BJJ / Grappling tips: Best Grip Training

Grip Strong – Fight Strong

img: Art of Manliness

When you shake hands with someone with a strong grip, you know it immediately. They don't even need to squeeze your hand. You just feel it in the relaxed, yet firm, way their thick hand cradles yours. 

You know it even more when a strong gripper takes hold of your wrist, gi sleeves or lapel. In fact, it doesn't matter how much your eyes tell you the fighter in front of you doesn't look that strong when you're struggling to shake their grip of you! Of course, the opposite is true too and the grip can be the weakest link in your grappling chain. Over-reliance on lifting straps in the gym can mean that you have fantastically strong pulling muscles but can't fully utilise them in grappling / BJJ because of a weaker grip.

To best train my grip, I consulted my friend uber-qualified Strength and Conditioning coach* Mr Dominic Kinsey, and these are his thoughts on the subject:

“The hands are incredibly versatile tools and should be treated as such when training your grip strength. The hand can hold, squeeze and rotate in a variety of angles and combinations so for a truly functional strength building and injury prevention routine, your training should be varied enough to address all these needs.”

What are the components of a strong grip?

“An all-round grip strengthening programme will address all the functions of the hand:

1. Squeeze: Closing the fist
2. Hang: Hanging from the grip
3. Hook: Flexing the hand around the wrist

Naturally, all grappling actions that involve the hands will place a mixture of demands on all three functions of the grip. A good spider / lasso guard grip on the sleeves, for instance, involved a good portion of hanging strength combined with the ability to rotate the hand so it's palm up. Likewise, finishing the palm up-palm up cross choke will draw upon all three facets of gripping simultaneously. If one function of the grip is lacking, the others may compensate for it which in turn can lead to inefficient technique and, potentially, injuries to the small features of the hands and wrists.”

Can you share some more details about the functions of the hand?

“1. Squeeze: This is the first feature of grip strength that comes to mind. The crushing handshake. The constant squeezing of hand grippers. The hand inside the gi lapel. These are images we associate immediately with a strong grip.

2. Hang: This is a more efficient way to stay connected to your opponent's gi in BJJ. You are basically forming a structural hook and hanging off your opponent's gi with it. The hand is shaped like a panther fist out of some old kung fu movie and its structural strength comes from the fingers rather than the fist or the wrist.

3. Hook: The main reason why the hand has such a fantastic range of motion is the size of the small bones involved in the joints of the wrist. You can bend the wrist in 2 planes but also rotate the hand relatively freely around the axis of the forearm.**”

What is the Best Grip Exercise Routine?

“A good start would be to assess where your grip strength may be lacking (squeeze, hang vs hook) and / or whether it is strength, endurance or both that you want to improve. Start with this all-round programme*** and adjust for your needs progressively.”

Tools and implements:


kettlebells, dumbells, barbells, pulleys or at least a chin-up bar

Gripping material:

Wide bar / foam grip, rope, gi grips, belt or a towel
A good training programme should include exercise for all 3 types of grip strength that may be relevant to our sports:
Starting with a light barbell (or other suitable resistance) and working your way up progressively, perform 3 sets of 15 repetitions of finger curls, always aiming for maximum extension and contraction of the fingers. To work on your endurance, hold on to a moderate weight (or hang off a thick chin-up bar, gi grips or a belt) with tightly closed fists for time, starting at 3 sets of 20-30 seconds and building your way up.
After resting the muscles, lower the weight so it’s hanging off your extended grip (or hang off a narrow chin-up bar or off gi sleeve grips with deadly panther fists) for time, again starting at 3 sets of 20-30 seconds and building your way up.
Focusing on the movements at the wrist joint, perform wrist curls against resistance (barbells are ideal but kettlebells or pulleys will work too), using a moderate weight for 3 sets of 15 reps of each of palms up and palms down variations.

weight / duration
weight / duration
weight / duration
Finger curls
10kg x 15 reps
15kg x 15 reps
20kg x 15 reps
25kg x 30 sec
25kg x 40 sec
30kg x 20 sec
30kg x 30 sec
30kg x 40 sec
35kg x 20 sec
Wrist curls
15kg x 15 reps
20kg x 15 reps
25kg x 15 reps


*Every form of exercise bears risks and grip training is no exception. To avoid imbalance, or injury, always consult a qualified coach before starting any exercise regime.

**This action (supinating and pronating the hand) involves muscles in the upper arm too.

***Always ensure a proper warm-up of the muscles and joints involved. 20-30 joint rotations in different directions at the least and ensure your starting weight is low enough to give you a proper chance to warm the muscles up.



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