In many sports, the hand is the final link in the kinetic chain where the generated forces and torques are transferred to the implement or object. Thus, handgrip function and strength are crucial to sport-specific movements. (1)

Think about it; your hand manipulates objects in racket or ball sports and grabs or holds in wrestling, combat, or gymnastic sports (circus, gymnastics). Regardless of the sport, the hand always interacts with the partner, the opponent, an object, or a surface. So, it's crucial you have a sound understanding of how your hand moves and how you can strengthen it through sport-specific exercises.

Sport-Specific Grip/Hand Strength Benefits

  • Eliminates a weakness in the kinetic chain. You are only as good as the weakest link in the chain. For example, if your back is capable of pulling 100 kilograms, but your hand opens to 50 kilograms, your pulling ability is actually limited to 50 kilograms. The grip is often the weakest link in the chain when it comes to pulling. 
  • Performance factors. In a sport like rugby, the grip can make the difference between releasing a jersey and missing a tackle. In combat sports or climbing, the grip is directly identified as a performance factor. (2)(3)
  • Reduces the risk of injury. Increasing grip strength and wrist stability leads to greater hand and grip mechanics and therefore reduces the risk of injury. (4)
  • Psychologically impacts the opponent in grappling sports. No need for complex studies to understand the psychological impact if world-famous French judo athlete, Teddy Riner, grabs you by the collar of your shirt...
  • Correlated and predictive of health. A multitude of studies establish correlations (not necessarily causality) and even make predictive links between grip strength and various health items. (5)

The Different Movements

The movement of the fingers and wrist controls the ability to grip. Rather than trying to train each movement specifically, it is simpler to define the basic movements that will make up the set of possible complex movements (the complex movements being only the results of the basic movements). Therefore, I use three basic finger movements:

  • The pinch. Squeezing an object between the thumb and fingers (adduction of the fingers) is performed mainly by the thumb with the fingers in extension.
  • The crush. Squeezing an object against the palm of the hand with a flexion of the fingers (variable thumb position).
  • The extension of the fingers (almost non-existent in sports). Although it is difficult to implement, extension work is relevant because it is antagonistic to flexion. Strengthening the antagonist of a muscle allows the agonist to express more strength and maintain stability in the joint. (6)

There are several grip positions, like the precision grip (taking a pen), the key grip (holding a key), and the hook grip (tightening with the thumb inside), but they are only the result of the two main movements that are the grip and the crush. We also often talk about grip support which corresponds to the holding of the body or an object in suspension. In my opinion, it is simply the capacity of endurance in gripping or crushing according to the object's shape.

In addition to these basic finger movements, wrist movements are performed by the muscles of the forearm. 

  • Flexion (bringing the palm towards the forearm) and extension (bringing the top of the hand towards the forearm) 
  • Pronation and supination correspond to turning the hand and the forearm towards the inside or the outside. 
  • Adduction and abduction: These are movements with a small amplitude, and most efforts are anti-movement (stabilization of the wrist). We will, therefore, not focus on their direct reinforcement, which will be carried out by the various exercises with dumbbells in a neutral grip where we must stabilize the dumbbell (e.g., hammer curl).

Figure 1 (7). Contribution biomécanique à l'analyse cinématique in vivo des mouvements de la main humaine.

The wrist's circumduction (rotation) movements are not simple, as they are only a result of the movements described above.

In the context of improving grip, strengthening the forearm muscles is important. To transfer force from the arm to the hand, the wrist joint must be rigid. For example, for a jab in boxing or during weight training, a wrist that is not rigid can be a source of injury. Even when the hand movement (crush or pinch) is accompanied by a wrist movement, this movement is only in one axis, and the other axes of movement must be stabilized. For example, when pulling on a jersey or kimono, the hand squeeze is often accompanied by a supination. For the movement to be effective, the forearm muscles responsible for supination must be strong, and the wrist must be stabilized on the other axes of movement. Strengthening the forearm muscles, responsible for wrist movements, is, therefore, an essential point in improving the grip in sports.

The last argument, everyone can have a six-pack by being fit, differentiating themselves by wide forearms as logs and with veins like a road map ...


Here is a list of exercises corresponding to the different basic hand and wrist movements.


Pinch Plate Walk

Pinch Plate Lift

Pinch Plate Curl

Bumper Plate Pinch Flip

Pinch Plate Deadlift T-Bar

Inverted Row Pinch Plate

Hex Bar Pinch Plate Movements

Reeves Deadlift

Check Out These Grip Tools From elitefts: Grip Accessories



Farmer's Walk

Exercise With Rope, Towel, Jersey, Kimono…

Finger Extension

Forearm Training

Wrist Roller

Wrist Flexion With Bar Behind Back

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Wrist Extension With Dumbbell

Check out Romain's Instagram channel for the wrist extension exercise plus more here.

