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One of the biggest things that I struggled with during my deadlift training was my grip. This was never a big deal when I was lighter (under 250lbs), but as I became bigger my grip began to suffer. There were several reasons for this:
My hands looked like mitts and my fingers looked like polish sausages.
I lost a lot of flexibility and could not supinate my hands.
I lost feeling in my pinky and ring finger of my left hand. I assume this was because of a pinched nerve as I have never taken HGH. This got so bad that I felt like my fingers had frost bite whenever it got remotely cold. This was not comfortable.
I was a big ***** when it came to training grip.
The big embarrassment came when I pulled 585 and it fell out of my hands. I had everyone telling me to go see a doctor because of the numbness, but I knew what the real story was; I had not taken my grip training seriously enough.
Now I was in somewhat of a dilemma Ė I know I needed to train my grip but everything Iíve read was contradicting itself. Iíve heard that the best way to better your deadlift grip is to deadlift. While I believe this is true, the only problem with this is that when one becomes more advanced, the less you can perform deadlift workouts. The deadlift is extremely hard on your body and can take a long time to recover from. So what was going to suffer? My overall training or my grip?
Then I got the shot in the ass that I needed. (No, not that shot.) I met Jed and Smitty from the Diesel Crew at the 2003 Boston Seminar and they got me on track. First, they showed me what it is like to have fun and train again. Like many of you, training often became a job for me; something that I did only because of habit. It was the same routine over and over again and I would feel guilty if I didnít do Reverse Hyperextensions or ab work at the end of a workout. I know that many of you are or were in the same boat. Then I met the Crew and things changed. They loved what they did and it showed. I had a renewed sense of training after seeing them.
The Diesel Crew (www.DieselCrew.com) is known for grip prowess as well as doing lifts that have long been forgotten. Theyíve got dozens of strange videos on their website; most of them showcase some kind of lift that will make your head shake in amazement.
Anyway, with their guidance (along with some other people) here are some of the things that helped my grip tremendously. They are simple to do, but grip work takes time. While I noticed results in about 6 weeks, it took about 8 months of training my grip to get it where it needed to be. To give you a point of reference Ė when I began doing this, I couldnít close the Captains of Crush Trainer with my left hand (this was my numb/weak hand). In about 6 months, I was able to close the #2 fairly easy. I think this was a substantial improvement. The biggest thing that you will notice is that I didnít really focus on improving my crushing grip, but my finger strength. In doing so, my overall grip improved. Remember the saying, ďYou are only as strong as your weakest linkĒ? Well, much of grip training focuses on the thumb and forefinger. These are already strong on most people. Itís the pinky, ring and middle finger that are usually weakest.
Hex Dumbbell Holds
This was introduced to me by Chuck Vogelpohl. This is one of the most effective grip training methods I used. To do this, place a hex dumbbell on the floor, end up. Place your palm on the top of the hex head and spread your fingers apart and squeeze your fingers into the sides. Because your pinky and ring finger will usually give out first, I really focus on digging them into the bell before I pick it up. For those that are into the Zen of Training, Chuck told me to funnel as much energy into my hands as possible. You do not pick the dumbbells up until you are ready and ďin the zoneĒ or whatever psychologists want to call it. I found this energy funneling to be essential in doing this exercise and any other. This does not be a spastic outrage; this is dispersing your energy. This is internal energy (I guess chi???) that needs to be drawn within and kept within.
This exercise began with 25lb dumbbells and began with 3-4 sets of 5-6 seconds. This didnít do much for me, so I increased the time to 15 seconds. Every couple of weeks, I would take all three sets to failure or at least the last one. This did make my fingers/hands very sore. Eventually, all sets were done with a 30lb dumbbell or better. I was able to hold onto a 45lb hex head dumbbell, but could never hold the 50lb because my hand couldnít reach around it.
These were done twice per week; always on my lower body days. If I was going to do another grip exercise on this day, then I would do only 2 sets.
The only bad thing about this exercise is that many people will be severely limited by how big their hands are. Solution: add weight to the dumbbell by tying plates or ankle straps to the handle or hook up the dumbbell to a pulley machine. The point is Ė be creative. Itís not that difficult.
