View Full Version : Max Effort for small muscles?

Chris Goodrich
04-15-2007, 03:13 PM
I'm looking to add some supplementary forearm/grip strengthening work to my routine to help with my stickfighting. Most of the FMA guys recommend some form of swinging a heavier stick (axe handle, pipe, etc.) which is still working in the muscular endurance pathway. I'm wondering if some form of ME work would help here as well, and what would be the best exercise(s) to use. Some form of leverage bar work seems most transferable, but ther's always grippers, wrist curls, etc. Any ideas or suggestions?
I'm aiming to add two forearm workouts a week. My specific goals are to increase strength through full articulation of the wrist (circular and linear) while gripping the stick. I'd also like to strengthen the bones and tendonds of the hands and forearms and get some hypertrophy of the forearms to better absorb shots to the lower arm. Any input would be appreciated. Thanks, Chris

Steve Shafley
04-15-2007, 04:01 PM
My friend, Nick McKinless has an article up on EliteFTS about training grip. Since I know a lot of guys with monsterous hands, and have done a bit of hand training myself (though I am often dubbed "The Weakest Hands in Michigan", I can confidently say that Nick's suggestions are an excellent place to start. Nick is a handstrength protege of David Horne, who arguably has the strongest hands in the world, and Nick is right there breathing down his neck. Get a feel for how Nick suggests you train the hands, and make your way from there.

He designed this program specifically to give a broad base of strength for the hands, and also designed it with a minimal amount of specialized equipment.


Strong Hands for Strong Men
By Nick McKinless
For www.EliteFTS.com

Strong Hands Not Geek Grip!

There was a time when having strong hands was just part of training and not a subculture all of its own. Strong hands were one section of the body trained equally hard and rested enough to recover and work them again the next session. However, having strong hands does not mean you have to start discussing the intricacies of grip technique. If having strong hands does nothing but give you great confidence to hang onto the bar for deadlifts or farmerís walks then the goal has been achieved.

Closing a No. 3 COC Gripper might be a nice feat, but it isnít going to give you a decent all round grip strength for Strongman, powerlifting, or any other strength based sport. Rarely does the dynamic nature of grippers come into play in any sport or activity. Grappling is one such sport, but even for these athletes I can still think of better exercises than grippers alone.

Most of the strength required for strong hands is that of supporting strength, pinching strength, and wrist strength. If you train these three areas diligently, you will have a great all round grip and strong hands to go with your already (I hope!) strong body.

Supporting Strength

The power rack deadlift with a 2-inch range of motion. I have all beginners do this exercise for grip work. Many trainers like to have people hang from a chin-up bar. I use this as well, but there is nothing like feeling heavy, heavy weights in the hands to make you feel strong.

Start with a double overhand grip and work up to a maximum weight. Hereís the ďsecretĒ bit though. Make sure you have the bar behind your back and still have the hands double overhand. If you do it in front, you can pull the bar into your thighs. Behind the back and itís all grip. When you canít lift it anymore in this style, switch to a reverse grip and load up those wheels! The very best can handle well over 1000 lbs so donít be shy. For a change of pace, try a fat bar.

The farmerís walk or holds. Farmerís walks are now famous in strength sports and rightly so. It doesnít matter whether you use dumbbells, EZ curl bars, kettlebells, or farmerís walk bars. The point is to just do them. If you want an exercise that hits just about everything but puts extra stress on the hands then the farmerís walk is for you. For overload work that doesnít require any movement, do farmerís holds. Make sure you are only lifting them a few inches so that itís the hands not the back thatís getting worked.

Pinching Power

There are so many pinch exercises, but the best ones for any gym no matter where you are in the world are two handed pinches with two 45s and one handed pinches with two 25s or two 35s. If you need to add weight, get a short piece of 2-inch piping and stick it through the middle of the plates. Add weight as required. The greatest strength gained from pinching is the stress that it puts on the thumbs. Thumb strength is crucial for strong hands. I also like pinching with a towel over the plates or with gloves on. It means less weight, but the advantage is that you can do more volume without getting any tears in the webbing of the hands. More volume equals a bigger pinch, which equals stronger thumbs which equals stronger hands!

Wrist Flexion and Extension

Wrist strength is so overlooked that many great grippers and guys with strong hands donít do anything for the wrists, and thatís a recipe for an injury from a lack of balance in the forearms. Ideally, you would want to do all forms of wrist work. However, with time constraints, I would consider wrist curls and reverse wrist curls essential training.

For wrist curls, I like to have people do them with thumbs under the bar and with the backs of the palms resting on the knees or a bench. This will allow you to use more weight and train them through a range of motion that wonít cause wrist injuries. Rarely is the wrist bent back into the extreme range of motion that people usually do wrist curls. Eventually, this is asking for trouble. Worse still is opening up the hands. Thereís plenty of safer ways to stretch the wrists. The competitive table top wrist curl has seen lifts of over 600 lbs!

For the extensors, I like to have trainees simply grab a 5 lbs or 10 lbs plate. Hold it over the knee in a pinch position and perform a reverse wrist curl. This, like many great exercises, is simple but effective.


