Wondering how to increase grip strength? Try these trainer-approved grip strength exercises and tricks to build muscle in your forearms and hands.
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Person Carrying Weights
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If you've been sucked into reality TV over the last decade or two, you may have made the assumption that the only real purpose of having incredible grip strength is to slay an obstacle course on American Ninja Warrior or Wipeout.

But being able to glue your hands onto slippery or heavy objects actually has IRL benefits, both in the gym and your daily routine. Here, fitness pros break down exactly why your grip matters and share tips on how to improve grip strength. Plus, you'll find demos of grip strength exercises that will make you feel confident enough to tackle the salmon ladder — or at least a local rock climbing wall.

What Is Grip Strength?

Simply put, grip strength refers to how firmly you can hold and squeeze onto objects. And it's influenced by the muscles in your fingers, hands, and forearms, says Natalie Ribble, M.S., C.S.C.S., a certified personal trainer and body-neutral strength coach in Seattle. 

More specifically, grip strength can be broken down into three categories: support strength, crush strength, and pinch strength, says Ribble. Support strength is essentially your ability to hold onto objects, such as a bar during a deadlift or a basket of laundry, and it's the kind of grip strength you'll most commonly use in the gym setting, she says. Crush strength, however, is your ability to use your entire hand (fingers, thumb, and palm) to, well, crush something, such as a soda can. And pinch strength refers to the strength between both your index and middle fingers and thumb, which you'll use when opening a jar, for instance, she adds. 

The Importance of Grip Strength

Prevents Fitness Plateaus

If you have your sights set on hitting a new PR on an exercise that involves holding onto a bar, you need to consider your grip strength, says Analisse Ríos, C.S.C.S., a certified personal trainer and strength coach in Connecticut. "You have to be able to hold the weight you want to lift," she says. "You will only be able to perform as many pull-ups or deadlifts as your grip allows you to because that's usually the first thing to go."

Even if you have the necessary strength in your upper body to perform, say, 10 pull-ups, you won't be able to hit that target if your grip isn't strong enough to grasp onto the bar throughout all those reps, she explains. "If you want to have a strong deadlift and you want to do pull-ups, then you gotta have strong hands — those are your hooks," adds Ribble.

Supports Daily Activities

Even if you're not a weightlifter or CrossFit athlete, you'll still utilize your grip strength on an everyday basis, says Ríos. "You use it in daily life, like carrying luggage around, carrying groceries from the car, or opening up a jar of pickles," she says. "All of those things [require] those muscles that form your grip strength." And by improving your grip strength, you'll be able to take on heavier loads and open even the most stubborn of salsa jars.

When to Focus On Grip Strength Exercises

You'll unintentionally work your grip during most dumbbell, kettlebell, and bar exercises, says Ríos. That said, there are a few instances in which you may want to take a more calculated approach and incorporate specific grip strength exercises into your routine. If you generally can't carry all of your heavy grocery bags into your house, open most containers with ease, or carry out any other day-to-day activities that utilize your grip strength, take it as a sign to try a few grip strength exercises, says Ribble. On the same token, if your grip is giving out while powerlifting or performing pull-ups, preventing you from reaching your weight or rep goals, you may want to give grip strength exercises a shot.

You can also perform a dead hang — an exercise in which you hang from a pull-up bar for as long as possible — to gauge your grip strength, says Ribble. "It's going to be totally different for everybody, but I would say you should be able to hold your body up for at least 10 to 15 seconds," she says. If you're not able to hold a dead hang for that amount of time, you may want to think about how to improve your grip strength, says Ribble. (BTW, you can get a more detailed measure of your grip strength by using a dynamometer, a tool found in most physical therapy clinics and strength conditioning facilities, she adds.)

How to Improve Grip Strength

You don't have to overhaul your routine if you want to start increasing your grip strength. Remember, any exercise that involves holding onto a dumbbell, kettlebell, or bar calls upon your grip, but you can up the challenge by increasing time under tension, says Ríos. While performing a pull-up, for example, hold your position for three seconds at the top of the movement, three seconds with your elbows bent at 90 degrees, and three seconds at the point just before your arms are fully extended, she suggests. "Now that one pull-up has become a nine-second pull-up, so if you do three reps, you're gripping the bar for almost 30 seconds," she says.

Still, there are a few exercises that specifically target your grip and come with a host of other benefits. "A lot of these are multifaceted exercises," says Ríos. For example, "the farmer's carry is like holding a plank while walking — you're making sure you're not flexing one way or another. You're working your core as well as your grip strength and lower-body strength because you're adding a bunch of weight to your body." Similarly, deadlifts not only help improve grip strength, but they also increase hip and back strength, says Ribble. 