This is what made my grip improve the most. The IronMind Telegraph is a pretty simple piece of equipment, but its how it was used that made the most difference. Iíve seen a lot of people use this and take an underhand grip (thumb on top). Iíve tried this and have found that it worked my strongest fingers, thumb especially. Because of this, I played around with it and found that the picture position works the best. This is fingers on top and thumb on bottom. I use one hand to raise the Telegraph at an angle while the other one is working. I start off with one warm-up set. This consisted of using all of my fingers. Then I would begin by closing the Telegraph by using my thumb and pinky only. I would work my way down my hand until I got to my forefinger. When I began, I couldnít move the machine with my left pinky and thumb. And this was with no weight. What I did to work around this was to use my pinky/ring finger/thumb at the same time. Eventually I was able to do a 10lb plate, but not after a lot of struggle. What you will find with this exercise is that simply doing it will make a difference. This is not about putting a ton of weight on, it is about performing the movement. I did one set of 10-15 reps every day for about a month, usually with a 2.5lbs plate. I wasnít looking to set any records on this exercise; I was just looking for improvement. The everyday training worked very well for this as there was little loading and little stress. The only bad thing about this exercise is that if you do push it, your hands will be dead and cramping.
The everyday workouts took less than 10 minutes.
After a month, I began performing the Telegraph on upper body days (2 days/week) for 2-3 sets of 10-15.
This can be purchased at www.IronMind.com
EFS Gripper Machine
This is one of the more popular ways to increase grip. But you can always throw some twists in there for good measure. Here are a couple of things that I did to make things different.
I did static holds with one 45lb plate and then stood on that plate. Reasoning? You can grip a little bit better while the machine is closer to your center of gravity. When I wasnít standing on the plate, my hands were in front of me and made training heavy a little awkward. Not bad, but not the best. I held each static hold for as long as I could. I never really went to failure but let go a few seconds before my grip would go out.
The other thing that I did that wasnít ďnormalĒ was I worked one hand at a time, but left my forefinger out of the mix. And instead of trying to bring my thumb to my fingers, I tried to bring my fingers (middle/ring/pinky) to my thumb. Obviously there is not a huge discrepancy in the way the movement looks, but how it feels is very different. Again, Iím trying to work the fingers and not the hand.
This was done on lower body days and since I almost always did hex dumbbell holds on this day, I would lower the volume on the holds to do this exercise. Usually 3-4 sets were done. Reps were usually fairly high Ė 8 or more.
This exercise lies somewhere between the hex dumbbell holds and the Telegraph. Stand two plates (these can be 5, 10, 25 or 35lbs) next to each other, letters and numbers facing in and sandwich them together. Using one hand, pick up the plates. You are going to really have to dig your fingers into the plates prior to lifting them.
You should start with two plates and keep adding a plate until you cannot lift it or your hand is too small. I have found that the 10lb plates work best for hand spacing and increases in weight. The bigger weights are too big of jumps and the 5lb plates are too small.
I do not recommend doing both hands at the same time as there will be too many loose plates falling and rolling around. You are going to need a tremendous amount of hand strength to pinch the plates together especially when you begin holding 4 or more plates. This was done on upper body days and held for time and trying for records. You can use the same protocol as the hex dumbbell holds. This wasnít a frequent thing for me, but it was fun to do.
Now here are some other tips and points:
Start slowly with grip work. This can take a toll on your training, so be careful. Better to start with too little rather than too much. Two workouts a week can be used.
Donít go grip crazy. Remember that itís a small piece of the puzzle. Unless you are looking to close the quatro, or looking to enter a grip contest, be modest with your grip training.
Improving your grip will improve all of your lifts. My bench felt remarkably different since training my grip. The tighter that you can squeeze the tighter you can get. The tighter you are the more stable and stronger you can be. Itís really not that big of a stretch.
You donít need to be training your grip if itís already strong. These suggestions are for those who have a weak grip or who need to improve it. Focus your time on another weakness.
This next statement may sound like an informercial: A few minutes a week spent training your grip can make a huge difference.
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I'm always looking for improving my grip.