Strong hands are a huge part of effective strength training – how do you expect to pull a monster weight off of the floor if you can’t hang onto the bar? Having strong hands goes beyond just performance in the gym though – a powerful grip is essential for sports performance (baseball, golf, grappling, etc) and can improve performance in a wide variety of jobs. In fact, the ability to grab hold of someone or something and maintain control can mean the difference between safety and serious injury or even life and death for those who work in law enforcement.
I am a huge fan of all types of grip training equipment – I have and regularly use Ironmind hand grippers, David Horne’s Vulcan gripper, the FBBC vertical bar and Bomb as well as a variety of block weights, thick handles, bending gear, etc. And while it would be tough to get me to part with any of those implements, one of my very favorite pieces of grip training “equipment” has been in my gym bag since long before I ever invested any time in training my hands directly.
I’ve long been a fan of taking my favorite exercises, movements that I know really work, and adding a new element to them to see if I can push the envelope when it comes to achieving results – sometimes this tactic hits, other times I realize that the original movement has become a mainstay in my routines because it doesn’t need much (if any) altering.
One of the most successful “add ons” I’ve made to my workouts to improve grip strength has been the simple addition of a gym towel (this should probably go without saying, but make sure it is a strong towel capable of holding your body weight without shredding) to certain lifts. This might sound a bit unusual, even ridiculous to some of you, but bear with me here…
The first movement I tried it with was pull ups (this certainly wasn’t my innovation, I’ve seen many others throw a towel over a pull up bar before). I knew it would be more difficult than a conventional pull up, just didn’t expect it to be that difficult. I had been training grip for a few years, primarily with grippers, but the instability/inconsistency made the pull ups far more taxing for me than traditional pull ups or what I considered to be more traditional grip training (grippers, thick bar, etc).
While adding towel pull ups as a finisher on back/arm day probably would have been enough to give a nice boost to my grip, I instinctively wanted more. What else could I throw a towel over to create a killer grip circuit?
Turns out the options are almost limitless… I’ve looped a towel around the handle of a kettlebell and performed hammer style curls (wicked forearm and bicep workout!), used a towel with a loading pin for one hand vertical pulls, even looped two towels over a broom handle set between two chairs for a much more challenging style of bodyweight row.
One of my favorite movements to crank up the intensity on is T-bar style rows. If you want to blast your back and biceps while you work toward an iron grip – give these a shot: Stick one end of a barbell (unloaded) into a corner and load the other end (making the barbell a “t”), get in position to perform a traditional T-bar row but instead of using the bar, use the towel. This is an excellent back workout that will completely tax your grip (serves as an outstanding finisher on back day).
In a pinch, when I’m on the road or just to mix things up sometimes I’ll even use a gym towel alone for a quick isometric arm workout or biceps finisher. By looping a towel around one hand and holding the ends in the other and pushing/pulling at different angles you can get a fast and very effective arm workout. 3-4 sets of each movement on each side of 10 second max holds with one minute rest in between will deliver a serious arm pump in limited space and in very little time.
You won’t be able to move the same kind of weight or do or the same number of reps using a towel instead of simply gripping the bar, so if your primary objective is to pack on lean muscle or build maximum power you shouldn’t completely replace traditional lifts with alternative styles that put heavy focus on the grip (using a towel or using a thick bar or Fat Gripz, etc). But adding one workout per week that taxes your grip can lead to major increases in strength and performance. In the case of law enforcement personnel – that one serious grip workout per week just might save your life.