Human hands are one of our greatest assets in the animal kingdom.
Their intricacy and dexterity allows us to perform delicate tasks, yet according to most evolutionary biologists, this finesse came at the price of raw power (see chimpanzees for the alternative). Hand strength doesn’t seem to scale properly with the strength of the major muscles that they connect to weights, so here are a few ways to solve that weak link in the chain.
First and foremost: train them. Hands simply aren’t worked adequately by most barbell movements.
1. Do something dynamic:
Most hand work in the gym is isometric. Training the hands and forearm muscles to lift can be a great way to break a plateau of isometric strength. If you can get your hands on a bucket of sand, put your hands in and clench the sand through your fists for 50 reps. If you don’t feel it, you’re not squeezing hard or fast enough. If you don’t have sand, you can use a spring barbell clip or a gripper. Again, high reps are recommended. Dumbell curls and reverse curls can also be employed, but better would be to train them with a different shape than they are accommodated to.
2. Train the extensors:
Judoka’s are famous for their grip strength – they probably rely on it more than any type of athlete. One tip from Beijing Silver Medalist Travis Stevens is to train the forearm extensors. Your body craves balance, and the idea is that improving overall forearm strength will help break a proportional limit. He recommends several drills that are judo-specific – but really, the principle can be taken advantage of with any intense dynamic extensor work.
Of course all of this should be done after regular workouts, both to pre-exhaust the grip and ensure it doesn’t limit any following work of the major muscle groups.
For an immediate boost in the gym, of course one can wear straps. These should be used for heavy lifts or during extreme fatigue. Excessive reliance on straps will only exacerbate the issue of proportional grip weakness and increase reliance.
Hook grip is used by Olympic lifters for all their high velocity movements. One grips around the barbell with the thumb first, and locks the index and middle fingers over the thumb, trapping it in place against the barbell. This can be an excellent technique and is used by some impressive deadlifters like George Leeman.