When first mixing grip strength exercises into your routine, choose a weight that feels a bit too light so you can master the form, suggests Ribble. "If you can comfortably do a set of eight reps with no problem, then you can go up in weight," she says. "With anything that's brand new, start nice and conservative and give yourself some time. Then, you'll get the hang of it and you can increase [the weight] from week to week."

If you're a newbie to weight training, you'll also want to spread your grip strength exercises throughout your week, says Ribble. "A lot of times in fitness, workouts are programed on a push-pull basis, but a lot of pull exercises are going to be very grip-intensive, like deadlifts, pull-ups, and single-arm rows," she explains. "For some people, that can be totally fine — they've been doing it for a long time and their hands are nice and strong. But there are going to be some people that it's going to be really difficult." In those cases, consider performing pull-ups on squat days, rather than deadlift days, so your hands get a bit of a breather, she suggests. "You're getting a little bit of grip [training] each workout, but it's also not so much in one session that it's limiting what you can do in other areas," says Ribble.

8 Grip Strength Exercises

Ready to start building grip strength so you can carry your 10-pound Trader Joe's bag up your apartment's stairs without a hitch? Consider mixing these grip strength exercises, as demonstrated by Ribble, into your routine. Remember: "Just with any other exercise, progress slowly," says Ríos.

Deadlift

A. Stand with feet hip-width apart, barbell pressed up against shins and core engaged.

B. Keeping a flat black and proud chest, hinge at hips to bend torso forward, pushing butt backward, until hands can reach barbell with straight arms.

C. Grip the bar with palms facing shins, hands shoulder-width apart. Screw pinkies into the bar to engage lats. (Think: Rotate your hands slightly outward).

D. Look straight ahead to maintain a neutral neck. Then, keeping arms straight and core tight, squeeze glutes and pull the bar up along the front of legs until standing upright.

E. Maintaining a flat back, hinge at hips and slide the bar in a straight path down the front of legs to return to the starting position.

Farmer's Carry

A. Stand with feet hip-width apart between two kettlebells. Keeping a flat back, hinge at hips and knees to bend down and grab the handles.

B. Engage core and straighten hips and knees to stand, with arms long and weights by sides. Draw shoulders down and back and stand tall.

C. Walk forward, taking small steps and moving weights as little as possible.

Suitcase Carry

A. Stand with feet hip-width apart next to one kettlebell. Keeping a flat back, hinge at hips and knees to bend down and grab the handle.

B. Engage core and straighten hips and knees to stand, with arm long and weight by side. Draw shoulders down and back and stand tall. Extend free arm out to side.

C. Walk forward, taking small steps and moving weight as little as possible.

Upside-Down Hold with Carry

A. Stand with feet hip-width apart, arms at side and holding a kettlebell by the handle in one hand, Use both hands to bring the kettlebell handle up to chest height, elbow tucked at side and bell of the weight above hand.

B. Engage core, draw shoulders down and back, and stand tall. Extend free arm out to side.

C. Walk forward, taking small steps, and stabilize through elbow to prevent forearm from falling out to sides.

Upside-Down Hold with Press

A. Kneel with one leg extended in front and opposite shin resting on the floor behind of body, both knees bent at 90-degree angles. Place a kettlebell on the floor in front of back knee.

B. Use both hands to bring the kettlebell handle up to chest height, elbow tucked at side and bell of the weight above hand. Palm should be facing body.

C. Engage core, draw shoulders down and back, and extend free arm out to side.

D. Press kettlebell up toward the ceiling, stabilizing through elbow to prevent forearm from falling out to sides. Slowly lower kettlebell back down to chest to return to the starting position.

Pinch Plate Carry

A. Stand with feet hip-width apart with a weight plate resting against side of calf. Keeping a flat back, hinge at hips and knees to bend down and grab the plate, placing four fingers on the outside and thumb on the inside.

B. Engage core and straighten hips and knees to stand, with arm long and weight by side. Draw shoulders down and back and stand tall. Extend free arm out to side.

C. Walk forward, taking small steps and moving weight as little as possible.

Dead Hang

A. Stand on a plate or box underneath a pull-up bar so hands can almost reach bar.

B. Shift weight into tiptoes and place hands on bar slightly wider than shoulder-width apart, palms facing away from body. Feet should be flat and lifted off the floor, legs hanging straight down, and core engaged.

C. Hold for 10 to 15 seconds, avoiding swinging, then release hands to return to the starting position.

Pull-Up

A. Stand on a plate or box underneath a pull-up bar so hands can almost reach bar.

B. Shift weight into tiptoes and place hands on bar slightly wider than shoulder-width apart, palms facing away from body. Feet should be flat and lifted off the floor, legs hanging straight down, and core engaged.

C. Squeeze lats while bending arms to pull body up to the bar, keeping elbows close to sides and avoiding swinging. Continue to pull up until chin is above the bar, then slowly lower down to the starting position.