How to Build Grip Strength

Grip Training Tools. Clockwise from upper left: Big roller (2" PVC), Yo-yo roller, Broomstick Roller, 1" x 4" roller. Center: Captains of Crush grippers by Ironmind

Although I’m a small man (5′ 8″, 145 lbs with hands the size of a 14-year-old girl) I have been able to build a surprising amount of grip strength (surprising to me anyway).    As a point of reference, the average mainstream gripper takes about 25 lbs of pressure to close, and the average guy can’t shut an Ironmind Captains of Crush Trainer (100 lbs).   After lots of practice I’m able to shut the Captains of Crush #1 Gripper (140 lbs of pull), and my goal is to shut the #2 (195 lbs).

Why build grip strength?  Hand strength is important in martial arts.  I took a self defense seminar from Walt Lysak, and his grip was so radical I thought he was going to pull the meat off of me like stewed chicken.  Walt’s brother Charlie Lysak is one of the original Captains of Crush, certified with a #3 gripper — that’s 280 lbs of bone crushing force!

If you want to try my method, here it is.  Attempt at your own risk.

(To be fair, I cobbled this plan together from numerous websites, but it’s been so long I can’t remember where from, so I can’t reference them.  If you’re reading this and it looks like I stole something of yours, just let me know and I’ll give you credit.)


a) Before your grip workout, always activate your CNS (central nervous system) with at least 10 or 15 minutes of exercise.

b) Treat your hand workout like a weight lifting routine: always warm up first, work your grip three times a week, eat plenty of protein, and don’t overtrain.

c) Several times per day on off days, use a rubber band to work the back of your hand.  Place a sturdy rubber band around all five fingers and open our hand a few dozen times.  Relax your hands by playing with one of those squishy tension-relieving balls.

d) Whatever you do, don’t think that continuously working a high-power gripper will help you.  I tried that.  It worked short-term, but I eventually got hand and elbow pain and had to stop training for 6 months until I healed.  That’s why and how I came up with this hand-healthy approach.

Here’s a chart showing the routine.  What does 1 set mean on a roller?  Start in neutral with the weight hanging straight down beneath the tool.  Roll it all the way up overhand,then down underhand, past neutral, up underhand, then down overhand and back to neutral.  That’s 1 set.  Pictures of the tools are on the right.

Exercise Sets (Reps) My Starting Weight/Gripper My Current Weight/Gripper
Broomstick Roller (warm-up) 2 2 lbs 5 lbs
Big Roller 2 10 lbs 20 lbs
1″ x 4″ Square Roller (Fingertip contact ONLY) 3 3 lbs 7.5 lbs
Challenge Gripper 4 (8 to 12) Trainer #1 Gripper
Yo-Yo Roller 2 5 13.8 lbs
Easy Gripper 4 (8-12) Sport Trainer
Light Roller (cool-down) 1 2 3 lbs
Super Easy Gripper (cool-down) 1 (8 to 12) Typical Gripper (25 lbs) Typical Gripper (25 lbs)

IMPORTANT SAFETY TIP:  You will lose your grip from time to time, so put down a mat to protect the floor and keep your feet wide apart.  Trust me — twenty pounds of iron hurts when it falls on your toes.


1. One minute breaks between sets.

2. When the rollers get easy, up the weights in small increments.

3. The “challenge gripper” is the one that you are trying to master.  At first you will only be able to do negatives — shut the gripper with both hands, remove the extra hand, and let it open as slowly as possible.  Start with 6 reps/set, and as you get stronger, go to positives until failure, then do negatives for the rest of a given set.  When 6 reps is no problem, increase the reps to 8, then to 10, etc.

4. Advance to the next gripper when 4 sets of 12 reps with a 1 minute break between sets becomes easy.  Get a tougher “challenge gripper” and move the old one down to the “easy gripper” position.  Save your old “easy gripper” in case you get hurt and are forced to re-start training after healing time.

“Where did you get your grip tools?”

I bought my aluminum grippers from Ironmind, but the rest of the tools are homemade.  I bought some 100 lb test paracord and some small carabiners, then drilled holes through the materials —  piece of 2″ PVC pipe, a broomstick, a scrap of 1″ x 4″ wood, and a giant yo-yo.  Thread the paracord through the material and tie a whopping knot.  Then attach a carabiner to the other end, thread it through the weights, and clip the cord to itself.  To make the giant Yo-yo roller I cut a circle of hardwood with a 2 1/8″ hole-saw and sandwiched it between two hockey pucks using J-B Weld epoxy and a bolt through the center to tie it all together into a kind of evil moonpie.  Solid as a rock.

3 responses to “How to Build Grip Strength

  1. Pingback: Grip Strength Revisited | 808 Hackard Building

  2. Pingback: Update on Pull-up Master Plan and the #2 Gripper | 808 Hackard Building

  3. Pingback: Grip Strength (again) — i.e. “The Man Who Couldn’t Quit” | Robert Mitchell Jr.

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