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Get A Grip with Jeff Gonzales

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From the archives: RECOIL Magazine Issue 15, November/December 2014

Pro Trainer and Former Navy SEAL Jeff Gonzales Gives us the Lowdown on Grip Strength


The techniques, exercises, and content expressed in this column are for illustrative purposes only. Consult your physician before trying any physical activity or nutritional plan.

I loved getting all the feedback from the last few articles, and one that surfaced several times had to do with improving your firing grip. So, let's get down and dirty with a little-known secret to strengthening your grip.

What's in a Handshake?

Whenever I conduct a pistol class, I take the time to shake hands with all the students, both informally and then formally on the firing line. The first is polite custom — after all I'm a Texan. The second is actually an assessment. I front load this evolution with a brief discussion of the firing grip, but we typically get a lot of blank stares when actually talking about how to apply pressure to the firearm. You would be surprised how many folks grip with what we refer to as the top part of the hand (as it sits on the gun) — when you really need to clamp down with the bottom part for a powerful firing grip.

It sounds easy enough, but easier said than done. Hence the handshake on the firing line, where I usually end up needing to correct people when they grip my hand. I demonstrate the proper grip, with the bottom portion generating the power that is promulgated through the rest of the hand — then I let the student try. After some coaxing, most get it right. And when they apply that to their shooting, we see some amazing results. OK, so that was the easy part, the powerful grip. The tough part is developing it or improving it.

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To the Gym!

Take your body weight, divide it by three, then round up. Grab a pair of dumbbells, each of which weighs closest to that figure. For example, if you weigh 200 pounds, pick up a pair of 70 pound weights. Then mark off 25 yards. Now, walk that distance without putting the dumbbells down. Once you reach 25 yards, rest and repeat back to the start position. If you can do that, you probably already have a powerful grip or the capacity for a powerful grip. Make sure you're applying proper technique — more force with the bottom of your grip — and you are solid.

For those who had to put the weights down before reaching 25 yards, here are some simple movements that can really help build the power in your grip. All of these movements should be performed with both trigger fingers straight. Yep, that's right — straight trigger fingers, as if your finger were straight along the side of your pistol's frame. I recommend that you scale back to half the weight from the assessment drill above when you start these exercises, until you can do them in their entirety.

Tote that Bale

My personal favorites are farmer's walks, except with kettlebells. If you can get thick-grip kettlebells, so much the better. Find some open space and mark off 25, 50, 75, and 100 yards. If you only have 25 yards to work with, just turn around and repeat, like you're swimming laps. Work an ascending ladder format in this exercise, with a bit of rest between each interval. Start with walking from 0 to 25 yards, then 0 to 50 yards, and continue extending the distance with each interval as far as you can until you have to drop the weight. Remember this is a walk, so don't try to run in order to cover the ground faster.

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Just Hangin' Out

The real killer is hanging from a pull-up bar using this grip. Use the same type of ascending ladder format, except with longer times instead of distances for each interval. Start with 15 seconds, then 30, then 45, and if you can manage it, 60 seconds. You'll find your forearms are smoked, so give them time to rest for sure. Make this a routine, and before you know it, you'll have a powerful grip that even G.I. Joe would be proud of.

The beauty about these movements is they most closely represent your grip on a pistol, are powerful, and — here's the big one — are sustained. And unlike some other training tools like grippers and gyro-balls, you have to maintain isometric tension throughout the exercise, just like on a pistol.

Enjoy, and you're welcome.

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