Wrist Extension With Bar

Wrist Pronation and Supination With Kettlebell

Wrist Pronation and Supination With Bar


All of the above movements can be performed with various variations.

  • Increase or decrease the width of the grip (diameter or thickness of the object grabbed) as this increases the recruitment of the forearm muscles. (8)
  • Use a specific object. For example, use a kimono to perform the pulling or hanging movements.
  • Reduce the number of fingers used for the grip. For example, perform a deadlift with only the index and middle fingers.
  • Decrease or reduce the number of phalanges used for the movement. For example, perform a suspension by opening the hand so that only the last two phalanges are in contact with the bar (distal phalanges).

The goal of these variations is to increase the difficulty of the movements progressively, but also to get closer to the specificity of the sport practiced. However, beware of the specificity: even if it is an incredible performance, it may not be relevant to train pull-ups on the little finger for a rugby player. 

As a reminder, here are the contributions of the different fingers in the grip tasks. The percentage contributions of the index, middle, ring, and small fingers to grip were approximately 25%, 35%, 25%, and 14%, respectively. The ulnar side of the hand contributes to the smaller proportion of the overall grip (approximately 60% radial and 40% ulnar). (9)

Plan The Training

Define The Requirements

To simplify, we can define two types of grip training: strength and endurance. Depending on the sport, the needs are based on endurance (e.g., racket sports), strength (e.g., weightlifting, strongman), or both combined (e.g., climbing, grip sports). Strength training aims to have the greatest possible gripping strength, and endurance training aims to maintain a specific gripping strength for as long as possible. In order to improve strength, training should be done with a low volume and a desire to gradually increase the intensity. For the development of endurance, we will favor work at lower intensity but with a significant volume and a progression based on the volume (e.g., number of repetitions, work time).

We must then define the types of grip we will be confronted with in our activity. Remember, it's essential to respect the principle of dynamic correspondence to promote the transfer of your training to the sport. To do this, we will use movements close to the mechanics of the sport with slightly smaller or larger amplitudes. We can also use gripping surfaces specific to the sport (e.g., the kimono for Judo athletes, the rugby jerseys for the rugbyman).


There are a few recommendations on grip training. However, a study conducted on high-level climbers, who already had a very good grip, showed increases in grip strength in only four weeks with three weekly sessions. (3) We can therefore think that one to two sessions per week for athletes who are not grip experts could produce significant gains.

For grip training, several options are possible: 

  • Circuits dedicated to grip at the end of the session 
  • Grip work during rest periods. But be careful; this can have a negative impact on the other movements of the session (specifically pulling movements). So, in general, integrate your grip work between upper or lower body pushing exercises, but not during pulling (except with the goal of pre or post-fatigue).
  • Sessions entirely dedicated to grip for sports where grip is directly identified as a performance factor.

Type of workout:

  • Endurance. Work mainly in circuits and try to improve the working time or the number of repetitions. Use pre-fatigue on the forearms before grip work. Work on grip at the end of the session on fatigue to maximize adaptations.
  •  Strength. Short work without a circuit to maintain strength. Ideally, perform grip work (grip or crush) separately from forearm work to reduce fatigue.

Training Session Example

Crush Grip Endurance Circuit
MovementExerciseSet and repRest
1A CrushOne-Arm Deadlift with Fat Bar3x10/hand0
1B Forearms Supination & PronationHand Rotation with Kettlebell3x10/side0
1C Crush Stamina Max EffortDead Hang Two Hands3xMax Time2
Progression: Do the circuit above for 2 weeks. For weeks 3 and 4, do 4 sets. For weeks 5 and 6, do 3 sets but with 12 reps for exercises 1A and 1B.
Pinch Grip Endurance Circuit
MovementExerciseSet and repRest
1A PinchPlatePinch Lift3x10/hand0
1B Forearms Flexion & ExtensionWrist Roller Flexion & Extension3x1/side0
1C Pinch Stamina Max EffortTrap Bar Pinch Deadlift3xMax time2 min
Progression: Do the circuit above for 2 weeks. For weeks 3 and 4, do 4 sets. For weeks 5 and 6, do 3 sets but with 12 reps for exercises 1A and 2x/side for the exercise 1B
Crush Grip Strength Workout
MovementExerciseSet and repRest
1 CrushGripper3x5/hand (*)2 min
2A Forearms FlexionWrist Flexion with Barbell Behind The Back3x10-121 min
2B Forearms ExtensionWrist Extension with Barbell3x10-121 min
Progression: Do the circuit above for 2 weeks. For weeks 3 and 4, 3x4/hands for exercise 1 and 3x8-10 for exercises 2A & 2B. For weeks 5 and 6, 3x3/hands for exercise 1 and 3x6-8 for exercises 2A and 2B.
(*) Alternate hands every rep, allowing more rest and strength. (Cluster)
Pinch Grip Strength Workout
MovementExerciseSet and repRest
1 PinchPinch Deadlift3x5/hand (*)2 min
2A Forearms SupinationPronation with Bar (**)3x10-121 min
2B Forearms PronationSupination with Bar (**)3x10-121 min
Progression: Do the circuit above for 2 weeks. For weeks 3 and 4, 3x4/hands for exercise 1 and 3x8-10 for exercises 2A and 2B. For weeks 5 and 6, 3x3/hands for exercise 1 and 3x6-8 for exercises 2A and 2B.
(*) Alternate hands every rep, allowing more rest and strength. (Cluster)
(**) To vary the intensity, grab the bar lower or higher.

