Tag Archives: grip strength

Martial Arts Weapons: Loose Grips Sink Ships

This is me holding a screwdriver. This is what a martial artist’s hand looks like when it is holding a tool in a workmanlike fashion. Note callouses and white-knuckled grip with thumb fully wrapped.

Reading a popular martial arts magazine yesterday I came across an article about two lifetime achievement award winners. They are both martial arts legends.

I cringed.

Look at the way they are holding their weapons in the photos below. Is this how martial arts masters hold weapons which are about to be used to cut, smash, choke, etc.?

It’s just a magazine photo,” you may object. “They’re not actually demonstrating how to fight with the weapon!” To which I reply, “Does a firearm instructor wave guns around in a careless manner? Or does he treat all guns as if loaded and deadly?”

These loose grips (a) show a lack of respect for the weapon and (b) will not retain a weapon under stress. This is not how weapons are held in life or death situations by people who have any idea what they are doing.

At Bobcat Martial Arts, I teach my students to treat every Bowie knife, tomahawk and walking stick with respect and to grip it with sincerity and intent at all times. This is basic martial arts.

I would expect better than this from a student after just 90 days.

Grip Strength Training Dos and Don’ts

“Patience Grasshopper, sit here and talk with me a moment before I pass on the knowledge which you seek…”

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

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

Okay, that’s an exaggeration.  I’m no Master Po or Master Kan when it comes to grip strength.  But I do know a thing or two, as evidenced by all of my prior posts.  I’ve tried gripper regimens.  I’ve tried rollers, yo-yos, and pinch block programs.  I’ve tried them in unison and I’ve blown out my elbows.

Now,  after a two-and-a-half of years of very careful training and rehab work, I’m almost back to the level of grip strength I had back in 2010 when I was at my peak, right before the aforementioned episode of medial epicondylitis.

Am I super strong?  No.  But I do have far above average grip strength (about 130 lbs of raw squeeze) and believe me when I say that I know where the bodies are buried.  Here’s what I’ve learned so far.


  • Train grip strength no more than 15 minutes three times per week.  Under no circumstances put a grip tool in your car or at your desk and work it multiple times per day.  Unless of course you hate your tendons and crave deep suffering.
  • When training with grippers, restrict sessions to 50 reps per hand.  If your routine takes only 10 minutes and you want to train 5 more minutes, do something else, like some broomstick rolling, towel Pull-ups, etc.
  • Two or three times per week, on non-training days, complete a 15 minute grip health session.  Stretch and use rubber bands.  I like the Ironmind Expand-Your-Hand-Bands.
  • Tendinitis is a stealth disorder, so watch out. If you experience pain in the tendons of your elbows, especially at or near the inside or outside elbow “points,” stop training and see your doctor.  The early symptoms of tendinitis will be minor tendon paid at the beginning of a workout which quickly dissipates after a few minutes of exercise.  If you don’t stop, within a couple of weeks you won’t be able to open a door knob without discomfort.  Keep going after that point, and you will need serious rehab.

And now, here’s my routine now that I’m healthy.


GRIP STRENGTH EXERCISES (Monday/Wednesday/Friday)

  • Set timer for 15 minutes.
  • 6 gripper sets.  Rest 30 secs between sets.  Start with an easy gripper and do 10 reps. Step up each time you can do 10 reps.  If you can’t do 10, stay there until you’ve done 6 sets.  If you don’t get 5 reps on the last set, do controlled negatives to reach 5 reps (get the gripper shut with both hands and slowly release).  Thus your sets should resemble something like 10, 10, 8, 5, 3, 3 + 2 negs. (I use Ironmind Captains of Crush ®  grippers)
  • Fun-time.  If there is time left on the 15 minute clock, you may play with other grip tools, do Pull-ups, sledge hammer levers, Ninja Finger-walk, etc. until the timer beeps but no longer.


  • Rubber ball: Squeeze ball and hold for 5 seconds.  2 sets of 15 per side (~5 mins)
  • Finger extensions: Place rubber band around fingertips and spread fingers.  3 sets of 15 per side (~3 mins)
  • Elbow bent: With left elbow at 90 near left hip, use right hand to bend left wrist up and down far as you can without holding.  Switch sides.  Do 2 sets of 15 per side (~2 mins)
  • Elbow straight: Straighten arm with elbow locked and palm down.  Pull fingers down and back with other hand.  Hold for 30 seconds.  Switch and repeat for a total of 3 sets per side.  Now straighten arm palm up.  Pull fingers down and back.  Hold for 30 seconds.  Switch and repeat for a total of 3 sets (~3 mins).



