Do Grip Strengtheners Work? Questions for Plato…

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I can remember when I was a little kid and meeting my grandfather for the second or third time. Being the little brat that I was, I thought it would be a good idea to put the decorated World War 2 veteran (and former Army Gold Gloves boxing contender) grip strength to the test. We shook hands and I squeezed…”hard”.

The old man shook back…squeezed hard…and nearly broke my little hand!

The man who had spent his early 20’s getting shot (9 times!) while “island hopping” around the South Pacific wasn’t about to let his punk grandson get away with a fast one like that!

I only ever visited with Grandpa two or three more times before he died, but I can distinctly remember him always squeezing one of those plastic, cheap-looking hand grippers. 

Like…all the time. The thing was attached to his hand.

Looking back, I have to ask myself “do grip strengtheners actually work?” or had he simply acquired the hard grip that hard men inevitably develop in their lives?

I would imagine it was probably some combination of both. Today, though, we’ll answer the first question in detail. By the time we’re done, you’ll be on your way to developing a handshake strong enough to break the wills of even the smarmiest of your young relatives!

What is a Grip Strengthener?

A grip strengthener (also called a hand gripper or grip strengthener) is a compact and versatile tool for building the muscles in your hands, fingers, and forearms and increasing your grip strength. 

Grip strengtheners come in various shapes and sizes, although you’re probably most familiar with the classic V-shaped device that consists of a metal torsion spring with two handles. The handles are ergonomically shaped and have a coating (usually made of silicone, high-density foam, or soft rubber) that provides comfort for your hands. Some also come without a coating, with knurled metal handles…

Like these bad boys from the Captains of Crush line

No coating. No problem!

Back to the technical stuff…one of the great things about grip strengtheners is that they are generally very affordable. The price may vary according to its features and quality, but they are generally very budget-friendly tools. Although you can opt for the really budget friendly options where the resistance is adjustable (so that you can save on purchasing multiple grip strengtheners), I have found these ones to be inferior in quality. 

That being said, hand grippers, no matter the price or quality, are compact and lightweight, so you can take them everywhere you go and work on your grip strength while sitting on the subway or sipping your orange mocha frappuccino at Starbucks!

(knowing Starbucks, they’re liable to kick you out for doing this, though!)

Do Grip Strengtheners Work?

Do grip strengtheners work is a common question, and the answer depends on several factors:

  1. Are you using them properly?
  2. Do you understand their effectiveness and limitations/do you have “reasonable” expectations?

How to Use a Grip Strengthener

Using a grip strengthener is both incredibly simple (well, at least the theory of how to use one) as well as being somewhat complicated. Scour the Internet for any length of time and you’re bound to find a number of different hand gripper training programs as well as dedicated forums discussing the practice.

@dollyliciousfox

Without going into all of the nuances of “‘elite’ grip strengthener training” or “using your hand gripper to develop ‘crushing strength’”, let’s look at the basics of how to use your grip strengthener.

  1. Choose a resistance level suitable for you: If you are a beginner, start with light resistance. Then, gradually progress to more challenging resistance as you get stronger. This can translate to using a lower setting on an adjustable hand gripper or using the lower-intensity “Guide” or “Sport” Captains of Crush models.
  2. Warm up beforehand: As with any other exercise, this one also requires some warm-up. You can prepare by performing gentle stretches and rotations of your  hands to include the use of Expand Your Hand bands (my preferred warm-up devices). This will increase the blood flow and prevent injuries.

  1. Use a proper grip technique: Take the grip strengthener, and hold it with your hand with your fingers wrapped around the handles. The grip strengthener should be placed in your palm at a 45-degree angle. Place it just above the base of your thumb. The rest of the fingers should be as low on the top handle as possible. Keep the fingers close together so you can create better tension.
  2. Compress the handles: Squeeze the grip strengthener with your finger and thumb. Make sure to apply equal pressure on both sides. The handles should touch together. Then, hold the grip for a few seconds. Slowly release. Do the same movement for the desired number of reps.
  3. Change hands: You should work both hands equally to avoid muscle imbalances. So, make sure to do an equal number of reps for each hand.

