strength

Part II: Why Your Grip is Weak and What to Do About It...

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Last week, I talked about the reasons your grip may be weak, no matter your experience level in the gym or on the mats.

This week, I wanted to get into ways you can effectively train your grip. This is probably what a lot of you “came to see,” but I can’t stress enough how important it is to figure out where you are on the grip strength continuum. Meaning, if you have some gnarly pec-minor issues and a weak core, I don’t care what number of Captains of Crush grip you use. So, go read last week’s blog first.

Now that we have that out of the way, let’s talk actual grip training strategies.

Fat Gripz or Thick Dumbbells

Use these and use these often. Most of you won’t have Watson Dumbbells at your gym (and if you do, consider yourself VERY lucky), so you’ll want to purchase some Fat Gripz. Use these on just about anything you do with dumbbells. I don’t advise using these on barbell compound lifts, as the lack of control will take away from developing the bigger muscle groups you’re probably targeting when you deadlift, for example.

Train the eccentric grip, or at least use some therapeutic measures

Bring your finger-tips all together on one hand. Now, put a rubber band around your fingers, including the thumb. Open, and hold. Close back til all finger tips meet. Repeat.

Simple as that.

You concentrically use your grip muscles CONSTANTLY in jiu jitsu… and life. You need to train the eccentric portion of a true “grip” to stay balanced and healthy. It’d be like training your chest and not your back… quads, but not hamstrings. We can elaborate more in the future, but for now, understand this is a great way to passively work on your grip at your desk.

You can train the grip nearly every day, just vary the modality

The late Charles Poliquin was an advocate for every day grip training, provided you change the exercise daily. I always liked this advice, because all things considered and compared to other athletic populations: I feel grapplers develop excellent grip strength for the very reason they use their grip strength every time they hit the mat, especially while training with a gi. They have a high volume of grip training by default.

A schedule for daily grip training may look like:

  • Monday: Heavy Farmer’s Carrys with Thich Handled DB’s

  • Tuesday: Plate Pinches for time

  • Wednesday: EZ Bar Pronated Wrist Curls superset with Supinated Wrist Curls.

  • etc…

Do Relatively Heavy Deadlifts with a Barbell

I am not suggesting you become a powerlifter if jiu jitsu is your main-stay, but I certainly think and believe deadlift cycles are important in the macro view of a good strength and conditioning program for a jiu jitsu athlete. Don’t use straps.

Hang time

Get good at hanging from a bar in the “dead hang.” If you’re able to dead hang from a bar for 70 seconds or more as a jiu jitsu athlete, you’re in good company. In my own collection of data over the years, hang time is a fantastic indicator exercise for jiu jitsu.

Lastly, I’ll say that if grip training is a priority, do a few exercises for it at the TOP of each workout. If it’s your priority, it should be treated like something with priority.

Until next time,

Mark

Three Cues to Excel in the Deadlift

Most people who deadlift do so for the great strength and size-gaining benefits that accompany it. Packed in it though, is a great lesson on how to identify your center of gravity from a hinged or bent position. This has amazing benefits for the jiu jitsu fighter or anyone trying to improve their physical quality of life. Much has been written by masters of this lift, and it is one that has a lifetime's worth of detail and exploration. I consider it to be a real art and it is truly my favorite exercise. What follows are the most common cues and reminders I find myself giving when administering the deadlift.

 

Push the ground away

The most fundamentally misunderstood cue of the deadlift is that you somehow have to actively use your back to rip the bar from the ground and quite literally “pull.” I would absolutely call the deadlift a pulling lift, by virtue of it’s high demand on the posterior chain, but it’s an isometric “pull” from the upper body, with a lower body maximal effort from your posterior chain— effectively making it a “pulling motion.”

 

But a funny thing happens when we re-shift the emphasis a little: whenever I have someone who has difficulty deadlifting at a certain load, I cue them to think of their feet and imagine that on the upward portion (concentric phase) of the lift that they are pushing the ground away with their feet, while keeping the upper body rigid. Suddenly, muscles are properly cued that were underperforming earlier, their shoulders drop, traps pop, and they look like hinging perfection.  

 

It may be a pull, but you aren’t pulling with your upper body...

 

Expanding on the point above, the other massive deadlift miscue I see is that athletes will often look like they are trying to pull the bar off the ground with their back, and not using their legs to help at all until they stall with their back. Now, there is an unfolding and a bit of a pull with the back that does take place, but it must happen in conjunction with the legs “pushing you upwards” (as stated above). Moreover, those two things happening simultaneously must happen in a certain synchronicity to really effectively and expertly execute the deadlift.

RDL’s (Romanian Deadlifts) excluded, this is a huge mistake that could possibly end in injury, but more immediately, won’t do you any favors in truly reaping the benefits of the deadlift. 

Instead, take time to feel your lats, elevate your chest, brace your core, drop your shoulders, and take a few practice hinges holding this posture. This is how your upper body will remain as you deadlift. It is not a passive effort in the upper body, it’s quite active.

 

Sit on your heels

 

There’s so much of life that exists on our toes. Most sports, walking around town, and just about everything requires us to “lean in” a bit. This happens so much, that "leaning in" becomes how we are most comfortable balancing our bodies. Add to that the fact that shoes typically come with a heel (even minimalist sneakers sometimes), and you begin to see why people have trouble really getting in touch with being flat to the ground and sitting into their heels.

The problem with being too far on your toes during the deadlift is that the average deadlifter will be unable to properly cue their gluteus maximus and sit back in a nice deep hinge during the lift.   This “toe stance” has the effect of making you more likely to tilt your pelvis forward/under (posteriorly), and thus, killing a true hinge. The reason this happens is because your body is trying to get "under center" to its strong point at your center of gravity. Long term, I have seen this improper deadlift form sideline lifters for a very long time, as it has the effect of adding up to a lot of unnecessary tightness and damage to the anterior hip muscles. Even though in the moment you may feel stronger or more stable in your “toe stance,” long term it will bottom out and you’ll stall. Besides, it’s not correct anyway! 

So, avoid this at all costs by not getting your ego up or progressing too fast. Take time to practice your perfect hinge position, do support exercises, and be sure that the balance is in your heels. You also should keep the bar extremely close to your shins (almost touching, and it's okay if it does sometimes). That's the true way you keep the bar "under center." You’ll know you’re doing it properly when you can feel your glutes and the rest of your posterior chain.

 

Closing Thoughts

I find these three cues to be the most economical in recommendations, and find myself repeating them the most in the gym. These tips are very much aimed at the new deadlifter, but are very good evaluation and reflection questions an experienced powerlifter can ask themselves as well.  I included a video I often share with clients for quick reminders while deadlifting in the gym (see above). 

 

Be well.