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Friday, November 9, 2012

“If you can’t grip it, you can’t rip it” - How to Increase Your Deadlift Max with specialized grip training. - Karsten Jensen

“You rock my world”

Those where the words of world class power lifter friend of mine, when I shared these grip training ideas.

The principle behind this training program is the same principle that is behind all result producing strength and conditioning programs.

The training must be harder than the competition.

In the case of the dead lift, this principle dictates that if you are aiming to dead lift 500 pounds, each hand must be able to support more than 250 pounds due to accelerative forces.

Partial deadlifts may be the first exercise that comes to mind to fit this task. With a partial deadlift you may be able to hold 600-700 pounds or much more. Let’s take it a step further and ask: “How many different ways can we train the hand? Let me rephrase that. How many ways – specific to the deadlift – can we train the hand? Like any other form of training, grip training is highly specific to the task. Another friend of mine a performing strongman, trains the partial dead lift and manages 1500 pound, but never trains with grippers and cannot close the captain crush gripper level 3, which requires supposedly requires 280 lbs to close (1) According to the textbooks, a deadlift involves a so called “power grip”, which places “all fingers and the thumb around an object (2) So let break it down and see how many different ways we can train specific to the power grip

1. You can flex one finger at a time.
2. You can emphasise either the proximal or the two distal joints of each finger.
3. You can emphasise the thumb or any of the other four fingers.
4. You can train the finger extensors of the hand
5. You can train the wrist extensors
6. You can train the wrist flexors

In this article I want to share three exercises to develop these areas. This article will present these exercises as an extra workout (or feeder workout) to be performed two to three times a week an adjunct to your regular routine These exercises are strongly inspired by famous Strongman Herman Goerner, whose personal best in the one hand deadlift was 720 pound. Among his prefereed exercises was was two finger deadlifts and deadlifts holding the bar with only the first joint of the fingers (3)

1. Single Finger Curl with Cable The Single Finger Curl with Cable emphasises the two distal joints of the little finger, ring finger, middle finger and the index finger. . A study indicate that grip strength is higher with the elbow extended (4). Therefore these exercises are performed seated on the floor or a bench with the extended elbow supported on the inside of the bend knee. The cable is set to match the hight of the hand. Start position: Begin with the little finger and place the handle on the last digit of the finger. The Finger should be on the middle of the handle. If the finger is placed of the middle of the handle, the handle will rotate and the quality of the repetition is compromised. The other fingers are curled and thus “out of the way”.

Action: Curl the finger until the handle touches the other fingers. The range of motion is VERY small, but the load on the muscle is significant. Perform 12-20 repetitions per set and increase the load when you perform 20 repetitions in 1 or more sets. Perform 2 sets per finger. (With the short range of motion the duration of each repetition is about 2 seconds. Therefore the 12-20 repetition bracket is not – as it would normally be – endurance, but rather structural strength) Continue with the ring finger, middle finger and index finger without rest. Repeat the process with the other hand without rest.

2. Dynamic Plate Pinch with dowel Rod Dynamic Pinch emphasises the first joint of each finger as well as the force produced by the thumb As a tool to train dynamic pinch strength, I learned of the Titan Telegraph key years ago, but it was not until recently, when a very strong mountain climber friend of mine told me how dynamic pinch improved his climbing that I paid attention to dynamic pinch.

If you don’t happen to have a Titan Telegraph Key, you may train the dynamic pinch strength using a dowel rod and to small weight plates with smooth sides. The exercise is show on this video: Start position: “Sandwich” the dowel rod with the weight plates using a pinch grip on with both hands.

Action: Aim to pinch the two plates together on the left side of the dowel rod, while resisting maximally with the right hand. Continue to pinch the plates together on the right side of the dowel rod, while resisting maximally with the left hand. Pinching the plates together on each side of the dowel rod, counts as one repetition. Perform 2 sets of 4-8 repetitions with about a minute of rest in between sets. The advantage of this exercise is the maximal tension on both hands throughout the range of motion. On the other hand, progression cannot be objectively quantified. You goal is subjectively to exert more force with each training session.

3. Self Resisted Finger and Wrist Extensions. During any natural movement in the body, muscles on both sides of the joint co-contract in a pattern, specific to the goal of the movement. This co-contraction serves to optimize performance and prevent injury. During the power grip the flexors of the fingers and the hand are the agonists (the muscles performing the movement), but the strength of the extensors of the fingers may affect the level of force the flexors can produce (5). Legendary strongman John Brookfield notes that “Some of you who are at sticking point with your hand strength rigth now, will notice a huge difference if you start to train the extensors (6). The exercises shown are inspired by the self resisted finger extension exercises in “The Grip Masters Manual” by John Brookfield . Start position: There are four components to this exercise. Resistance is placed at each joint of the finger and at the back of the hand.

1+2: Resistance applied to the distal joint and middle joint of the little finger.

3+4: Resistance applied to the proximal joint of the little finger and the back of the hand.

Action: In each postion try to extend the little finger with high effort, but resist with the other hand so no movement occur. You are creating a near maximal isometric contraction of the finger extensors. Extend with maximal effort for 10 seconds in each of the three first positions. Go through the little finger, ring finger, middle finger and index finger in this fashion. Finish with 10 seconds in position 4 (back of hand). Repeat with the other hand. There should be no rest between sets. As far as your regular routine goes, there is no way around training with a thick bar if your goal is to optimize your grip strength. I am sure that you have heard this before, but I want to share a little biomechanics that helped me understand, why training with a thick bar is such a powerful tool to develop grip strength.

However, most often (if not always) we can’t lift as much weight with a thick bar as we can with a regular Olympic bar (7). Thus, by only training with a thick bar all other muscles than the grip muscles are under stimulated. Therefore training with the thick bar should always be used in combination with training with the regular bar. One way to incorporate the thick bar training is to use a thick bar exclusively in the early phases of a cycle and then shift to training with the regular bar later in the cycle.

References: (1) (2) Enoka R. Voluntary Movement. Neuromechanics of Human Movement, 4th Ed. Chapter 7, p 298. Human Kinetics. 2008 (3) Mueller E. His Training Methods. Goerner The Mighty, Chapter 6, p 92-96. (4) Espana Romero V, Ortega FB, Vicente-Rodriquez G, Artero EG, Rey JP, Ruiz JR. Elbow position affects handgrip strength in adolescents: validity and reliability of Jamar, DynEx, and TKK dynamometers. J Strength Cond Res. 24(1):272-7. 2010. (5) Li Z-M, Zatsiorsky VM, Latash ML. The effect of finger extensor mechanism on the flexor force during isometric tasks. 34(8):1097-1102. Journal of Biomechanics. (6) Brookfield J. Advanced Lower Arm and Grip Training. Gripmasters Manual. Chapter 2, p63. Ironmind Enterprises, Inc. 2002. (7) Ratamess NA, Faigenbaum AD, Mangine GT, Hoffmann JR, Kang J. Acute muscular strength assessment using free weigth bars of different thickness. J Strength Cond Res. 21(1):240-4. 2007

Karsten’s newest book “The Flexible Periodization Method” – How personal trainers and strength coaches create completely individualized longterm training programs for the fitness enthusiast, the world class athlete and everyone in between is available from

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