As mentioned above, this is a very basic “how to” of using hand grippers. To ensure that the answer to your question “do grip strengtheners work?” be sure to research specific programs and to consult forums (like the ones alluded to above) that best align with your grip goals.

Common Mistakes When Using Grip Strengtheners

There are a couple of things you should avoid when using your grip strengthener.

  1. The resistance level is wrong: This is one of the most common mistakes. Many people choose a grip strengthener that is not suitable for their physical readiness. If the resistance level of the grip strengthener is too low, the answer to your “do grip strengtheners work” question will most definitely be “….nah, man”! 

  1. If the resistance is too high, you might strain the hand and forearm muscles and potentially cause discomfort and injury. You might also not be able to budge the thing and just say “to heck with grip training!” However, it’s still better to start with lower resistance (the one you feel comfortable with) and slowly build up to higher.
  1. Using the wrong grip strengtheners: You should choose a grip strengthener that’s not too big or too small for your hand. Otherwise, the workout will not be comfortable and effective. The size of the handle should be just enough to fit the four fingers, not more and not less.  
  • Truth be told, there are a number of different grip trainers designed to stimulate different parts of the hand (such as the Two-finger Utility Gripper). However, most of these are not designed for introductory grip training.
  1. Using grip strengtheners too often: Since it’s an isolated exercise that works only a few muscles in your forearm, it can lead to your forearms being fatigued if you do it too often. Just because they’re “only” grip trainers doesn’t mean you should treat your grip training differently than you would “upper body” training or “leg day”. Give your hands adequate rest!

The Effectiveness of Grip Strengtheners

Grip strengtheners are definitely effective for improving grip strength, especially for beginners. With proper technique and consistency in training, you will target muscles in your hand and forearm that are generally neglected by more traditional strength training methods.

@gymmflexx

Do grip strengtheners work all of the muscles in the hands and forearms? Which muscles do grip strengtheners work, exactly?

The squeezing of the hand when using a grip strengthener mainly activates:

These muscles stretch between the elbow and the various smaller bones of the fingers.

They are the primary movers during the compression of the grip strengthener, so they will be the ones that experience the most grip “gainz”.

The secondary muscle worked is the extensor digitorum communis. It’s located in the posterior (rear) area of the forearm. The function of this muscle is to extend the phalanges, the wrist, and the elbow. It is also responsible for separating the fingers as it extends them. It’s activated during the release phase of the movement.

These are only a part of the muscles of the forearm, so don’t expect miracles. Although you will increase your grip strength to a certain level, you will not develop a considerable amount of muscle mass.

(although I’m pretty sure those yuge dudes from “Over the Top” used their hand grippers a time or two!)

Grip strengtheners provide a dynamic contraction of the forearm muscles, also called isotonic contraction. This means the muscles elongate and shorten while moving through the range of motion. The opposite is static or isometric contraction, which generates the force without changing the length of the muscle.

Conclusion

Like anything else in the world of fitness, the answer to the question “do grip strengtheners work?” will depend largely on your equipment i.e. what hand grippers you have available to you and how you train with them. 

When used correctly, it’s undeniable that they work. I mean, just check out these early-90’s-looking videos of the best in the business putting their grip strength on display!

You just know when the video quality is that bad, that the beasts in question have to rely on their strength and ability alone!

Do you want to star in a home movie, VHS tape showcasing your feats of hand gripping glory? Get you a grip strengthener (preferably, the hardcore, knurled variety!) and get crushing ASAP!

Not quite ready to bite the bullet and purchase a dedicated hand gripper? Building grip strength could easily be classified as the 16th benefit of kettlebell swings (give a big set of 50 swings a try sometime and see how your forearms feel!) Check out the other 15 benefits of kettlebell swings here!

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AUTHOR

Tom, CrossFit Level 1 Trainer, ISSA-CPT, PN1-NC, DPA, CAPM has been CrossFitting for over 10 years. He has participated in a number of team and individual CrossFit competitions across Europe and the United States. He was the 2012 Chick-fil-A Race Series champion (North Georgia Circuit) and has put together a few gnarly garage and basement gyms in his time!

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