Increase Your Strength 30 Percent With This Exercise Grip Hack
STACK interviewed Dr. Seedman for this article, which originally appeared on stack.com on 12/2/15.
The days of casually grabbing a barbell or a set of dumbbells and doing an exercise are no more. To instantly make a move more effective, try to crush the bejesus out of whatever weight you are holding with your hands.
In the early 1900s, British scientist Sir Charles Scott Sherrington published breakthrough research on the neurological system and how it controls the body. One of his discoveries was the Law of Irradiation, which states that when a muscle is working, the muscles around it tend to turn on. The harder a muscle works, the greater the activation of surrounding muscles.
To experience this in action, hold a solid object in your hand. Start by gripping it lightly and notice your forearm muscles engage. Now tighten to a medium grip, and feel your biceps and triceps turn on. Finally, grip it as hard as you can. Every muscle from your forearm up through your shoulder is working, and even the muscles in your chest and back turn on.
This goes hand-in-hand with the concept of Concurrent Activation Potentiation. When you create higher tension in your body, such as when when you use a crushing grip, your performance can increase up to 32 percent.
"By activating smaller non-primary muscles in the hands, forearms and fingers, you get an enhanced neural drive to the rest of the body and increased force production," says STACK Expert Dr. Joel Seedman, an exercise physiologist and owner of Advanced Human Performance (Atlanta, GA). "It helps fire the nervous system and send better signals throughout the rest of the body, whether it's the upper body, lower body or core."
When it comes to your exercises, this has several important benefits:
You Will Get Stronger
Turning on more muscles in an exercise means that more muscles contribute to the movement. Also, greater tension makes the muscles work harder. The result: you are instantly stronger in your lift, just by using a stronger, tighter grip.
"I have seen a strong correlation with my own athletes; when you cue them to grip the bar tighter, you see an almost instantaneous increase in the amount of load they can handle," Seedman says.
The short-term results are great, but the long-term benefits are what you should be after. The more weight you can lift, the greater challenge you will provide to your muscles. Over time, by using this technique you will become a stronger athlete than you would have otherwise.
You Will Build More Muscle
Again, we are harping on the benefits of getting more muscles involved in an exercise. Compound lifts like the Bench Press, Squat and Deadlift are among the best exercises for building muscle, because they involve multiple large muscle groups. Put simply, the more muscle you can recruit and activate, the more you can grow.
A tight grip helps you with that. Whether you use it on a compound lift or a Bicep Curl, a tight grip will amp up the muscle-building benefits of the exercise.
Seedman says, "It's going to allow you to lift heavier weight and release more testosterone, and that's going to help you gain more muscle mass, both from a hormonal aspect and recruiting more muscle mass."
You Will Improve Your Exercise Form
As a byproduct of increasing muscle activity and putting more tension in your body, your exercise form will improve. For example, using a tight grip on the Deadlift engages the lats, which help keep your back straight and stable when you're pulling heavy weight.
"There's usually an immediate improvement in form and stability," says Seedman. "You can tell the whole body gets tighter."
Form improvements are particularly evident with exercises that involve the shoulders, such as the Bench Press.
"Shoulder stability and function improve greatly as grip strength increases," Seedman asserts. "The harder someone grips down, it basically helps to center the shoulder joint, and there's greater muscular stiffness around the shoulder."
The Kettlebell Bottoms-Up Press (shown in the video above) is based on this concept. Holding the kettlebell upside down forces you to grip it tightly to prevent it from tipping over. This engages your shoulder stabilizer muscles, making this overhead lift safer to perform without compromising your shoulders.
How Can You Improve Your Grip?
It's on you to remember this cue when you perform your exercises. Each time you set up for a lift, imagine you are trying to crush the bar, dumbbells or whatever else you're holding.
Don't use straps or gloves. Although they make an exercise easier to perform, they fail to work your grip, reducing muscle activation throughout your body. You may be able to lift more weight, but you're cheating yourself out of the benefits. Even for Deadlifts, Seedman has his athletes primarily use the double overhand grip, switching to an alternating grip with chalk only on the heaviest sets.
Finally, you should make grip training a priority in your workouts. "As grip strength increases, strength everywhere else goes up," Seedman adds. "It's almost a direct correlation."
To improve your grip strength, Seedman recommends Plate Pinches and Kettlebell Bottoms-Up Presses. Another byproduct of squeezing extra tight on your exercises: your grip strength will increase. So it's a win-win situation.