Hey, Lilly here – the very inactive Mudstacle Machine racer! [Read – has been consumed by work and weddings so hasn’t actually raced this year]. I'm now such a ninja that no-one has seen me… After silently watching from afar at the destruction caused by the OCR European championships and the relentless rigs, I thought I’d come up with a bit of a list of how to improve that grip strength and endurance in case anyone was after new ideas (note, this is not me saying I would have done better if I was there!). Grip strength is literally everything for my work though, so here’s the stuff I do – with and without fancy equipment…
There’s nothing better for basics then dead hanging (arms fully straight) on a pull up bar. Don’t have one at home? Go to a park, or if you’re really stuck a tree will do. Try to mix up the size of the bar you’re using too. It’s worth checking your max dead hang time (no shaking!) every now and again, but for training I follow three things depending how tired I am:
- The first is a ladder for both hands - 1m30 on, 1m30 off, 1m15 on, 1m15 off, 1m on, 1m off, 45s on, 45s off, 30s on, 30s off, 15s on, 15s off.
- Second is one arm at a time, 30 second hanging per arm and switching between the two for as many sets as possible without coming down. If you fail on less than 30s for your last arm make sure to match it on the next arm (starting with your strongest hand normally means you end up even).
- Frenchies. The best description for this torture online is: Pull up to the top, with hands against your chest, and lock off for five seconds, and then lower yourself to a straight-armed position. Pull up again immediately, but this time lower yourself to the halfway position (elbows at 90 degrees), and hold for five seconds. Move to straight arms again, and then pull up a third time, lowering this time about two-thirds of the way (elbows at 120 degrees) for five seconds. Lower to the bottom position to complete one cycle. Without stopping or dismounting to rest, immediately begin a second cycle of Frenchies, holding all lock-offs for a full five-second count. Continue for a third, fourth, and fifth cycle if you’re able.
This one I hate but need; looping a towel over something and hanging off it. The grip is awkward and somewhat painful but really gets all the little muscles in your hand and forearm working. Because it’s a bit lower on my bar at home I’ll normally practice full lock-offs like this (where your arm is fully bent whilst gripping so your hand is by your chin). Just remember to stretch out the fingers afterwards and try not to cramp up!
3. Stress balls
Get a firm-ish one if possible and keep it by your desk. Obviously, they’re pretty easy to squeeze but try holding it between the flat tips of your fingers and thumb and squeezing too, or do quick compression then slooooow release. Just randomly pick it up and do a load of squeezes throughout the day when you’re not doing a ‘grip heavy’ day to keep things moving.
4. Fingerboard or door-frame
Mix up what you do your pull-ups on. I use a Crusher Holds portable finger board, there are heaps of others around too, but it has finger pockets of different depths and some sloper open-hand grip bits. If you’re not ready to hang off a finger board yet, use it to do rows like you would with a trx in a gym. Just remember to warm up your fingers properly before going hard and don’t over-train your fingers! If you don’t have a fingerboard, a door frame was my substitute for a while (just check it’s secure!).
5. Vertical poles
Where are you going to find two vertical poles just under your wingspan apart? Well, most Smith Machines in a gym have these. Alternatively you may find some random scaffolding (careful!), or see it special obstacle gyms, or you might get lucky in your local playground. The movement is like dead hangs off a pull up bar but this time on vertical poles, this is a simple way to change the grip style you're using.
Weight plates in a gym work, random heavy things at home like two big books too. I like to pinch two weight plates together and hold them by my sides and go until just before failure, then rest a bit and go again. Don’t worry too much about timing – just get used to knowing when to stop before you blow out and shortening the rest to continue the cycle.
7. Specialist grips and holds
They’re a bit pricey, and you need somewhere to hang them, but actual climbing hold grips that a lot of races use are good for experience. I have a couple of Atomic climbing holds (cannonballs and pipes) that have done me well for creating my own rig in playgrounds or on scaffolding. It’s tricky to find direct alternatives, especially when there are skull shaped holds and UFO style ones used in races. Some bouldering gyms have some though, so if you can’t see them when you visit, ask behind the desk if they have any more training holds.