Grip strength is a quick way to evaluate how much full body strength one possesses. If you have the hand strength of a 12-year-old, you aren’t picking up heavy things.
Most of the world’s knowledge of the kettlebell is limited to the swing and perhaps the Turkish get up. Both are fabulous exercises, but the kettlebell is not limited to those two movements. Many of the people I work with have tremendous grip strength, and much of that is due to how I program our kettlebell exercises.
Following are some must-do exercises for those of you who have a similar fondness for kettlebell training and want to ramp up hand strength.
The Swing, But Harder
Okay, okay, I know. You already know all about the kettlebell swing. But you might be doing it wrong. First off, your effort on your swings makes or breaks the usefulness of the exercise. If you aren’t bringing it, you are wasting your time.
You need to swing hard. Maximal effort, cramp your glutes, grip-it-and-rip-it type of swings. If you want to really add layers and layers of strength to your hands, add heavy swings for volume. I’m talking swinging a 32kg or a 40kg bell for sets of 15-25. The simple weight of the bell moving with that much momentum forces you to grip down hard. Layer that with high volume, and you will gas your hands in a flash.
With a similar line of thinking, high volume, heavy single arm swings are a fast track to developing strong paws. But don’t bastardize your technique. Over-rotation, shrugging up on the bell, letting the lat relax, and reaching at the top are all things that can create some really unsafe postures. Keep your traps down, stay square, and lock the lat down the whole ride, and watch how fast your hand strength comes along.
This one is a no-brainer and should be in every program where an athlete needs big hand strength. I will publicly admit that I hate doing farmer’s walks. There’s something about that deep forearm burn that brings the bitch out in me. Nevertheless, gut-check farmer’s walks–the kind where your fingers basically peel away with fatigue–are the name of the game. Heavy bells (48-60kg) in pairs for distance will help you significantly speed the strength gains for your hands. Also, if you want to make things interesting, carry the handles in the tips of your fingers from the beginning. The fingers are where your forearm muscles are attached, so setting them up for failure is a great way to increase the value of this insidious exercise.
Kettlebell Forearm Flips
Any athlete who needs the forearm to roll over for any reason (throwing, swinging a bat or club) can greatly benefit from this beauty. Take a fairly light bell and lay down on your belly. Hold the bell by the horn with the main part of the handle flush to the floor (with the mass of the bell straight up). Tip the bell from side to side (see the video). The pronators and supinators of the forearm get smoked from this exercise. One of the cues I give is to accelerate through the motion, especially the supination. It is not easy even with a light weight; you have to attack the motion to get the mass started. Even for a strong athlete, a 12 or 16kg bell is heavy enough for sets of ten in each direction. 3-5 sets of this one and you can forget trying to write for the day.
Kettlebell Radial Deviations
This is a new one for us at Cal Poly but it’s quickly becoming one of my favorites. Similar to forearm flips, lay down on your belly and pick a moderately weighted bell (20 or 24kg). Set both hands on the horns and tip the bell from lying flat on the ground to the classic bottoms up position. Slowly lower the bell to the floor and then return to bottoms up. This one is deceptively hard and can humble the strongest guys I know.
Your Hands Connect You to Everything
Your hands are critical in every upper body exercise you perform. They connect you to the bar, they connect you to the dumbbell, and they connect you to the kettlebell. You cannot have a weak grip and expect to get anything of value done. More importantly, your forearm strength helps keep problems like elbow tendonitis from getting momentum during pull ups and such. Do yourself a favor and try some of these suggestions to get your hands right.