in the hand opening and the weight slipping to the ground.

Exercises to improve grip strength

Building a better grip requires development of the forearms.

Now I know that many women worry about getting bulky and the idea of having muscular forearms goes against their personal aesthetic. Just remember that strong forearms will allow you to develop strong shoulders, a more well-defined back and a booty to behold. As long as your gains are proportional, nobody will be looking at your gripping muscles.

As a benefit, you’ll also be able to comfortably carry heavier shopping bags from the mall to that ‘get more steps in’ distant parking space 😉

1. Hex dumbbell holds

Grab a pair of hex dumbbells by their ends. Extend arms at your sides, keeping shoulders back and down and core engaged and hold for as long as you can. Obviously, the size of your hand will determine what size of dumbbell you’ll be able to grip. Start with a weight that you can hold for 30 s at a time. Progress by increasing the load every week or two, until you reach the limit of your grip width.

2. Weight plate pinches

In addition to strengthening your forearms, weight plate pinches will also improve your finger strength; a secondary, but important contributor to grip strength.

Start by grabbing two, same-size weight plates. Place them back to back, smooth side out. Standing tall, hold the plates together by placing your thumb near the top of the inside plate (closest to your body) and your fingers near the top of the outside plate. Pinch the plates together and hold for as long as you can. (Stop just before you’re no longer able to gently lower the plates to the ground). Repeat on the other side.

3. Wrist curls

Grab a light pair of dumbbells in an overhand grip. Place forearms on a bench (or counter top, if you’re doing this at home), with hands extended just beyond the edge, palms facing down. Alternately flex and extend the wrists, moving weights down towards the floor then up towards the ceiling, making sure that forearms remain in contact with the bench throughout. Aim for two sets of 10-12 repetitions.

4. Fat bar holds

Some gyms have ‘fat’ bars; bars that are thicker around than typical barbells, O-bars and EZ-curl bars. If your gym doesn’t have such a bar you can make your own by wrapping a thick towel around the shaft of a standard barbell.

Standing with feet shoulder width apart, grab the bar, placing hands slightly wider than hip width apart. Hold for as long as you can. Try varying your grips (open, closed and mixed) to stimulate your gripping muscles from a variety of angles.

5. Tennis ball squeeze

Holding a tennis (or lacrosse) ball in one hand. Squeeze tightly for 10-15 s. Rest briefly and repeat. You can perform this exercise on both hands simultaneously, or one hand after the other.

Putting it all together

My plan is to add in grip strength work twice weekly at the end of my strength workouts (wouldn’t want to pre-fatigue that muscles I need for back, shoulder and leg work 😉 ).

I’m hoping that two sets of each of the above exercises will aid in my quest for unassisted pull ups and a bigger dead lift. (And get me reading for holiday shopping trips at the mall). I’ll let you know!

Have you ever experienced forearm fatigue when performing pulling exercises?

How have you improved your grip strength?







  1. I neeeed this for climbing too.
    I like to convince myself I be going climbing soon 🙂
    CARLA recently posted…Join me in exercising LESS?My Profile

  2. Having huge issues with this lately too, the hands always give up before the other muscles do. Taking advice…running to gym. Thank YOU!
    Rita recently posted…What Does Being Authentic Actually Mean?My Profile

  3. Can I just tell you how awesome you are? Grip strength isn’t something that just anyone would notice. Here, you have noticed, solved the problem and then shared. Like Carla mentioned, these exercies will help for any situation in which grip strength is needed, be it climbing, cross fit or simply opening those pesky ice cream topping jars!

    • Ha, ha. Right back at you my friend! I do pay a lot of attention to how my body responds to exercise though; ‘be your own detective’ is my motto when it comes to finding the best solution for my body! And you’re right; this definitely counts as ‘functional training’…

  4. One important thing about grip strength: it’s a determining factor in longevity. Probably as a indicator of overall muscle tone. Better grip strength, longer life.

    I always suffer from some kind of grip strength failure. Arthritic hands and seemingly systemic tendonitis does that to you! Towel pulls are another way to work on this (use an old towel hooked through cable for your last set of pull-downs instead of a bar.
    Deb Roby recently posted…Hybrid LifeMy Profile

    • Deb, I didn’t know that. How interesting! I imagine that both of us have pretty good grip strength when compared to the norm, though, wouldn’t you think? And thanks for the towel suggestion. I’ll give that a try later this week.

  5. I remember the first time I must have really worked my forearm muscles, and was SO CONFUSED when they were sore!
    Alysia @ Slim Sanity recently posted…Healthier Homemade Crunch BarsMy Profile

    • Just finished my first ‘gripping’ workout. I’m certainly going to feel my forearms tomorrow! LOL!

  6. Grip it, grip it good. Well laid out advice. While I have no hand arthritis to limit me, I have broken both wrists, so feel the fatigue and pain there first. Then it’s tennis ball time!
    KymberlyFunFit recently posted…Travel to TucsonMy Profile

  7. Always great info!!! Well, I am not doing anything that needs more grip strength.. I am getting lazy in my old age! 🙂 Keeping for future reference though!!!!
    Jody – Fit at 56 recently posted…Sharing the Message – Love Yourself First! “Going Fishing” to BE PRESENT!My Profile

  8. Absolutely love the advice on this post!! I found one of the things limiting my deadlift progress has been because of my loose grip. I will try to incorporate some of these exercises in my routine. Thanks so much for sharing!
    PlumPetals recently posted…Finally!!!My Profile


  1. […] 5 Ways To Improve Grip Strength (Fit Knit Chick) – I’ve definitely been held back due to grip strength in the past. I could do heavier deadlifts but my forearms would be burning and I couldn’t hold on to the bar any longer. Great tips! […]

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