You can mix different workouts depending on your requirements for the sport you practice or train. You can also replace any exercises with another from the same category. Once the six weeks are up, evaluate your progress, then start again, varying your movements if needed.

Evaluate The Progress

Grip training can be enjoyable and entertaining thanks to the dozens of possible variations to set up. However, be careful; I think it is always important to be able to measure your progress to validate the effectiveness of your training (make changes if necessary) and keep your motivation. I encourage you to establish reference movements for each grip modality you wish to improve. Here are some examples of reference movements depending on the grip movement and the type of training

StrengthHand Grip Dynamometer (Max Value) / GripperMax Weight Pinch Deadlift
EnduranceMax Hanging TimeMax Time Hold Pinch Plate (with Standard Weight)

And remember, change the movements according to the specifics of your activity or what you are trying to measure (see the variation section above). Progress in grip can be rapid (see studies on climbers), so set your standards the week before you start training. Do your six weeks of training with ideally two grip workouts per week, and then evaluate your progress in week seven and begin again.


Keep in mind that grip can negatively impact your training. For example, increasing the diameter of barbells and dumbbells improves forearm muscle recruitment but decreases the maximum force that can be produced. (7) Similarly, congested forearms will do a disservice in any session involving pulling exercises. Therefore, plan carefully when you work on your grip. 


I think it is always important to keep in mind the time/benefit ratio rule. Depending on your sport or activity and your level, your grip is a more or less important performance factor. If your training time is limited or you are a beginner, grip work may not be a priority. On the other hand, working to improve your strength, power, and speed will quickly make you a much better athlete in most sports. In the beginning, your grip will likely improve simply by working with free weights. However, if you are an advanced athlete or if grip is a performance factor in your sport, then adding grip work is definitely worthwhile.


  1. John Cronin, T. L. (2017). A Brief Review of Handgrip Strength and Sport Performance. Journal of Strength and Conditioning.
  2. Sergii Sidorovich Iermakov, L. V. (2016). Hand-grip strength as an indicator for predicting the success in martial arts athletes. ARCHIVES OF BUDO | SCIENCE OF MARTIAL ARTS.
  4. Ina Shaw, B. S. (2016). Review of the Role of Resistance Training and Musculoskeletal Injury Prevention and Rehabilitation. Gavin Journal of Orthopedic Research and Therapy, 5.
  5. Molly Eckman, C. G. (2014). Get a grip! Handgrip strength as a health screening tool. Global Humanitarian Technology Conference.
  6. Calmels, M. (1995). A review of the role of the agonist/antagonist muscle pairs ratio in rehabilitation. Disability and Rehabilitation.
  7. Devos. (2017). Contribution biomécanique à l'analyse cinématique in vivo des mouvements de la main humaine. Thèse L'UNIVERSITE DE TECHNOLOGIE DE COMPIEGNE.
  8. Krings, B. M., Shepherd, B. D., Swain, J. C., Turner, A. J., Chander, H., Waldman, H. S., . . . Smith, J. W. (2021). Impact of Fat Grip Attachments on Muscular Strength and Neuromuscular Activation During Resistance Exercise. Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research.
  9. Macdermid, J. &. (2004). Individual finger strength: Are the ulnar digits "powerful"?. . Journal of hand therapy: official journal of the American Society of Hand Therapists.
  10. Blackburn, T. &. (2000). Balance and Joint Stability: The Relative Contributions of Proprioception and Muscular Strength. Journal of sport rehabilitation.

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Romain Guerin is a French strength and conditioning coach for professional rugby. He worked with the under 16 France team rugby league, rugby league academy, and police special forces. Romain earned his master's degree in sport science and other certifications like Westside Barbell® Special Strength Certificate and EXOS® certification. He can be reached at Follow him on Instagram @romainguerin_pro.