Anyone who has ever spent a lot of time in the gym and under the bar knows that after a certain point strength is almost useless in day to day life. Sure, being strong makes opening pickle jars easier, an will help you win and arm wrestling match or two, but by and large, being strong isn’t that necessary in today’s world. Oh, you can run a marathon? That’s great. I can drive a car and get where I’m going faster and without breaking a sweat. You see my point?
(That hasn’t stopped people from continuing to pursue their athletic dreams though. I’m not a competitive lifter, and I don’t even discuss my personal records with anyone, but I still keep track of my heaviest lifts and I train so that every couple months I can put up a bigger number. It may not be useful, but I do it for myself.)
One part of lifting that is often overlooked is grip strength. It also happens to be something that is actually useful in everyday life. Every once in a while someone at work will need something ripped apart and they call on me. It seems so easy to me, but no one else could do it. I’m not bragging – I’m just pointing out that my grip is stronger than most people’s. The thing is – I never focused on training my hands, on strengthening my grip. How did it get strong then?
Rule #1 – I am adamantly against wearing gloves, and using lifting straps or lifting hooks when working out. The reason is simple. These tools are aids. They aid you by allowing you to lift the weight more without the bar slipping out of your hands. The natural way to do this is to increase your grip strength, which will come naturally if you don’t use these aids. Want to increase grip strength? Throw away your gloves!
Anyone who says that lack of gloves or lifting straps is inhibiting their rows or deadlifts needs to be patient. Grip strength increases rapidly, and soon enough your grip strength will be able to handle the level of any weight you want to lift. Its foolish to let a weak grip hold you back. Just suck it up, grab the bar like a man, and lift it. Like Mark Rippetoe says – “If you insist on wearing gloves, make sure they match your purse.”
Rule #2 – Free weights are almost always better than machines. Machines limit your range of motion and steady the lift – aiding it. Not only does this mean that your grip doesn’t need to be as strong, but it means that many of the stabilizing muscles are not being used. A bench press (assuming proper form) of 150 lbs will deliver better muscular stimulation than a press machine of the same weight.
Rule #3 – Diversify. Its sad to see so many guys standing in front of mirrors at the gym constantly doing bicep curls. (One of the reasons I left commercial gyms.) As much as I argue that bicep curls are by and large a waste of time for any sport other than bodybuilding, if you insist on doing them try to switch things up. The standard curl is all fine and dandy, but try some reverse curls. Not only will this target the long head of the biceps, giving your arms a better overall shape, but it will really engage your forearms.
Not everything we do in the gym will transfer to real life, and after a certain point, very little of it will. Grip strength is one thing that is always useful, whether its tying a really good knot, opening a jar of pickles, or winning at tug of war. Avoid using aids that inhibit growth and strength gains, go for free weights instead of machines, and add in some reverse curls. Do this and you can throw out your lifting straps and never look back.