By Joe Weir
Part one of the Guide to Heavy Gripper Training focused on the beginnings of gripper training. In that post, I used CoC grippers as my standard gripper (hence the gripper information is based on CoC resistances only) and laid out some suggestions for picking resistances and how to train. The reason I use CoC is simple. They were among the first to take grippers to the next level and they have a very good product. This part of my guide is centered around the very first thing you will do in your grip training. Buying a gripper! I’ve also got some other training tidbits and advice thrown into the mix.
Casual Grip Training
For those that are not interested in peak crushing grip but have grown tired of the weak and easy department store grippers, this section is for you. Grippers may be an accessory as opposed to a necessity to you but you can still use the information here to find what you need. The key to casual grip training is to have a gripper, or grippers, that will challenge you but can be readily closed. You’re not doing maximal work so you’ll want something you can perform low rep sets (~4) now and higher rep sets (~10) down the road. If you’ve read part one, then you know my choice: Iron Mind Captains of Crush Heavy Hand Grippers.
Even if you’re only interested in a single gripper, you still want a quality gripper that won’t season or weaken on you. That will compromise your progression. The cost of a gripper is anywhere from $10-50 dollars. I’m not suggesting you buy a $50 gripper but something of good quality in the $20 range will do. The good ones last a long time and are very consistent so why not pay an extra couple of bucks for quality and consistency? Between this article and my original Gripper Guide, even a casual grip trainer can find what they need.
Trying to find a brand of gripper can be a daunting task. There are many brands to choose from and unless you’re into grip training it is hard to evaluate them. All of the heavy resistance grippers I’ve seen have a rating associated with them. While I’ll be talking about ratings later on it’s important to know two things before buying grippers: 1) What is my starting level? and 2) What are my short and long term goals? If the brand you are considering doesn’t have resistances that satisfy these two questions, you should pick another brand.
Along the same lines, you can learn a lot by what products a company offers. For instance, if you notice a particular company has 40 different grippers you should ask why you need so many grippers when other companies get by with less than 12. Gimmicks are prevalent when it comes to the fitness industry and grip training is no exception.
Examples of gripper gimmicks:
* Grippers that have an extended handle for negatives…probably not the best way to spend your money.
* Chrome plated grippers. You’re going to cover them with chalk, not put them on the hood of your car. Chrome is not a perfect alloy either, it can flake off and if it does you’ve got an unsightly gripper handle.
* Thicker handles. The only advantage to a thicker handle, in my opinion, is that the closing gap is smaller (proportional to the increase in handle size) but that also happens to be its greatest weakness. Thicker handles have a more difficult starting position (hand is “more open”) but I see no advantage to increasing the difficulty of a no-set close (setting defeats the purpose of having an open hand) at the expense of closing distance. Static holds are another story, but with a thick handled gripper, you’re moving into the realm of open hand supporting grip. Something that a gripper was not designed to train. Why not put that money towards a thick handle (i.e. Rolling Thunder or thick bar) instead?
While spotting gimmicks you should also be on the lookout for desirable traits. Like anything else, you have to weigh the pros and cons.
Examples of desirable traits:
* Grip texture/knurling. The grips or texture of the handles is important. You don’t want something so coarse that it’s going to rip your skin to shreds but at the same time you don’t want a powder coated finish. IronMind’s CoC gripper seems to be the middle road approach, while Heavy Grips and Beef Builders (and Mash Monster) represent a finer and coarser knurling, respectively.
* High level of quality control. It sounds dated but there are a lot of things that aren’t built like they are in North America.
* Price. Dirt cheap grippers may not be the way to go and a ‘top shelf’ priced gripper may be equally as bad in terms of cost-effectiveness.
When it comes time to build your gripper arsenal, try to pick a brand. Consistency makes progression easier and can save money on shipping costs. If you stick with the same brand you can also expect a similar performance over time. A set of cheap grippers will most likely become easier with time, while a set of good grippers will be the same from day 1 and onward. Mixing a cheap gripper in with good grippers may give you the illusion of progress as the cheap gripper becomes weaker while the stronger gripper remains the same. This is especially prevalent when your cheap gripper is in the mid-high range of resistance within your set. The nature of gripper training is patience, consistency, and a bit of creativity (and oh yeah, lots of chalk). You want to progress because your hands are stronger, not because your gripper is weaker.
