Build Upper Body & Grip Strength With This Protocol

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Build Upper Body & Grip Strength With The Double Barbell Fat Grip Protocol

Dr. Joel Seedman, Ph.D.

When it comes to building functional size and strength, it’s tough to beat weighted variations of pullups, dips, inverted rows, and pushups.  In fact you could make a strong argument that implementing these movements on a consistent basis will provide most of the upper body strength and size gains you’ll ever need although you would miss out on some additional benefits of other movements.  Although there are a number of variations such as rings, and suspension systems that can be applied to pullups, dips, inverted rows and pushups, one that I’ve recently been experimenting with is the double barbell fat grip protocol. 

The set up is quite simple.  Place two barbells on a rack at the appropriate height, offset one side of the bars with at least a plate or two to counteract any tipping effect and perform your favorite body weight exercises. Besides providing a unique stimulus, the double barbell fat grip protocol provides several unique benefits that are difficult to replicate with any other method.  Lets break these benefits down movement by movement starting with pullups.

Pullups and Chin-ups

Applying the double barbell fat grip protocol to pullups makes the movement quite challenging yet very effective. Also big shoutout to Nick Nilsson for the inspiration for this exercise.  I highly recommend following Nick as he’s one of the most innovative guys in the fitness industry.

The double barbell fat grip protocol provides 6 unique benefits for pullups

1. The grip gets absolutely pulverized from these not only because of the circumference of the barbell collars you’ll be hanging from but also because of the rolling and spinning nature of the collars.  As a result this is one of the most effective forearm and grip exercises you’ll ever perform.

2. Intense grip activation not only improves forearm, hand and grip strength but it also leads to improved centration and packing of the glenohumeral joint.  In fact, there is research demonstrating a direct relationship between grip strength and shoulder stability.

3. Fierce grip activation on movements such as pullups also produces irradiation and concurrent activation potentiation.  This elicits more full body tension, spinal rigidity, shoulder stability, core tightness, and motor control as a result of squeezing the daylights our of your grip.  This also produces greater neural drive, motor unit recruitment and overall activation to the working extremities such as the upper back, lats, and biceps making the movement even more effective for building functional strength and hypertrophy.

3. I’ve also found that intense grip activation helps minimize the common error of over-pulling at the top and collapsing at the bottom of pullups.  Most individuals try to pull excessively high in the contracted position of pullups (leading to poor lat recruitment and shoulder instability) while also collapsing and going excessively deep at the bottom (i.e. excessive shoulder elevation and protraction).  Performing pullups on rotating fat grip barbell collars forces the lifter to use appropriate range of motion as faulty mechanics will actually cause the grip to move into a structurally weak position increasing the chance of grip slippage

4. The lifter will also be required to use smooth and controlled mechanics as any shifting, excessive momentum, jerking or kipping will cause the grip to slip. This further increases the tension to the working musculature while also minimizing stress to the joints and connective tissue

5. The grip width can be modified to be as close or as wide as the lifter desires.  This makes it very conducive for adjusting to any size lifter (wide or narrow shoulders) as well as incorporating a variety of grip widths for emphasizing different portions of the upper back and lats.  The wider grip typically involves more upper lats and closer grip typically involves a bit more lower lats although with proper form the difference is smaller than is commonly thought.

6. The neutral grip pullup is one of the most natural and comfortable grip positions that also tends to be easier on the shoulder joint and well as the bicep tendon.  Unfortunately many gyms don’t have access to neutral grip pullup stations.  However, this setup alleviates this issue as the lifter can create their own makeshift neutral grip pullup station with two barbells.


Performing dips using the double barbell fat grip protocol provides several benefits.

1. One of the most common problems lifters run into when performing dips is a sharp digging sensation into the palm of their hands where the dip bars essentially hit a nerve making it very painful to perform the movement.  I can’t tell you the number of times I’ve talked to intermediate and advanced lifters alike who have run into this issue.  Fortunately this protocol eliminates the issue altogether as the lifter is gripping the barbell collars which act as fat grips.  As a result there’s little if any pressure to the palm of the hands. 

2.  Finding a parallel dip bar station that provides a variety of grip widths to fit different size lifters is easier said than done.  This is a topic Lee Boyce has discussed over the years demonstrating the effectiveness of using barbells to create a makeshift dip station.  Using two barbells allows the lifter to modify and adjust the bars to fit any grip width the lifter chooses. In addition, a wider grip tends to recruit more outer chest fibers and shoulders whereas a closer grip tends to target the inner chest and triceps a bit more.

3. This is a deceptively unstable dip variation that at first glance appears relatively stable and simple until you attempt it.  In fact I nearly found out the hard way on one of my recent sets as I used a bit too much momentum towards the end of one of my final weighted sets and the bars nearly slipped out to the sides.  With that said this is one of the most effective dip variations for eliminating excessive momentum, shifting, and kipping, as it literally forces the lifter to use smooth and controlled mechanics.  As a result it places enormous tension on the chest, shoulders, and triceps turning this into one potent dip movement for eliciting functional strength and hypertrophy in the upper body.  On a side note I recommend performing these dips in an eccentric isometric fashion as shown in the video as this helps lock the movement in and maximize body mechanics via enhanced proprioceptive feedback.

Inverted Rows

Performing inverted rows with the double barbell fat grip method not only provides similar benefits as pullups in terms of grip activation, shoulder centration, full body tension, proper ROM, and grip possibilities but it also eliminates one of the most common problems I see on inverted rows namely sloppy form and excessive momentum.  In fact, most lifters tend to treat inverted rows as a high rep finishing movement with little attention to detail, form, and mechanics.  As a result it does little for improving strength and hypertrophy and more for degrading posture and shoulder function.  

Performing inverted rows using the double barbell fat grip method and gripping the outer collars of the bar, forces the lifter to dial in their form and use smooth technique with more locked in postural alignment.  Focus on leaning back rather than towards the barbells as you pull yourself up to the top contracted position.  Here’s one of my awesome figure athletes Leslie Petch showing how it’s done with some additional loading in the form of chains. 


Performing pushups using the double barbell protocol provides similar benefits as the dip variation.  Fortunately you don’t need to place the bars on a rack but instead can simply place them on the floor with a few small plates elevating them.  However, be prepared for a highly unstable pushup variation as the bars will roll out to the sides of you unless you use perfect mechanics.  Here’s what it looks like with the standard double barbell method. 

The fat grip version is performed in the same fashion only gripping the outsides of the bars which also makes it more susceptible to rolling.

To learn more about programming upper body mass builders into your training routine check out my Complete Templates