By Joe Weir
Originally published July 19, 2009
As an offshoot to my Guide to Heavy Gripper Training I’m dedicating this one to setting a gripper and everything I can think of that relates to setting.
What’s a Set and Why Set a Gripper ?
A set refers to the position of the handles before the close attempt. A set is attained by using your non-gripping hand to hold the gripper firmly in your gripping hand and squeeze the gripper into the desired starting position.
The main point of the set is to position the gripper in the correct part of the hand, allowing for a better grip, proper hand position, leverage, and a straight wrist. If you were to simply pick up your gripper and squeeze you would certainly have less strength than if you were to set the gripper by even 1/4″. The typical way most beginners use a gripper is to brace it against the web of the thumb and squeeze. This method leaves out a lot of hand strength, and it is very difficult to do this with a straight wrist. Later we’ll come across what is called a ‘no-set’ set in which the gap is not closed, prior to the attempt, but it will still require proper hand positioning.
The Dog Leg
If you’ve done any sort of gripper training or began looking at gripper training you may have heard of something called a ‘dog leg’. Many people on youtube mention it when talking about setting a gripper and, in fact, it is mentioned in the videos you’ll see later on in this article. The dog leg is simply a sharper bend that occurs during the manufacturing of the torsion spring. It can be difficult to see so here are a couple of pictures to help illustrate this.
You may be wondering what this has to do with setting your gripper. Like I mentioned earlier some people mention where it should be placed when they talk about setting. The rule of thumb is that the dog leg should be in your palm and that this makes the gripper easier to close. This is nothing more than a myth. I’ll be talking about gripper myths and misconceptions in my next post, but for now, let’s go with the idea that it doesn’t matter where the dog leg sits.
The Parallel Set aka The Deep Set and The Credit Card Set
The deep set or the parallel set and refers to the setting position of the gripper, more specifically it relates to the size of the gap being such that handles of the gripper are parallel to one another. This is the popular starting position for many competition closes.
This set is a very useful training tool but it is very deceptive. Using a deep set will make it seem like you have quite a strong grip, stronger, in fact, than you actually possess. IronMind uses the analogy of the quarter squat when talking about the deep set and I think that is a good analogy to keep in the back of your mind.
Official rules for an IronMind close state that a credit card set is to to be used, meaning you can set the gripper but cannot set it so that the gap is less than the width of a credit card (~2-1/8″). According to IronMind, the deep set has long been an excuse for people stating they have smaller hands and need a deeper set, however, they have not bought into this and state it is usually a hand strength issue rather than size.
Here are a couple of videos I found. The first explains a parallel/deep set and the second shows a ‘credit card’ set. Both videos illustrate the proper setting technique and you’ll notice that regardless of the type of set, the procedure of getting the gripper into the groove of your hand is the same.
How To Set a Gripper Video by John Eaton
Wade Gillingham COC 3 & 3.5 – Credit Card Set
What Sets Should I Use? And, A Bit About Hand Health
You SHOULD be setting your gripper on most attempts but you do NOT have to use the deep set for every attempt. Rather you should use a full ROM for most grip work, or very close to it, with a set no less than a ~2-1/8th gap (credit card). The two sets are no different in overall setup, you’re still getting the handle into that groove of your hand, you’re simply not closing the gap as much. You should be using a ‘credit card’ set as well as some parallel set closes and even some no-set closes.
For overall hand health and grip development, you should rely on full ROM closes. I personally use a deep set in my own training as a training tool, but not for the majority of my training. There are many competitions where this is legal but I much prefer building strength across the full ROM, just like in all my other strength training. There is also more carryover when using full ROM closes and the perfect example is the rolling thunder exercise. It is extremely difficult to do and if you look at the position of the hand it is, for most, probably opened more than the starting position for a deep set. Unless you have a robust range of grip strength the rolling thunder will get you just about every time.
This quote, related to hand injury, is straight from IronMind:
Skin, muscle, joint and nerve damage are real possibilities, as the pressure and forces exerted by an over-reliance on deep-set training tax your system beyond its normal capacity.
Another reason for using full ROM is proper function of the hand in general. If you only train your hand in that limited range of motion you will lose mobility in your hand. This in turn can lead to problems in the forearms. For anyone with the trigger point workbook, take a quick look at the hand and forearm section and see what some of the causes for trigger points are. Hand dysfunction can affect a lot more than your hands and forearms.
I’m not trying to put down the deep set or parallel set, I’m merely trying to say that it should not make up the majority of your grip training.
IF you’re one of those people with smaller hands and have trouble with a credit card set, a neat trick is to put the gripper into a deep set and then open your hand a bit to increase that gap to make it a credit card set. This way you can ensure a good snug fit in your palm and a good grasp on the handle with your fingers.
Other Useful Sets
A couple of other sets include the no-set, where you don’t close the gap prior to the close attempt. You open and close the gripper solely with one hand. I also use what I refer to as the full-set. A full-set is sort of the opposite of a no-set, where you close the gripper fully with the help of the non-gripping hand. This allows you to perform a negative with a very difficult gripper or you can take a slightly less challenging gripper and perform a static hold for some supporting grip work.