If you do mix brands, it’s best to keep the cheaper or lower quality grippers in the lowest range of resistance within your set. Use them for warmup and close each brand separately. Meaning if you have 3 from Brand A and 3 from Brand B, all 3 from Brand A should be closed before you move to Brand B. Purchase resistances accordingly.
Here’s a barbell analogy to illustrate: Your goal is to deadlift 400lbs but every day someone is filing off a bit of weight. One day you finally do it. Just because the marking on the barbell plates adds up to 400lbs doesn’t make it so.
Remember, the internet is a very useful tool. Doing a quick search of a gripper brand can lead you to customer reviews, FAQ’s from the manufacturer, as well as vendors.
Left Handed Gripper
Recently I came across an ad for a “left-handed” gripper. I covered the left-handedness myth in a previous post titled Gripper Myths: Torsion Springs, The Dog Leg, and ‘Handedness’ however that was geared towards the physics of a torsion spring and the forces you get in each handle. However, in this ad, the argument of varying ROMs arises. My first reaction was to agree with the claim however I had no concrete reasoning or science that could back it up. After some thought and some very informal ‘scientific evaluation’ (read: me closing a bunch of grippers with my left and right hand) I came to the conclusion that there may be a difference. What I also concluded was that this difference, if any, would be negligible. However, I was not totally convinced so I contacted IronMind and in talking with Randall Strossen1 we both agreed that any difference would be negligible and would change neither the function of the gripper nor the resistance it took to close it.
The best analogy I can think of is a deadlift. Imagine we have a loaded barbell and one side is loaded with plates at their lower tolerance for weight (-2%) and the other at the ceiling (+2%). You perform the lift with the bar as is, but then you flip it for the next attempt. Overall the movement is the same and while there is a slight difference, the overall effect is the same. You wouldn’t even know there was a difference.
Money is always a factor. For the same money, you can buy two grippers of varying resistance or two grippers of the same resistance, one for each hand. If you have a set of four different resistances, you pay double for the novelty of having a gripper dedicated to each hand. Don’t forget to label them either, lest you forget and close your left-hand wound gripper with your left hand!
Grippers with an ‘N’ designation typically mean that they are a Narrow spread (hence the N). What this means is that the handles, compared to a regular gripper, are closer together when the gripper is open. Originally I thought that the ‘N’ stood for Newtons and I’d hate for someone else to pay, literally, for that same mistake.
The advantage of a narrow gripper is that you don’t have to set it. However, that is also its greatest weakness since a no-set close doesn’t allow the same ROM as a regular gripper. In my opinion, the benefit of the no-set close ROM from a regular gripper is worth having to set a gripper once in a while. I don’t find it difficult to set a gripper anyway so that isn’t high on my list of desirable gripper characteristics.
Every gripper has a rating. But what does that rating mean? During my conversation with Mr. Strossen, we also discussed gripper ratings, more importantly, their interpretation. If you have a 400lb barbell, you know what you’ve got, if you have a 240lb gripper…what does that mean? Couple that with the fact that evaluation techniques vary and you have a very muddied system for identifying the resistance level of a gripper. Case in point is Heavy Grips:
The Heavy-Grips are tested in the middle of the gripper and we test the ‘Twist-torque’ measured in Newton.metres(N.m) and convert to inch-force-pounds, shortened to “lbs” for marketing purposes for our largest market, the USA.
The above quote is taken directly from heavy grips’ website. Without a standardized system, I can produce a gripper which is tested at the base of the gripper (more specifically, the base of the handle) or at the top of the gripper. Both tests will produce drastically different results, proportional to the length of the handle. I can also report my results as a force (which some companies do) rather than a torque (which Heavy Grips prefers). Or I can modify my unit of measure for marketing purposes. ALL are legal as no standard exists to govern it. Looking at Heavy Grips again. Read the following three statements carefully. Pay attention to what they are actually saying about the resistance of their grippers.
