I am sure you have heard the phrase – a chain is only as strong as its weakest link. If you believe that is the case, then many muscles in your body are only as strong as your grip. If someone lifts a weight with the use of straps, did they really lift the weight? Sorry, but if you can’t hold the weight you are trying to lift, then I don’t think you truly lifted that weight. I preach functional fitness, and grip strength is a huge part of being functionally strong.
[Weak grip strength with strong muscles is like having a 510 HP Aston Martin Vanquish V-12 with cheap tires…much of that power will be wasted and won’t be transferred in a functional way. Man…James Bond knows how to chose cars!]
Why I Don’t Believe in Using Lifting Straps
I train for health, to look good, and actually get in shape. A lot of people just train for looks, which to be honest is a big motivator…but I like the feeling of being in outstanding shape and building true ‘real world’ strength. I also like to know I can run a mile or two without coughing up a lung (I’ll save that for another article). Bottom line…if every muscle in your body is strong, but your grip is weak then you will never reach your highest potential. In the real world if you need to move a piece of furniture or lift large objects, you will need adequate grip strength.
The Old School Lifters Had the Right Idea
I don’t believe 100% in old lifting techniques, because these guys did Zero cardio and mainly focused just on being strong with no care about overall conditioning. They did have a strong emphasis on grip strength, which I think is overlooked these days. Bodybuilders brought in the wrist straps in the 70’s (if memory serves me correctly) to be able to do heavy prolonged sets without worrying about gripping the bar. Eventually it became a popular way of lifting. These days, I see guys walking around the gym and using wrist wraps for everything. Heck, the other day I saw a big guy using straps while doing barbell curls!
The “I Lift Heavy Weights” Excuse
Again…if I see a guy deadlift 600 pounds with wrist straps, I’m not impressed. I don’t think that person lifted the weight. Back in the days when I used to deadlift (I don’t anymore), I worked up to reps with 405 with no straps. I realize that serious lifters can do much more than that, but it is all relative. If a person is strong enough to pull 600 off the ground, then they should be strong enough to hold that weight!
A Strange Thing I’ve Noticed About Grip Strength
Here is an odd thing I’ve notice about grip strength. Whenever I improve in grip strength, the muscles in the rest of my body get stronger shortly after. I’m not just talking about pulling lifts like rows and chinups that require grip strength…I’m talking about pressing movements as well. Whenever I reach a sticking point in a major lift, I focus on improving grip strength and it helps me break through that lifting plateau.
A Strong Grip Does NOT Equate to Big Forearms
I’m sure the women reading this want to avoid building large forearms and are hesitant to work on their grip. This is understandable, but grip strength won’t necessarily build large forearms. It seems to build density more than size. I don’t think my forearms have grown an inch since developing forearm strength, but they are extremely defined. One of the big reasons that bodybuilders have big forearms is their focus on wrist curls and reverse wrist curls to pump up the forearms and build volume (that along with their genetics, anabolics, and massive protein consumption).
The Suitcase Lift for Functional Grip Strength
The best exercise I know of for functional grip strength is the suitcase lift. Basically the suitcase lift is lifting a barbell in one hand like you would lift a suitcase. Here is a video demonstration of a guy doing this outdoors. This shows the basic form…
[As you can see this lift can be done anywhere. This definitely looks out in the middle of nowhere…start the banjo music!]
A Slight Tweak to the Suitcase Lift
We are focusing on grip strength, so the focus is just on holding the weight…no need to do the full range of movement (which will tweak your back if done wrong). I like to put the Olympic bar in the power rack and set it to where the bar is resting on the rack slightly lower than knee level. I also like to do a light weight and hold the bar as long as possible instead of going heavy for short reps. Grab a weight you can hold for at least a minute, then face the other direction and do it with the other arm. Do three sets on each side for at least a minute per side. Oh yeah…in this version of the suitcase lift please keep your shirt on 🙂
The Importance of Using a Barbell Instead of a Dumbbell
A big reason why I love this lift is that you are forced to not only grip the weight, you have to balance the weight as well. When you first try this the bar will tilt forward or backward. As you build up your functional grip strength, you will be able to balance the bar better. When lifting objects that don’t require as much balance, they will seem lighter. Another side benefit to this lift is that your obliques have to contract a bit to stabilize your body…over time your mid section will benefit as well. Give them a try!
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