When it comes to improving grip strength, many people consider isolation exercises the best route. These might include using a grip-strengthening device, squeezing a tennis ball in your palm, or stretching a thick rubber band looped around your fingers.
There’s a place for isolation work, but our experts prefer incorporating grip work into functional, full-body exercises. Chris Gagliardi, CPT, of the American Council on Exercise and Cori Lefkowith, NASM, a personal trainer in Mission Viejo, Calif. share some of their favorite tips.
1. Mix Up Your Handles
If you lift weights, simple tweaks to your equipment can add an extra grip challenge, says Gagliardi. For example, if you normally do rows with a dumbbell, try using a kettlebell. Or choose a barbell with a thinner or thicker diameter — swapping a 45-lb. barbell for a 35-lb. one, or mixing in some reps with an axle (“fat”) bar. Companies like Fat Gripz make sleeves to wrap around handles to increase their diameter.
For a different challenge, tie a dishcloth or gym towel around the handle of your dumbbell or kettlebell — or use a towel in place of a standard cable-machine attachment. This will help you strengthen your grip during rows, carries, biceps curls, pull-ups, swings, and deadlifts.
2. Take a Heavy Walk
One of Lefkowith’s favorite moves for grip and overall strengthening is the farmer’s carry. Pick up something heavy in one or both hands — a kettlebell, heavy bucket or can of paint, sandbag, weight plate, or packed suitcase or duffel bag are all great options. Hold the weight by your side(s), making sure that you’re not leaning to either side, hunching forward, or leaning back. Stand tall, shoulders away from your ears, and start walking. Set the weight down gently once you feel your grip loosen or your form deteriorate. (For more carry cues and variations, visit “BREAK IT DOWN: How to Do a Kettlebell Carry“.)
3. Hang Out in a Dead Hang
If you have access to a pull-up bar or monkey bars at a playground, try dead hangs or pull-up holds to build grip strength, Lefkowith says. To do a dead hang, jump or step up to grasp the bar with both hands; hang straight-armed for as long as possible, taking care to retract your scapulas to draw your shoulders down and back away from your ears. Add a challenge to the hang by doing a pull-up and holding the top position.
4. Reverse Your Biceps Curl
In this biceps-curl variation, instead of starting with palms facing away from your body, begin with palms turned toward your body. You can use dumbbells, a barbell, or an EZ bar for this challenging move.
5. Flip Your Kettlebell
The bottoms-up kettlebell press does double duty as both a grip strengthener and a shoulder mobilizer. Start with a light kettlebell and hold it upside down in one hand at shoulder height. When held upside down, the kettlebell will want to sway and fall back into a traditional rack position; keeping it bottom-side up will require your hand, shoulder, and core to engage. Once you have balanced the kettlebell at shoulder height, press it overhead in a straight line, taking care to keep your hips and shoulders level. Reverse the move and repeat. (For a refresher on overhead-press form, visit “BREAK IT DOWN: The Overhead Press“.)
6. Grab Some Battle Ropes
Battle ropes are typically used for muscular and cardio conditioning, but simply holding onto the ropes can be a challenge. Grasp an end of the rope in each hand and try doing double waves (simultaneously moving both arms up and down rapidly) and alternating waves (raising one arm up while lowering the other). ( For a battle-rope workout, visit “Using Battle Ropes“.)
This was excerpted from “Get a Grip” which was published in Experience Life magazine.
Have you tried this NEW workout plan that everyone is talking about?
Fueling for Your Workouts
A 10-Minute Core Workout You Can Do Right Now
If you want to build balanced strength, working your core is key—but it doesn't have to take forever. In fact, a 10-minute core workout can be a great way to challenge those muscles and reap the strength-building benefits.
Remember, your core consists of more muscles than just your “abs,” (your rectus abdominis, or the muscles which run vertically along the front of your abdomen) and your external obliques, which run along the sides of your abdominal wall. Your core also includes deeper muscles that you can't see, such as your transverse abdominis, your erector spinae in your lower back, and your pelvic floor muscles.
“Most people think about those external muscles when they think about a core workout, but working your internal core muscles is very important, too,” ACE-certified personal trainer Sivan Fagan, owner of Strong with Sivan, tells SELF. “They help you stabilize your spine and transfer energy throughout your body.”
If those deeper core muscles are weak, you can have what's called an “energy leak” when you're strength training, says Fagan. Think about what happens when you're squatting: You need all your core muscles to fire to help you push back up. If your deep core muscles are weak, your lower back will end up taking on too much of the work, which can lead to strain or injury.