Most strong people can do reps with the HG 150-“Intermediate” and find that the grips become really difficult at the HG 200 level and people of average hand strength have trouble closing the HG 200 for reps or the HG250 once. When training their hand like other body-parts with reps under 20, most athletes, including women, are surprised at how fast they can master the HG 200 and HG250 and some athletes do reps with the HG 300 and HG 350.
HG 200 “Advanced” -The HG200 is the level that even athletes with a naturally strong grip may have trouble closing. Athletes with advanced grip training will not have too much trouble with the HG200, but those with no grip training experience will most likely find it very difficult to close the HG200 at the beginning of their training. When you are closing the HG200 for reps, your performance for any sport using your hands will be greatly enhanced.
In the first statement, they state most strong people can do reps with the 150 and find the difficulty begins with the 200, meanwhile people of average hand strength have trouble closing the 200 for reps. Pay attention to this phrase from the third statement: “those with no grip training experience will most likely find it very difficult to close the HG200 at the beginning of their training”.
Let us assume I have no experience with grippers. Reading those statements I would have no clue whether or not I should buy a 200. From my strength training, I may consider myself a strong person of average hand strength but have never done any dedicated grip training. It boils down to this. Who can close a 200?
Aside from those contradictory statements, let’s examine this quote: “When training their hand like other body-parts with reps under 20, most athletes, including women, are surprised at how fast they can master the HG 200 and HG250 and some athletes do reps with the HG 300 and HG 350.”
Obviously, the rating system is very similar to the CoC grippers. Without going through their website and finding their unit of measure, you may assume that an HG 350 is a 350lb gripper. If you buy this gripper thinking you’ve got a #3.5-#4 CoC, you’re mistaken. Units aside the quickest way to tell is right here: “some athletes do reps with the HG 300 and HG 350”. A 300 is between a #3 and #3.5. People have enough trouble closing a 3, let alone repping with it. A #4 has only ever been ‘officially’ closed by 5 people!
I know I picked on Heavy Grips a bit. I have nothing against them, they just so happen to provide a good example for me to use.
Rather than compare a 100lb gripper to a 100lb gripper, or a 200lb gripper, it’s easier to compare to a brand. Use the resistance, or certification system if possible, as a ‘step in the right direction’. Couple that with a bit of research on the manufacturer, some customer reviews, and you have a gripper for your skill level. If you mix, fit your grippers into your training and progression based on the relative resistances within your set. Just remember what I said earlier about mixing brands.
Seasoning has been around for a while. The idea behind it is that a gripper’s resistance and spread will decrease over a certain amount of closes. To have a consistent resistance/performance, and a means of measuring progress, it is supposedly required to season your gripper. If you imagine having to season a No. 3, or even 4, level of resistance…Seasoning becomes daunting as those grippers are no easy task to close, even with two hands. Not to mention the fact that seasoning occurs (if you believe the legends) after approximately 100 closes.
My personal view is that it has no place in today’s grippers. There is a marriage between material and design. The result of a bad marriage is a divorce. You pair a gripper designed for X amount of resistance but the material is not truly saying “I do”, you get a gripper with first-time promise and a lifetime of shortcomings.
Of course, this wouldn’t be a gripper article without some solid math and science. So here goes. The whole idea of seasoning is that over time the spring will lose strength and the gap will decrease a bit. The end result is a gripper with a shorter set and a weakened resistance, neither of which is a good thing. Why does this happen? It goes back to the altar (the marriage analogy). A proper design would ensure that the spring remained within the elastic range of stresses on the material’s stress-strain curve. If the spring were improperly designed, then every time you closed the gripper it would exceed the elastic range ever so slightly. Every time you exceed that range, you get plastic deformation (read: permanent, unrecoverable movement). In the case of a gripper, the handles no longer sit as far apart as they used to.
Resistance loss comes in because it is now easier to strain the gripper. Suppose the first time you close your gripper it starts at 0 strain and at close, it reaches a strain of X and a stress of Y. This is slightly outside the elastic range. When you close it a second time it is already at a non-zero level of strain and to increase it to a strain of X takes less stress (for argument’s sake, this is the resistance), owing to the non-zero strain component.
