I've written about grip strength for weightlifting before, but have remained fairly vague with regard to actual training protocols. This time, I’m going to give you a simple program that you can start using right away as is, or modify a bit to suit your training schedule or individual needs.
When it comes to grip strength for weightlifting, really what we’re talking about is the snatch. It’s unlikely that anyone would be able to hang on to the bar well in the snatch but not in the clean. However, it’s common for lifters to have no issues with grip in the clean, yet have inadequate grip security in the snatch limit their top end numbers.
As I’ve mentioned before, the first step is eliminating or reducing as much as possible the use of straps in your training. Primarily this will mean not using straps when you snatch unless it’s from the hang for multiple reps with any kind of significant weight. Even in this case, you can do as many warm-up sets as you’re able to without straps.
Accessory pulling work like stiff-legged deadlifts can usually be done without straps with fairly heavy weights because of the slow speed of the exercise. Snatch and clean pulls will usually require straps because of the speed component and generally high weights. Again, though, you can try doing warm-up sets without straps for as long as possible. Be careful of forcing yourself to not use straps for pulls—you may end up just slowing yourself down and hurting your pull training more than you improve your grip training.
The next step is eliminating the hook grip where you can. Power cleans can usually be done without the hook grip for most if not all of your sets; cleans can usually be done without the hook grip in at least most of your warm-up sets (as an added benefit, this can help improve the timing of opening the hands during the turnover because you’re forced to focus more on maintaining your connection to the bar).
You can try doing your snatch warm-up sets without the hook grip as well; however, this is a bit more problematic than in the clean. Because the grip angle on the clean is relatively straight, it’s easy to switch from hookless to hook grip in the middle of your training. With the snatch, some people will find that they need the progressive weight increases of their warm-ups to loosen their hands and make the hook grip position comfortable. Switching to the hook grip at heavier weights after warming-up without it can prevent the grip from feeling secure. That being said, on days when you may not be snatching very heavy, try going without the hook grip.
If your thumbs hurt from doing all your snatch volume with the hook grip instead of straps, tape your thumbs with elastic athletic tape. For most people, this increases the sense of grip security as well as eliminates the pain.
You can even try using less chalk and bars with smoother knurling to force you to grip tighter than usual.
Do any accessory training you have in a manner that challenges the grip when possible. For example, when doing pull-ups or chin-ups, use a thumbless or finger-tip grip; or add more hanging exercises to your ab work, such as hanging leg raises.
Following is the specific grip program you can use in addition to the above mentioned modifications to your existing training.
Gripper – 5 x 8-12 moderately heavy
No-Hook Hang Snatch – 5 x 3
Gripper – 5 x 15-20 light-moderate
Snatch grip hangs/shrugs - 3-5 x 10-30 sec
Gripper – 5 x 3-5 heavy
Farmer’s Walk – 3-5 x 20-30 m
On Day 1, choose a gripper weight that only allows you to do 8-12 reps per set with hard work. On Day 2, choose a gripper weight that allows you to easily do 15 reps per set. On Day 3, choose the heaviest gripper you can use to squeeze out 3-5 reps. Initially you may not even be able to completely close the gripper—as long as it’s close, that’s fine. Keep working at the same number of reps until you can close it completely for all reps.
When doing this exercise, hold your elbow straight and your arm out to your side at an angle similar to what you would have when pulling the snatch, keeping your palm facing backward. You’ll find this position makes it a bit tougher, but this is the position you really need to strengthen. Hold the last rep of each set for as long as you can without hurting yourself.
No-Hook Hang Snatch
Do these from about mid-thigh. You can do power snatches or snatches depending on what you feel works better for you; consider also what you need in your training aside from grip strength, e.g. if you need to improve your pull under or bottom position, doing snatches would be a better choice. Once you start a set, don’t drop the bar—part of the benefit comes from having to maintain your grip on the bar when bringing it back down from overhead.
It’s also not an accident that I placed these after the gripper work. Pre-fatiguing your grip will make the exercise tougher and more effective, but it will also allow you to do it with less weight, which means it won’t take as much out of your recovery capacity.
Snatch Grip Hang/Shrug
This can be done in two ways. First is to hang from a pull-up bar with a snatch grip. However, few people have access to a wide enough pull-up bar for this to work. In these cases, place two squat racks alongside each other with space for a bar and rest a bar between them on the sleeves (as close to the flange as possible) to create a pull-up bar between the racks. Hang from this by lifting your feet. Don't use the hook grip.
The alternative is to set a bar on high blocks and load it up with plenty of weight and either simply lift and hold for time, or perform some shrugs with a little leg push, or a combination of both. Again, don't use the hook grip.
This is a simple way to overload the grip a bit more. If you don’t have farmer’s walk handles, dumbbells are fine with the exception that you’ll be more limited in terms of loading. In any case, try to grip the handle in the same way you would hold the barbell, i.e. make sure it rests in the fingers the same way rather than trying to crush it higher in your palm.
As an alternative that you can rotate in with traditional farmer's walks is walking while pinch-gripping plates. If you use bumper plates, try to find some that are relatively smooth rather than those with distinct ridges around the rim that will make it easier to grip. You can also use a pair of metal plates with the flat, smooth sides facing out - this will force you to squeeze them together tightly to prevent their sliding against each other, and will remove any ridges on the outside for the fingers to hook onto.
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