Grip Strength (again) — i.e. “The Man Who Couldn’t Quit”


The Ironmind package arrives…

The package arrived and I opened it with equal parts excitement and fear.  As I tore open the packaging and touched the aluminum handles, out wafted the smell of light machine oil and the distant aroma of burning tendons…

I can’t stop.  I’ve tried again and again and again.  And now I’m going to try one more time to shut that godforsaken #2 Ironmind Gripper (that’s 195 lbs of pull).

Last time I failed, not because I didn’t work hard enough, but because I trained so hard that I gave myself tendonitis.  Lesson learned.  This time I will go slower, train smarter, and be more patient.

Taking Up the Grip Strength Challenge (Again)

I have been trying for years to get my grip strength up to the top 1% level (see previous posts).  So far I’ve only been able to get to what I would consider the “above average” level, followed immediately by hand pain, tennis elbow, tendonitis, etc.

I am healthy now and I’ve ordered some more grip tools, and a new booklet, from Ironmind.  Time to try it again.

Where am I right now?  Don’t know.  I could probably shut the #1 gripper, but I don’t want to try it right now.  I haven’t touched a grip tool since last October and I want to re-start slow.  Here’s a breakdown of the pull on Ironmind grippers:

  1. Guide (60 lbs).  Almost everyone who works out at all can shut this one.
  2. Sport (80 lbs).  Lots of people can shut this one.
  3. Trainer (100 lbs).  Starting to get into above average territory.  Some folks can shut this gripper on the first try.
  4. Number 1 (140 lbs).  Remarkable power.  Very few can shut this gripper.  I had one on my desk at the office for a year, and I give to people at martial arts demos and what-not.  Only a handful of people I’ve met can shut it.  I’m somewhere in this area right now.
  5. Number 2 (195 lbs).  Very exceptional grip.  Specialized training is required to close this gripper unless you are a freak of nature or you’ve developed grip strength unintentionally because you sling very heavy iron in the gym.  This is the gripper I want to close, or die trying.
  6. Number 3 (280 lbs).  Extreme grip strength.  Only a couple of hundred people in the world can shut this gripper.
  7. Number 4 (365 lbs).  Superhuman power.  Since 1998 only five men have closed this gripper.

Why do I want to have ridiculous grip strength?

  • Admiration.  My father had amazing grip strength despite a serious hand injury.  He could crush a soda can — unopened and full of drink! — and he did not practice, work out, or lift weights.  I admire that natural power.
  • Fantasy.  I started writing a story when I was a teenager (still unfinished) about a prehistoric character with amazing grip strength named Ul.  I want to be as strong as my fictional character.
  • Practicality.  I once trained self defense with Walt Lysak.  His brother Charlie can close an Ironmind #3 gripper, and Walt is no slouch either.  Walt can take you by the wrist or the back of the neck and the fight is over.  It feels like you’re in the grip of the jaws of life.
  • Aspiration.  I don’t like failure and I don’t believe in giving up.  I want to shut that @#%&*! Ironmind #2 gripper, and that’s all there is to it.

I’ll keep you posted on my progress…

Update on Pull-up Master Plan and the #2 Gripper

I have blogged about grip strength before — about hand health and my quest to shut the Ironmind #2 gripper — and about my plan to master the dreaded Pull-up.  Now it’s time to fess up.   I went to the doctor today, and I’m sidelined with tendonitis.

Apparently muscles get stronger twice as fast as tendons do, and when you work your grip really hard too fast you can get tendonitis (specifically Golfer’s elbow).  The tendons just can’t keep up with the muscles.  People who work on grip strength or do lots of pulling exercises are at high risk for developing problems.  I was doing both.

Curses, foiled again.

Now its time for physical therapy to overcome the pain and get healthy.  Then I can go back at it again, with less weight and a slower approach.  I’ll post a new plan when I come up with it.

If you’re using my old plan and you’re having any pain in your elbows, particularly on the inside where that little bone sticks out, stop now, see your doctor, and rehab.  You could go past tendonitis to tendonosis, which is apparently even worse.

Grip Strength Revisited

In a previous post I discussed how to build grip strength. After a thumb dislocation at the martial arts cluband some healing time, I’m back at the routine – but I’ve made two major changes: I’ve cut the number of sets in half, and upped the weight dramatically.

The change has alleviated pain from overwork, and the routine seems to be just as effective.

I have also discovered a great way to keep the muscles of the hand balanced.  On off days I use a rubber band around my fingers as
you see here. A dozen reps 3 times a day.


More on this story as it develops.

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.