If you want, you can fit all this into one session. This will give the hands plenty of time to recover until the next workout. Dedicating one whole training session to grip alone has worked well for many in the past. Hereís an example:

* Pinch, 2 X 45s adding weight until you reach a maximum weight. Drop the weight to 85 percent and either do a couple of holds or do as many reps as possible.

* Power rack 2-inch deadlift, work up to a maximum weight with a double overhand grip (behind the back, remember). Switch to a reverse grip and work up again. Hold the top weights for five seconds or so, just enough time to know that you ďownĒ the weight but not so long that itís an endurance feat.

* Wrist curl on knees, three sets of 15Ė20 reps

* Reverse plate wrist curls, three sets of 15Ė20 reps

Fitting It into the Routine

For a traditional Westside approach you could do something like this:

ME lower

Pinch, work up to a top max in the two handed pinch

ME upper

Support, work up to a top max in the 2-inch partial deadlift

DE lower

Wrists, 3 X 15Ė20 of wrist curls and plate extensions

DE upper

Pinch, work up to a top max in the one handed plate pinch

Then the next week you would start with a support exercise like the farmerís walk, thus rotating exercises from session to session like the Westside conjugate method.

Strongman training

ME upper body

Pinching, one handed plate pinch to a max

ME lower body

Wrists, 3 X 15Ė20 of wrist curls and plate pinches


Farmerís walk or holds, 3Ė5 sets at 75Ė85 percent or work to a max hold

Iíd like to finish with a word on hand care. Forget looking macho and building up rough, calloused hands. Get a Stanley knife and cut those calluses down every few weeks. Then get in the shower and get a rough stone and smooth them out even more. If you want to go the whole hog, get some hand cream as well. Looking after your hands is just as important as looking after your back or any other body part. Plus Iíve seen too many hands torn apart, including my own, which could have been prevented with a little TLC. Try telling me this is a waste of time after you hit a personal record in the farmerís walk because your hands felt much more comfortable.

Employ these methods, leave the grippers and feats alone for a while, and watch your hand strength soar!

Nick McKinless is a professional stuntman with film credits that include the Matrix trilogy, Troy, and Batman Begins. He has won numerous grip competitions and is a 105 kg Strongman competitor. He has been involved in strength sports for over 20 years. Nick can be contacted at nick@beyondstrong,com.

© Copyright Nick McKinless October 2006

Rene Renteria
04-15-2007, 07:03 PM
You might try heavy finger rolls. They're probably like the 2-inch deadlifts above. See here for a good description:


Chris Goodrich
04-16-2007, 05:03 AM
Shaf, Thanks for the article. The thing thats been keeping me from adopting one of the strongman-style grip programs is that most of the exercises (except wrist curls) are done with a straight wrist, and I'm looking for dynamic wrist strength through the full range of motion. Do you think the more isometric grip exercises will transfer over well?

Rene, Thanks, I will give those a try.

Steve Shafley
04-16-2007, 05:31 AM
Chris...you can try adding some sledgehammer levering work, if you want to work the wrist dynamically and in broad ranges of motion.

Maybe I can point you in a better direction if I knew what kind of function you'd want your hands to perform.

Chris Goodrich
04-16-2007, 05:49 AM
Sorry I wasn't clear in my first post. Basically I'm swinging a rattan stick (30" long, 7/8-1 1/4" diameter). There is a linear wrist snap at the end of swing, and a lot of rotational twirling of the stick to redirect the momentum after a shot. I don't know how good a descriptiion that is so here's some video: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GAb2j5-8rLI

Steve Shafley
04-16-2007, 06:15 AM
You might just want to do some overweight implement stuff, then.

Robert Allison
04-16-2007, 06:45 AM
Great article, Shaf. I want to work on my grip strength for climbing and that routine might just be the ticket...

Does Nick have a website?

Josh Whiting
04-16-2007, 06:48 AM
I'd be careful though if your doing a lot of stick work you could probably overdo it quite easily. Have you tried tape on your wrists to see if that allows you to generate more power?

Steve Shafley
04-16-2007, 06:49 AM
Not yet. He's in the process of putting one together, but I have no idea about when it'll be ready.

Derek Simonds
04-16-2007, 07:54 AM
Shaf beat to the punch with the sledgehammer lever work. When I was playing around with stick fighting I did a lot of lever work with a baseball bat. I worked it in a lot of ways in the same motions I would the stick. In thinking back I think that the sledge work would really be an improvement. The bat was more a strength endurance exercise versus ME work.

In regards to making your forearms tougher a friend of mine is a 2nd degree black in Uechi Ryu Karate. They do some serious hard body conditioning. When he was visiting last we did one of their warmups where you partner up and basically take turns whacking the crap out of each other. When he hit me in the forearms I thought I was going to cry. Since he has left I will occasionally do some conditioning of my forearms by hitting it with my other hand but I definitely do not like it.

Here is an example of their type of conditioning


Here is some breaking specificcaly watch from 48 to about 1 minute


Here is some tire work with sticks, not really ME but still pretty cool


Chris Goodrich
04-16-2007, 08:11 AM
Thanks for the suggestions all. Any ideas on set-rep schemes for sledge levering? I notice the plan Shaf posted used primarily heavy singles or high rep sets (15-20). Do these work better for the forearm or would something like a 5x5 plan work?

Derek Simonds
04-16-2007, 10:17 AM
Here is a link to a nail bending guy and his sledge work