Your hands and forearms are, anatomically speaking, immensely complicated. Made up of dozens of muscles, your hands are capable of lots of different movements and huge feats of strength. Imagine the gripping power required to keep hold of a bar during a 500-pound deadlift, or just pumping out a set of pull-ups.
And yet, despite their complex structure and obvious importance, a lot of exercisers all but ignore their hands and their grip. Instead of trying to fix weak hands with training, they just use wrist straps to take the strain.
It wasn’t always like this. Back in the old days of physical culture, strongmen (and women) not only worked on their grip, but they also performed amazing feats of hand strength, including bending (or should that be straightening?!) horseshoes, railroad spikes, and coins, and lifting heavy objects using just a couple of fingers. They took their grip strength seriously in those days!
While you don’t need to resort to circus tricks to strengthen your hands, most lifters will benefit from building a firmer grip.
Your hands and forearms connect you to whatever object you are lifting. As the saying goes, a chain is only as strong as its weakest link, and for a lot of exercisers, that weak link is their grip. A stronger grip means more reps and heavier weights, not just in pulling exercises but pushing exercises too.
How does a stronger grip help in things like bench presses and overhead presses? The straighter and more stable your wrists are, the more stable the load will be. That’s why powerlifters wear wrist wraps for bench presses. Increased wrist stability makes for a bigger bench press.
While you COULD train your grip at the gym, doing so will take up valuable workout time. Instead of making your workouts longer, why not work on your grip at home? That way, you can train your hands several times a week without having to spend more time at the gym.
Here are 10 of the best exercises for building a stronger grip at home.
REMEMBER to warm up before doing any of these exercises, and don’t train your hands every day. Like any muscle group, you can injure your hands and forearms if you go too heavy, too soon, or don’t allow time between workouts for recovery. 2-3 grip-specific workouts per week should be more than enough to build hands of steel!
1. Use Hand Grippers
One of the most convenient ways to strengthen your grip at home is to use a training tool called a hand gripper. There are a few different designs, including V-shaped springs that you squeeze closed and frames with five springs that fit over your fingers. Some grippers even allow you to work one finger at a time.
Hand grippers are also available in a range of strengths so you can get the right one for your current ability.
Choose a hand gripper that you find hard to close. After all, if it’s too easy, it won’t make you stronger. Heavy-duty hand grippers are a bit more expensive than lightweight “fitness” models, but they’re also much more beneficial.
Be prepared to upgrade your gripper as your hands get stronger. Grippers can also weaken with repeated use because of metal fatigue.
Once you’ve got your hand gripper, use it at home to strengthen your hands. For example, you could do a set every time there is a commercial break during whatever TV show you are watching.
2. Squeeze a Tennis Ball
Tennis balls are ideal for grip strength training. They yield slightly when you squeeze them, but don’t compress completely. This means you can crush them as hard as you like (or can) to give your hands and forearms a great workout.
To build your grip with a tennis ball, squeeze it as hard as you can for five to ten seconds. Rest a minute and repeat. Longer, less intense efforts won’t build strength. Instead, they’ll build grip endurance. This may also be useful if you find your hands get tired fast.
3. Rice Bucket Digs
This grip exercise is popular with fighters. The main advantage of this exercise over many others is that you can work on your hand opening as well as your hand closing strength.
Get a deep bucket and fill it with rice. Needless to say, you should not use this rice for eating! You need about 8-10 inches depth of rice.
Plunge your hand(s) into your rice bucket up to your wrist, and try and grab as much rice as you can. Grip the rice as hard as possible. Then, without withdrawing your hands, open your fingers as wide as you can.
Continue alternating between closing and opening your hands until they start to tire.
If you prefer not to waste a valuable source of post-training carbs, you can use sand instead of rice.
4. Newspaper Scrunch
This old school grip exercise is noisy, so you might not want to do it while you and your partner are enjoying a Netflix binge, but it’s still an effective way to increase hand strength and forearm endurance.
To do it, take an old newspaper and open it up, laying it flat on a table. Next, place your hand flat in the center of the paper. Gather in the top sheet by clenching your fingers. Keep going until the paper is in a ball in your palm. Then, squeeze the ball you’ve just made as hard as you can for 10-15 seconds.
Drop the ball in the bin and repeat with the next sheet, only this time, use your opposite hand.
