Most underrated exercise for athletes

I’ve touched upon the subjekt before in several posts on functional training, training athletes and here I am again. This time around though, I’ll share a specific exercise (or rather group of exercises), that I believe is a top 5 choice for pretty much any athlete and weekend warrior alike.

What exactly does this make you good at?

If you’re a regular reader, you probably know that I’m a big fan of Dan John (and if you are too, you probably already know where this post is headed). After reading intervention, I started implementing this in my own training as well as the programming and coaching I do for others.

The best part about this exercise probably is that any coach, no matter how retarded he might be, can coach it. It’s that fundamental, and it’s that easy. It’s also very good.

What I’m talking about is the weighted carry.

The weighted carry is a great way to challenge your midsection while moving – it’ll also strengthen the upper back and (depending on variant) the grip.

Pud-Farmers-Walk

The most common variant from this group is the farmer’s walk and while it’s great, there are others worth mentioning:

  • Waiter walk: holding an implement (most often a KB) in one hand over the head. This challenges the shoulder stability. Make sure you don’t go to failure.
  • Crosswalk: One KB in the waiter position, one in the FW position. Same as WW, with the added bonus of having to stabilize between sides.
  • Sandbag: grab a heavy bag in a bearhug and start walking. Or shoulder it.
  • FW with straps: though many see this as pointless “since the FW is a grip exercise”, I find that view very narrow-minded. Straps let you work the gut and upper back even harder, while still getting in some forearm work. It works great with regular FW either on alternate days or as a mechanical dropset.

Learning to brace the midsection under a heavy load will make you better on whichever field you’re on on Sundays. Though often overlooked, quite a few sports also require strong hands (football and basketball for example).

disciple_5_1

Go carry that weight!

Improving grip strength

It doesn’t get much more manly than a good hard handshake. In this post, I’ll detail a few easy changes to your training, that’ll get your hands stronger in a hurry. I’m not talking about competing in gripping competitions or armwrestling at all. The goal here is not dropping max deadlifts and adding a bit of daddystrength to your handshake.

pinch

Before starting out, there are a few very important points to make:

  • Slow and steady! No more than 1-2 times a week of concentrated gripwork to begin with. Building up the ligaments take time. Rotate exercises.
  • If you’re serious about training your grip, invest in some pre-/rehab tools for the hands – Ironmind have a good selection.

grip

Look here for inspiration – there are tons and tons of exercises.

There are many different kinds of gripwork, with different applications. Most people seek static grip strength, to aid their DL for example. While training pinch by gripping plates and crush with grippers will have some carry-over, the best way to get better at any one thing, is usually to train it specifically. Adding to that, I’ve found that training with grippers can be good for hypertrophy and strength on the grippers, they seem to do very little for other aspects of grip strength. Similarly, I’ve found that any other kind of grip training has very limited carry-over to grippers. Bottomline: grippers are a somewhat parallel universe to other grip training – I wouldn’t prioritize it myself.

On to some exercises that’ll get your grip up to speed:

Exercises that require little equipment:

Towel chins – easy, cheap and GOOD. Should be on everybody’s short list. Works with a rope as well or as rope climbs.

Static hold/hang from the chinning bar. Work up to about a minute and start adding weight from there. Will stretch the lats nicely too. Can be combined with towels.

Farmer’s walk – grab to heavy DBs/KBs and go for a stroll.

Exercises that require a bit more equipment:

Anything with a fatbar or FatGripz. Can be improvised with towels around a bar. Wearing work gloves also works.

Kettlebell snatches – you’re opening and closing the hand while throwing around a KB.
Rope climbs as mentioned earlier. As a bonus these will work the gunz nicely.
Hand over hand pulls using a rope and a sled.

Exercises that are a waste of time:

Wrist curls – why not train your grip strength instead?

Grippers. It’ll get expensive real fast and it’s hard to progressively overload. If I wanted to be good at grippers I’d get the Vulcan gripper which is adjustable. Though CoC is the golden standard, they’re expensive and not adjustable.

Summing up:

  • Add in an exercise with a grip twist a couple of times a week. This could be doing your warmup (or preferably back-off) sets of chins with towels and/or doing farm’s walk every Saturday (shirtless in the sun, douchebag style).
  • Don’t go all out from day 1.
  • Ropes, sandbags and other odd objects put a huge demand on the hands – this is good.
  • Leave the wristcurls and the grippers to the specialists (arm wrestlers and hand strength buffs).
  • If you want to show off at BBQs learn how to tear a deck of cards. It’ll take most people a few months of training to get there.