Why grip strength exercises?
A few things are absolutely essential for any obstacle course racing fanatic: a decent base of endurance to get through a slew of ever-changing obstacles, for starters. A stellar pair of sneakers to get from start to finish, for sure. And then something that doesn’t get as much praise? Grip strength. Simply put, grip strength is the amount of force you can exert on an object with your hands. Think of it as your ability to hold onto something like a grocery bag, a dumbbell, or—in a Spartan world—a wall as you hoist yourself up.
“Grip strength is the foundation to all true athletic strength, and it’s critical to pull and push your body weight around in an explosive manner during an OCR,” says performance and health coach Mike Aidala, founder of the MAST Method. “Athleticism, at its root, is the ability to produce force. The more force you can create, the faster and more explosive you will be.”
So how does one go about building that force? With strategic exercises that help you build your capacity to create tension. “For all upper-body movements, grip strength is the first door into creating tension and force,” says Aidala.
5 Simple Grip Strength Exercises
Here, Aidala shares with us five of his favorite grip strength drills that he does often with client Hunter McIntyre. “He needs to hang, carry, drag, and climb—all things that require tremendous grip strength,” he says. “It doesn’t matter how strong your back is—or looks—if you can’t grip the bag, then you won’t be able to lift it up.”
Grip Strength Exercises: #1 Dead Hang
Do: Max effort for three rounds.
Using a box, step up and grab a pull-up bar with an overhand grip. Step off the box, holding the bar with a bit of tension so you don’t drop like a rock. Inhale, and exhale into a dead hang. Stay for as long as possible.
Grip Strength Exercises: #2 Farmer Carry
Do: Three sets of 200 meters walking, rest 60 seconds.
Grab a pair of kettlebells and hold them by your sides. Walk forward, taking short, quick steps. Go for the given distance, as fast as possible.
Grip Strength Exercises: #3 Overhand Grip Deadlift
Do: Three sets of eight reps.
Stand with your feet slightly wider than shoulder-width apart. Grab a barbell using an overhand grip, keeping your arms at about a 45-degree angle from the side of your body, with no bend in the elbows. Stand tall, squeezing the bar into your thighs and pulling your shoulder blades together—you should feel tension throughout the entire back side of your upper body. Lower back down for one rep.
Grip Strength Exercises: #4 Rope Climbs
Do: Three climbs, increasing speed with each.
Stand at the base of a rope that is safely attached to the ceiling. Go ahead and climb. Check out our tutorial on rope climbs if you get stuck.
Grip Strength Exercises: #5 Kettlebell Swings
Do: Three sets of 15 swings at a heavy weight.
Stand with your legs shoulder-width apart and your toes pointed slightly outward, holding the kettlebell in both hands. Bend your knees slightly, pushing your hips back, and lower the weight between your legs with your forearms pressing against your inner thighs. Keep your chest open with your shoulder blades sliding down your back. Forcefully squeeze your glutes and drive your heels down to thrust the weight forward as you straighten your legs. Allow the weight to fall back between your legs, bending your knees to get ready for the next rep.