Alternate hands and continue until you’ve scrunched every sheet.
5. Towel Wringing
Sweaty palms can make many exercises more difficult than they need to be. That’s why serious lifters use chalk. Damp hands are not an issue with this exercise, so you’ve got no reason not to give it your all, even in the height of summer.
Simply grab a small towel, fold it in half length-ways, and then twist it as many times and as hard as you can. Imagine you are trying to wring it out after soaking it in water. Keep twisting until it’s as tight as you can get it. Unroll the towel and then go again.
This exercise isn’t going to do your towel any good, and you may even tear it in time, so don’t use your momma’s best! An old gym towel will suffice.
6. The Wine Bottle Twist
This exercise works on forearm rotation and supination. It’s not an especially hard exercise, but if you do enough reps, it will pump up your forearms and increase your grip endurance.
Seated or standing, hold a full wine bottle by its neck like a hammer, so that the largest part of the bottle is uppermost. Grip it tightly. Next, and without moving your elbow, rotate your forearm through 180 degrees.
Resist the temptation to drink the wine afterward, as this could make your workout a little less effective, especially if you do this exercise daily!
If you like this exercise and want to take it a little further, try doing it with a medium-sized hammer, or if you have one, a dumbbell with a weight plate at just one end.
7. Make a Homemade Wrist Roller
Wrist rollers are very useful grip and forearm strengtheners, and you can make one in a matter of minutes. Once you’ve got your wrist roller, you can use it as often as you like to build a crushing grip and forearms like bowling pins.
Simply take a length of broomstick, about 24 inches should do, and drill a small hole in the middle. Next, tie a 4 to 5-foot length of strong cord to the stick, using the hole to secure one end in place. Finally, tie a weight to the other end. Good options include a milk jug, water bottle, or even a grocery bag with a few cans inside. You could also use any weight plates you have around.
Hold the stick in both hands with your palms facing your legs. Raise your arms forward, so they are about shoulder-height. Without lowering your arms, roll the cord around the stick to lift the weight off the floor. Once it’s at the top, slowly reverse the action and lower it back to the floor. Do as many reps as it takes to fully fatigue your hands.
8. Book Pinch
Build stronger hands with this variation of the plate pinch, detailed in our article Best Forearm Exercise.
Instead of weight plates, place two thick books together and grip them, so your thumb is one side, and your fingers are on the other. Squeeze as hard as you can for 20-30 seconds, rest for a minute, and repeat.
This exercise could damage your books so use your own and not ones you’ve borrowed from a library!
9. Dead Hangs
If you’ve got an overhead bar or beam you can hang from, you’ve got the perfect tool for working on your grip. Simply grab it and hang with your feet off the ground for as long as you can. Drop down, shake it out, rest a moment, and repeat. You will find that, as you get stronger, you can hang for longer and longer periods.
If you only have things like tree branches or ceiling joists to hang from that are too thick to hold, loop a towel over the top and grab the ends. This is arguably the best way to dead hangs anyway as it’s much more grip intensive.
Tip: Too easy? Try hanging with just one hand, or while wearing a weighted vest.
10. Finger Extensions
When it comes to hand strength, most people focus exclusively on the muscles that close their hands and forget all about the muscles that open them. This can cause a muscle imbalance that could lead to pain and injury.
To keep your hands balanced and healthy, make sure you also include finger extension exercises in your grip strengthening workouts.
Take a small rubber band and put it over your fingertips and thumbs. Next, open your fingers against the resistance offered by the band. Too easy? Use more bands. However, don’t be surprised if you aren’t very good at this exercise; these muscles are often underused and very weak as a result.
It’s pretty hard to work out without using your hands, and most daily tasks involve your hands too. While some hand movements need to be gentle and precise, other times, force is what matters most.
Building a stronger grip is not rocket science, but it will require patience and dedication. A few sets of wrist curls after your biceps workout won’t do it.
If you want to build a vice-like grip, ditch the lifting straps, and start doing your homework – home hand training that is! Your weights might go down initially but, once you’ve weaned yourself off those straps and your hands start getting stronger, your weights will soon bounce back.
You might not be bending railroad spikes or tearing telephone directories in half anytime soon but, when you’re deadlifting, rowing, or just cracking open the peanut butter, it’ll be reassuring to know that your hands won’t let you down.