Graphically, our initial gripper is represented (below) by the black curve and upon closing reaches the red line. Upon the second close, the gripper now takes on the dashed line. Drawing a line from the black-red intersection to the dashed line we have the vertical gray line representing equal strain values. Looking at the blue line we see the reduction in strength (the distance between the red and blue lines).
Now, this does not have to occur right away. It can occur after several uses. In fact I’ve exaggerated the effect in the above curve for ease of interpretation. This can be due to the endurance limit of the steel, which falls under the fatigue properties of the material. In a nutshell, everything has a limit as to how many times you can apply a certain stress. Think of a paper clip. You can bend it all the way back and forth only a few times before it breaks or quite a few times if you only bend it a little bit. The stresses in the latter are less, thus more cycles can be performed. The endurance limit refers to the minimum level of stress at which, theoretically, infinite cycles can be performed without failure occurring. Continually stressing a material, slightly above the endurance limit stress, will still allow the material to exhibit a large number of cycles before failure but each cycle is ‘taking something’ from the material performance. Don’t be concerned that your gripper will break after 10 closes, fatigue cycles just about the endurance limit of steel can be in the millions.
Degradation over time can also be explained by the fact that plastic strains are very small. Along the same lines as looking in the mirror. If you’re gaining or losing weight and using the mirror every day you won’t see a change but if you look at a before and after photo, the difference is usually quite visible. Chronic exposure and slight differences make it very difficult to notice long term changes.
Seasoning may have been meant for steel which was not up to today’s standards of quality control or as a means of justifying the use of cheap steel or improper design. With today’s technology, there is no reason why a gripper cannot perform its task well within the elastic range of stresses and strains. Thus making your gripper perform the same from day 1 to day 1000. To use ANOTHER barbell analogy: Think of 2 barbells. One is top quality and the other is cheaply made, both are calibrated to Olympic standards. You put 400lbs on each bar and the chances of the cheap one bending, permanently, are pretty good. You put even more on and the cheap one is frowning while the top quality one is straight as an arrow.
We endeavor to find balance in our regular gym training. Matching push and pull, chest and back, quads and hamstrings, but sometimes forget that opening the hand is the opposite, antagonist, of closing the hand. To keep your hands and grip healthy you need to train both functions of the hand. Problems in your hand can lead to problems in your wrist, your forearm, and even your bicep! If you don’t believe me then you haven’t got a copy of the trigger point manual by Claire Davies.
Extensions are simple exercises and not as boring as you might think. In my previous Gripper Guide article, I mentioned using pails/buckets of sand or rice and working the hands that way. I also mentioned broccoli elastics (simply thick rubber bands) and to illustrate the technique Anuj (aka Wolf) has made a video demonstrating the exercise:
The beauty of using elastic bands is that micro loading is very easy. Placing the elastic closer to the base of the fingers provides the least resistance while placing them at the tip provides the most. When one elastic becomes too easy but 2 is too difficult, you can place one at the regular distance and the other closer to the base of the fingers. Don’t forget about regular elastic bands either. They’re a light resistance and you can add just about as many as you can keep in place.
I mentioned using grippers to perform static holds in my first gripper guide. While I stand by that recommendation there are a couple of things I would like to explain further. Static holds can damage the skin and tissue of your hands. I suffered a particularly nasty injury trying to squeeze a couple of seconds after I began to lose my grip. The gripper shifted slightly as it opened my hand and the result was a missing patch of skin between my pinky’s 1st and 2nd knuckle. Lesson learned. Stop shy of failure or if you feel the gripper begin to slip. Grippers are different than a static barbell hold because a barbell doesn’t push back as a gripper does.
Another solution I have found is to wear a leather palm work glove. It protects your hand. It’s not ‘legal’ but since you’re working supporting grip and you’re not in a competition setting, who cares. 🙂
Even something as minor as a blister can interfere with your grip training. Regular barbell and dumbbell style training may not suffer since you can just resort to gloves and straps, but it sure has a way of messing with your grip training schedule.
Now that you’ve read both parts of my guide to heavy gripper training, you may want to read up on what setting a gripper means and how to do it.