Maybe the title is a bit of an exaggeration, but almost every sport requires some element of grip strength and/or endurance, and training this specifically can lead to big payoffs in performance. The cool thing about grip strength is that it is as functional as it gets. If you can hoist a 400-pound barbell off the ground with no problem, carrying a bag through the airport or opening a jar of spaghetti sauce gets pretty damn easy.
There are certainly elements of specialization possible in grip training depending on your needs. If you’re a fighter, rock climber or powerlifter, for example, which type of grip strength you need varies a little between pinch grip and finger strength, crush grip (what it sounds like, but basically being able to generate a lot of force for a short period of time) and more of a support grip that can be sustained for a longer duration.
But, the basics are the basics for a reason, so let’s look at how every athlete can train grip strength and endurance that serves as the base for any further specialization. Two things that most people can do with a minimal amount of equipment and that have big paybacks are static hangs and farmer’s carry. Static hangs are as basic as they get. Find something to hang from, and hang from it! Easy enough? Your bodyweight provides the resistance and this is both a strength and endurance exercise. While you’re hanging there and you have nothing else to do, pay attention to where your shoulder blades are in space. You should be “actively hanging” by keeping your shoulder blades engaged, pulling them down and centrally toward your spine. You can add variation to this exercise by varying the implement you hang from… a pullup bar, 2×4 or other size of wooden beam, a tree branch, the side of a rock wall, etc all offer different challenges to grip. You can also play with one-handed grips and palms forward or backward once you get good at (meaning can hold for a minute consistently) the basics.
The farmer’s carry involves lifting equally weighted objects, one in each hand, and walking a distance with them. As with the hangs, shoulder position is important, so really pay attention to keeping your shoulder blades pulling toward your spine and prevent your shoulders from rounding forward or your thoracic spine from collapsing and flexing forward, too.
Farmer’s carries can be done with kettlebells and dumbbells, but also barbells, all of the above with grip fatteners installed, or if you’re going low-tech even buckets of sand, gravel, water, etc. This is about as functional of an exercise as you can do and it’s a good one! To challenge yourself, you should add weight (you should be able to get close to or even surpass your bodyweight) and distance. Depending on what you’re carrying, too, you can vary your arm position. Arms down by your side is the easiest, but you can use a kettlebell rack type of position or even go overhead for a significantly bigger challenge.
With almost no investment in equipment whatsoever, you can do a lot to train your grip using farmer’s carries and static hangs. Whether you’re a kettlebell athlete, a weightlifter or powerlifter, grappling, rock climbing, or doing pretty much anything else that involves your hands, you’ll see a big benefit from working your grip strength. And if your hands get a little beat up, make sure you check out our videos on using RockTape to protect your palms!