Why Your Grip is Weak and What to Do About It


When people, particularly grapplers, ask me about training their grip, I always attempt to classify them into two categories: experienced with a weak grip, or novice/low training age with a weak grip. The distinction matters.

Novices & Grip Training

Quite simply, someone more novice to jiu jitsu or the weight room should not worry about extra grip training too much: it will be trained adequately as you get used to training with a barbell, dumbbells and hanging from a pull-up bar. It’s a skill, like much of strength, and is specific. 

The training age of a novice is simply too young to say something definitive about your grip strength. Just be sure your training has plenty of barbells, dumbbells and hanging exercises from a bar (pull-ups, hanging leg raises, etc), and you’ll begin to develop adequate grip strength in the early going.

I have seen grown men come into the studio and attempt to hang from the bar for more than 10 seconds and dropped off immediately, but their problem wasn’t some true “weakness,” they just hadn’t ever done it. 2-3 months into training deadlifts, pull-ups/flexed arm hangs, and they were hanging for over a minute on dead hang tests. That will translate.

The Experienced Athlete and Weak Grips

When you have an experienced person with a weak grip, you have a few things that could be at play, but all ends and solutions will include directly training the grip. More importantly, though, there’s a few questions and things you should look at first: namely, why is your grip weak? 

The lowest hanging fruit is your supplementary S&C as listed above. Are you just not training at all outside jiu jitsu? Start there. It may be that simple. Make sure your program, much like the advice above, has a lot of heavy bar work in it and pull ups/hanging exercises.

However, if you’ve read this far, you’ve probably tried this and still struggle. 

I always look at stronger, experienced lifters and fighters with weak grip with the same critical eye and ask the following: 

How is your overall posture?

People with chronic terrible posture have a cascading list of problems, but one of the ones I am more concerned about is the idea of “irradiation”— in other words, one muscle or group of muscle’s tension creating a positive effect for another muscle.  Think of doing a 1 Arm Dumbbell Overhead Press: you’re much stronger/more stable by clenching the opposite fist and tightening the torso/core. Otherwise, you noodle under the weight to get it up. 

Do you have shoulder pain, or is it in a bad position constantly?

This is often a giveaway for tight or glued up pec minor. It runs rampant in jiu jitsu. When that pec minor is tight and the shoulders are forward/internally rotated, there is a lot of lost strength. Solving this for some takes some real work, but a balanced strength program, some manual work (lacrosse ball smashes + manual therapist) is the way to go about solving this.

How is your core strength?

This is a favorite one of physical therapists to examine; in fact, I learned it from Dr Peter Hwang (my NYC studio-mate). Weak cores are often the hidden root of weak grips because the body simply can’t create or maintain what I often call “a closed feedback loop of tension.” Meaning there’ll be no irradiation. In other words, whatever strength and tension you are able to create through the core, leaks out in the weakest part of the body and is lost.

It’s important to point out, it may not just be one of the items above; if your posture is bad, there’s a good chance #’s 2 and 3 are problematic as well, etc, so test yourself accordingly.

Once you address these things, I find the athlete’s grip comes to life. The last step is adding in more grip training directly once you’re confident you’ve worked on the items above, and you will find it increasing in strength quite a bit. 

In part II next week, I’ll go over my favorite grip training strategies specifically.

I also go over all the necessary strength and conditioning concepts for grappling in Jiu Jitsu Strength, my 3-month self guided program for jiu jitsu athletes.

Be well, be strong,


What I Learned From My First Jiu Jitsu Competition

People of all backgrounds walk through my doors, send me emails, or ask for training advice. The secret is that the actively competitive athlete is the easy one to advise: their needs are largely defined by the sport they play. It's harder when you're either done with your life revolving around competitive athletics or you never lived that life to begin with. My best advice to this person is to always find something to train for: a marathon, 5K, rec soccer league, or competing in martial arts. 

You find out a lot about yourself through competition. Here's another secret: it's not the competition itself that brings the joy. Though winning is great, the real ecstasy-like high comes from the preparatory period: those days of training hard and watching your progress, the impeccable sleep and the energy you gain from it, the insight you get on your own personal and physical limits (or lack thereof), overcoming plateaus and the relationships you make with your teammates, classmates and coaches. It's a rich experience. 

I live what I do. I live on the advice I give to my athletes and you all: the things I write about daily and take photos of on Instagram, podcast about on Functional Meatheads, and elsewhere. I love a challenge, but like many, easily can fall into the monotony of doing whatever is required of us in life. The key is not doing this for too long, and I like to think I'm good at sensing imbalance in my life. That's why I decided to compete in the IBJJF NY Summer No-Gi. Open

The idea that I would consider my hobby of Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu a good means for competition and the experiences that accompany it entered my brain pretty early in my beginnings in the sport a year and a half ago. I knew as a fumbling and clumsy white belt that I'd be on the competition mats before long, even if it meant getting triangled in the first round. 

Conceiving the idea and executing it are something entirely different however: a feeling many are familiar with. Little speed bumps happen that deter you from pulling the trigger:

"Oh, I have a trip coming up."

"Oh, I have a work thing the week before."

Anything pops up and becomes a reason not to do it.

I had my own version of this: I got promoted.

Around February of 2015, I was just starting to get comfortable with my fellow white belts and was chomping at the bits to get into the NY Spring Open that upcoming April at white belt.

One evening that month, I heard my name called at the promotion ceremony and before I knew it, was having a blue belt tied around my waist by Marcelo Garcia. 

photo: Ric Ricard

photo: Ric Ricard

Shit. I was happy, but more so, I was scared. I felt undeserving and many emotions of uneasiness.  Feelings I usually help athletes get through in my sessions with them. It's different when it's you though. 

Almost immediately after that night, I felt insecure. I was getting to roll with higher caliber players at the academy and getting walloped. It was the same story while rolling with now-fellow blue belts. It was around this time I talked myself out of the Spring Open.

I can honestly tell you, one day removed from yesterday (my first competition), that it was the decision I regret most since starting jiu-jitsu.

Yes I would have likely lost like I did yesterday, and probably much worse.

But you know what? It doesn't matter. 

I got so much pleasure these past 5 weeks while training (often twice per day), programming my workouts for a sport I love, sleeping 8-9 hours a night, saying no to bullshit food that ends up making you feel worse about yourself, reveling happily in my rest periods, the close relationships I made with my fellow competitors, the support and encouragement I received from family and friends, and yes, even the weight cut. 

I could have experienced this all sooner, but I didn't, because I let some weird voice talk me out of it.

It was the most concentrated dose of positivity rolled into a five week period that I ever experienced. This is coming from a guy who played traveling competitive hockey from age 11. There wasn't one bit of negativity or true life stress in those 5 weeks.

I wouldn't trade it for a thing.  

I wouldn't trade it for the result either: I got triangled in the first round.

I wouldn't trade it because you have to earn the wins. They come from preparation like I described above, but also something more:  the intangibles that you only get through experience. 

Experience I'm working on and it started yesterday. 

I'd like to thank all who supported me and helped in any way along the road. Your words of encouragement are little tiny doses positivity that deeply sink into the brain and put the body at ease, giving a deep sense of feeling like you can do anything.  Words are powerful and change your reality.  There's never anything wrong with being positive, kids!

I thank you for reading a little bit about my experiences and if you have your own story, please do share below in the comments or email me, I'd love to hear it.