The best way to train your core is to take it through both of its functions: creating movement and resisting movement, says Fagan. Many people focus more on creating movement—say, with moves like crunches—but forget about resisting movement (like with planks), which is necessary for building stability.
That's why this 10-minute core workout, created by Fagan, incorporates abs moves that both resist movement and create movement so you can build efficient, practical core strength that transfers to your other workouts and in everyday life.
Ready to get started? Here's what you need for a quick core workout you can do at home.
The WorkoutWhat you need: Just your bodyweight and an exercise mat for cushioning.
The ExercisesDeadbugPlank shoulder tapSide kick-throughBicycle crunchDemoing the moves below are Rachel Denis (GIF 1), a powerlifter who competes with USA Powerlifting and holds multiple New York State powerlifting records, Nathalie Huerta (GIF 2), a coach at The Queer Gym in Oakland, California; Tiana Jones (GIF 3), a dance and fitness instructor based in New York City; and Cookie Janee (GIF 4), a background investigator and security forces specialist in the Air Force Reserve.
Fitness / Workouts
Do You Really Need to Switch Up Your Workouts for Them to Be Effective?
Now here's the thing about progressive overload: You can't advance an exercise if you don't stick with it for weeks or months at a time. In fact, to make significant improvements, people often need to consistently perform—and progress—the same base exercises (think: deadlift, squat, push-up, pull-up) for years, Perkins says. For example, if you're alternating every few weeks without a gameplan between kettlebell deadlifts, single-leg deadlifts, and sumo deadlifts, you won't be able most effectively add progressive overload. (While the moves target much of the same muscles, they're performed differently and with different loads. This challenges muscles differently and can hinder the process of progressive overload.)
There's a pretty neat physiological reason for this too, and it all comes down to what's happening in your brain and body when you're first starting a new exercise. No matter how fit you are, when you perform a new exercise, workout, or routine, your initial strength gains—lasting for the first few weeks—have a primarily neurological foundation, Dr. Behm explains. The motor neurons that tell your muscles to contract and lengthen “learn” how to fire most efficiently and with the best coordination possible. As a result, your neurological system gets more skilled at a given exercise. These are the “newbie gains” you might hear about.
During these initial weeks, your muscles are definitely working, but they're also letting the neurological system do the bulk of the adapting. After all, your body doesn't necessarily know how long you plan to stick with a given exercise. And if an exercise is just a fleeting thing, why spend the energy building muscle? It's easier to just let the neurological system handle things.
It's not really until after that point that the majority of your fitness gains will actually take place in your musculoskeletal system, Perkins says. This is when your muscle cells grow, become stronger, and your body composition shifts. The amount of time it takes for this to happen depends on your current fitness level, exercise history, workout frequency, and more. Expect to spend at least six to eight weeks, if not more, with your base workouts before switching up your exercises, Perkins recommends.
Reinvent the wheel before your muscles have really even adapted, and you're not really spurring your muscles to grow. Ditto with your connective tissues, bones, heart, and lungs.
But what if you like to switch up your workouts?“Oftentimes, people think they're training for muscle confusion because it's what's going to help them—but in actuality, they're just the personality type that gets bored easily and doesn't like to do one thing for very long,” Perkins says.
If that's you, there's absolutely nothing wrong with that. And if your goal for your exercise routine is to maintain the fitness you already have, or just move more, let off steam, or manage stress, switch it up all you want. It's your workout, so you want to make sure you're doing something you enjoy. (Just make sure that you've built a strong foundation before dabbling in advanced exercises or variations to reduce your risk of injury.)
But if you get bored easily and have fitness goals like building strength, endurance, or muscle? You still don't have to sacrifice workout enjoyment for progress. And how you structure or plan your workouts can make a difference.
Perkins recommends setting a weekly plan for yourself. Maybe one day you'll work upper body, lower body, or full-body strength. Another day, maybe you'll do cardio or yoga.
Week over week, you'll repeat those same workouts with the same exercises, but you'll still have plenty of variation within the week to keep things novel. Plus, every week, even though you'll be cranking out the same base workouts, you'll perform them with slightly new stimuli. You'll lift slightly more weight, do your exercises with slightly better form, or run a bit faster—however you want to employ progressive overload.
It's that slightly increased challenge that equals progress and, over the long term, will allow you to progress exercise variations, Perkins explains. Depending on your current fitness level, exercise schedule and the progress you see, every few weeks or months, you can add new challenges by altering your exercise choices. For instance, maybe you progress from a goblet to barbell squat.
Of course, none of this progression works if you don't stay consistent with your plan, which is why it's important to craft it around exercises you actually enjoy. Focus your workouts on exercise you're fired up to master and progress, and you'll get the perfect combination of consistency and novelty, Perkins says.
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