3 Killer Grip Strength Exercises to Develop Man Strength for MMA, BJJ, Wrestling and Other Combat Sports
by Taylor Ramsdell
"You’ve grabbed them. Now you need to keep them there. This drill will help."
I remember when I was a kid my dad was always so damn strong. It wasn’t from going to the gym because he didn’t. It just was! Even as I got older, if that man grabbed a hold of me, I wasn’t going anywhere. SO… In honor of Dan Ramsdell aka Dad aka Pops, I like to refer to that type of strength as “Dad Strength” or "Man Strength"… And since not everyone can just be naturally strong as hell like my Pops, the following drill is one way to gain some of that strength. Great for dads with sons who are troublemakers, and great for fighters who want to be able to grab their opponent and hold onto them for however long they want.
Do the following three exercises back-to-back: (Number of sets depends on your level and/or depends on how hard you push each exercise.)
1. Kettlebell Hammer Curl and Reach
The first exercise is one that will really help develop the brachioradialis muscle in the forearm. For the fighter’s purposes, this muscle serves primarily as an elbow stabilizer anytime the arm is in flexion. It also contributes to overall grip strength and helps to generate more solid striking power.
Before going into the details of this exercise, simply picture a hammer curl. That is really all this is... A hammer curl variation that places the center of gravity further from your hand increasing the challenge (and with one extra movement)…
Hold a kettlebell with a firm grip. Perform a hammer curl with the kettlebell and do not let the wrist bend. When your arm reaches approx 90 degrees, press the kettlebell forward (this forward press is the extra movement mentioned before. It adds to the challenge of controlling the kettlebell without bending the wrist, and also recruits more muscles making this exercise more complex). You want to move the kettlebell forward in an arc with it ending up straight in front of you at shoulder level. Slowly return the kettlebell to the 90 degree position and then slowly return it down to your side. Repeat with your other arm.
Reps? Do enough of them.
VARIATIONS: Another option for this exercise would be never returning the arm to your side. Keep the hold at approx 90 degrees. This is more difficult to perform and is what the photos show below.
You can also hold a weight plate as it is more difficult to grip and it places the center of gravity further from your hand similar to the action of the kettlebell. Don’t hold the plate in the middle. Pinch it on one side, otherwise you won’t reap the benefit of manipulating the center of gravity. Just make sure you keep your wrist straight. With weight plates, you can also pinch two of them together to add another dimension to the exercise.
NOTE: A good way to progress to heavier weight is to only do the first half of the movement with heavier weights. Once you build more strength in maintaining the kettlebell’s position, start trying to press it forward.
Another great way to progress on this is to perform a “hammering” movement with a sledge hammer using only your wrist. Perform the movement from either the approx 90 degree elbow position or with your arm straight out. Maintain control the entire time. Adjust the difficulty by moving your hand up or down on the hammer’s handle.
2. Farmer’s walk/suitcase carry/pick up heavy weights and walk around with them.
When you pick up the weight, do so with control and good form. Keep your body solid the entire duration of the carry. Don’t let anything go sloppy. Maintain control. Hold the weight tight in your hands. Do as much as you can to not let your hands open. SQUEEZE the weight.
VARIATIONS: You can hold weights (any type of weight you can think of) in each hand, or perform it on one side at a time.
Grab a bar and hang. Hang until you can’t hang anymore. Then hang some more. As far as whether you “pack your shoulders” or “relax your shoulders” etc., you pick. Do what is right for you. I like to do many positions during a long hang. Get a good stretch, then also lower your shoulders and engage your lats, etc. You can also switch between straight arms and slightly bent. Straighten your body, bend your body, etc. Just hang. You’ll benefit from all of it.
VARIATIONS: Throw a towel (or your gi) over the bar and use it to hang from. Thicker the grip, the harder it becomes. Also, vary your hand positioning. Try with one hand higher than the other, or with the towel coming out of the back of the hand instead of the front, or with just one hand, ... etc. Switch it up.
When you drop from the bar in the third exercise, you should feel like your hands have nothing left. NOTHING. At that moment in time, you should smile and ask for more.
Taylor Ramsdell, founder of Chain Fitness in Los Angeles, is the strength and conditioning coach for multiple professional athletes. His methods have attracted fighters from all over the globe. He believes in training hard while also training smart. The LA Times featured Ramsdell and quoted him saying “Getting real will get results.” It is that philosophy that continues to yield success for his athletes.