Issue 26 Grip Strength Training – Hold on Tight! Ryne Gioviano Why is grip strength important for firearms training? Your gun's connection to your body is, at least partially, through your grip depending on what you're shooting. It should go without saying, then, that a firmer and steadier hold of the firearm is certainly better than the opposite. Recoil control and maintaining front-sight focus are all enhanced through a steadier and stronger grip. We also need to be able to exhibit this strength over time. Very rarely, if ever, are you going to just shoot through a mag or two. You'll be spending a good amount of time shooting, and you don't want grip fatigue to be the reason why your accuracy and precision go downhill after 30 minutes. It's not just enough to be strong; you also need the endurance in your grip to sustain a firm, steady hold over time. Another important aspect of grip strength is weapon retention. Sure, a firmer hold can result in better accuracy, but it may also keep the gun in your hands should someone attempt to take it from you. Why is grip strength an important indicator of health? Believe it or not, there is a decent amount of research pointing to grip strength as an overall predictor of health. Studies have associated a strong grip with reduced cardiovascular risk, reduced complications from surgery, and reduced length of hospital stay. One even suggests it may be an accurate predictor for determining all-cause mortality, heart disease, and stroke mortality. How you ask? Simple; grip strength tends to be lower in less physically fit people. Maintenance of muscle strength throughout life can reduce the likelihood of functional limitations that may closely relate to early death, especially in elderly populations. So, are we saying that working on your grip strength can keep you from a heart attack? Certainly not, but staying physically fit, and using grip strength as a metric, can be your litmus test to determine if your health is going in the right direction. Just make sure, as we'll cover shortly, you're choosing free weight exercises over machine-based ones. The carryover into activities of daily living, and the other benefits like stability, range of motion, and usable strength is considerably better with free weights. How does grip strength improve shoulder health? You may be wondering what grip has to do with your shoulder. Quite a bit, actually. You can find out for yourself by doing this simple exercise: Keep your arms at your sides and make a fist. You'll feel tension in your hand. Squeeze your fist a little harder, and you'll feel it in your hand and forearm Squeeze harder and you'll feel it in your hand, forearm, biceps, and triceps. Squeeze as hard as you possibly can, and you'll feel it all the way up to your shoulder and perhaps even further. So what's going on here? Why is it that your grip can affect your entire arm? Studies have found strong correlations between grip strength and rotator cuff function. It's called an irradiation pattern. Basically, what's happening is your grip tension is spilling over to neighboring muscles. This effect can cause the muscles of your rotator cuff to tighten up and center the ball in the socket of your shoulder. It's not uncommon for people who have some shoulder pain when doing certain strength training movements to be pain-free when focusing on crushing the handle while going through an exercise. How do we train for grip strength? Let's take a look at some exercises that can go a long way in improving your grip strength and your performance at the range. A. Deadlift (overhand grip) – Begin in a standing position with your shins in front of the bar. – Sit your hips back while reaching forward. This is to ensure you're getting long and not bending at your spine. – Once you feel your hamstrings tighten up, bend your knees to reach the bar, if you need to. Keep you lower back flat. – Grip the bar with both palms facing you, and pull your shoulders down away from your head. – Brace, crush the bar, and drive your feet through the floor. – Slowly return to the starting position. – Complete three to five sets of three to five heavy repetitions. Bonus points if you hold the bar as long as you can on your last rep before lowering it to the ground. B1. Towel Rows – Wrap two towels around a bar at roughly shoulder width; one for each hand. – Position yourself under the bar, and grab each towel firmly. – Slowly pull yourself toward the bar, making sure to drive your shoulder blades together. – Slowly return to the starting position and repeat eight to 10 times. -Complete three sets. B2. Kettlebell Crush Grip Overhead Press – In a standing or half-kneeling position, grab a kettlebell by the “ball,” not the handle. – While gripping it firmly with both hands, press the kettlebell overhead. Be sure not to arch your back in the process. – Slowly return to the starting position. – Complete three sets of eight to 10 repetitions. C1. Kettlebell Bottom's-Up Carry – Position a lighter kettlebell upside down, and grip the handle. – With a 90-degree bend in your arm, bring the kettlebell up so your upper arm is horizontal and the bell is above your head. – Walk slowly for about 20 to 40 yards. Do this three times on each arm. C2. Plate Pinch – Grip two lighter weight plates between your fingers and thumb at your side. Turn the grooves inward and pinch them together. – Hold for 20 seconds, or walk for about 20 to 40 yards. – Do this three times on each arm Programming Here is a sample of how a program might look with grip strength being the primary focus. Outside of something like this, you can easily program the plate pinch or kettlebell bottom's-up carry toward the end of your regular program. Ideally, you want these at the end to save your grip for the more difficult exercises that may require a higher amount of strength. Directions Complete each letter in its entirety before moving on to the next letter. For example, you'll complete one set of B1 followed by one set of B2 for a total of three sets each. Once that is completed, move onto the C1 and C2. Exercise Sets Repetitions Rest (Sec) A. Overhand Grip Deadlift 4 4 60-90 B1. Towel Row 3 8 45 B2. KB Crush Grip Overhead Press 3 8-10 45 C1. KB Bottom's Up Carry 3 Per Side 20 Seconds 30 C2. Plate Pinch 3 Per Side 20 Seconds 30 Conclusion Grip strength can be the critical component to your firearms training that you may be neglecting. It can be as easy as adding in one exercise or making a change to one you already do regularly. You'll be able to get a firmer grip on your firearm, which should also result in tighter groupings down range. After all, the connection between you and your firearm should be a strong one. About the author Ryne Gioviano is the owner of Achieve Personal Training & Lifestyle Design located in Aurora, Illinois. He earned his masters degree in exercise physiology and is certified through the National Strength and Conditioning Association. You can find more information at www.Achieve-PersonalTraining.com. Best Gear for Grip Strength Captains of Crush www.captainsofcrushgrippers.com These little hand grippers are fantastic to improve your grip strength. It's a good idea to just keep one in your pocket, and use it throughout the day. They come in several strengths, going from 60 pounds all the way to 365 pounds of resistance. Fat Gripz www.fatgripz.com This product is great to simulate using a fat bar, which works very well for building grip strength. Instead of needing to buy a new bar that's thicker, you can just put these on whatever bars or dumbbells you already have. The thicker bar will be more challenging to hold, therefore challenging your grip to a greater degree than a regular bar. Explore RECOILweb:AfterSHOT: Grey Ghost Goodness: GGP 300 Blackout Bolt GunFirst Look: UF Pro's Striker HT Combat PantsSurefire Training Devices and Fifty-Cal Flashhiders at SOFICGerber Ghoststrike Punch Knife NEXT STEP: Download Your Free Target Pack from RECOILFor years, RECOIL magazine has treated its readers to a full-size (sometimes full color!) shooting target tucked into each big issue. Now we've compiled over 50 of our most popular targets into this one digital PDF download. From handgun drills to AR-15 practice, these 50+ targets have you covered. Print off as many as you like (ammo not included). Click here to get IMMEDIATE ACCESS to a digital PDF of this target pack!