When asked about how to train for a title match, Legendary boxing trainer Emmanuel Steward bluntly said, “There is no substitute for bone on bone sparring.” Stewart was basically saying you practice how you play—this applies to any sort of physical training with the objective of measurable improvement, grip training is no exception. Grip training, while rising in popularity, has unfortunately brought forth the rise of internet charlatans espousing outrageous techniques and training ideas. Let’s take a look at how to specifically train your grip for the results you want. S.A.I.D. Principle The acronym SAID stands for Specific Adaptations upon Imposed Demands. In a nutshell this simply means that the human body adapts specifically to the demands placed upon it. You get better at what you practice. Any “gym bro” will tell you that musculature adapts to the demands placed upon them but few realize so does the nervous system. With this definition and explanation in mind, let’s take a closer look at how this principle can work to your advantage in your grip training. The word I want to focus on is “specific”. According to this training principle the body will adapt to the “specific” demands placed upon it. Let’s use some examples and ask some key questions to better grasp (no pun intended) what I am trying to suggest. Let’s say that one of your grip training goals is to increase your grip strength for heavy deadlifts without the use of straps. With our goal now defined, let’s ask what specific area of grip are we speaking of here? In this example it would be one’s supporting grip strength. This involves hand/finger flexion in a static position with the grip made into a tight fist. Now let’s get more specific. What implement am I using and what’s the shape and dimension of this implement? The implement would be a weight lifting bar. The shape would be round and the critical dimension in this example would be the bars diameter which ranges from 28mm to 30mm. Now let’s put the SAID principle to use with the above example. To do this let’s demonstrate what you would NOT do in order to better understand this principle. With supporting strength for the deadlift you wouldn’t want to use hand grippers to strengthen this area even though hand grippers strengthen finger flexion. You have to be more specific according to the SAID principle. You would use specifically what you are trying to get stronger with which would be a bar of the appropriate diameter and shape (round). Now that you have the right implement with the correct dimensions and shape you have to force an adaptation through various forms of overload. These forms are much varied and not the focus of this article except to say you need to have some form of progressive overload to force an adaptation to increase this specific area of grip strength. It is worth noting that the overload needs to be progressive so that one does not exceed the failure tolerances of the connective tissues involved.
Pictured above is Benedikt Magnusson deadlifting 1015 lbs without straps! He had to train his grip by practicing this lift specifically with progressive overload over time to gain this amount of supporting grip strength to hold this much weight in his hands. SAID Principle in action! Let’s use another example. Let’s say your goal is to increase your grip strength at closing heavy duty grippers? Okay, let’s get specific again. The implement would be a hand gripper of the variety you are trying to get stronger with. In this example we will use torsion spring hand grippers (sometimes known as nutcracker type grippers). What area of grip strength are we referring to? With hand grippers it would be crushing strength which involves finger and palm flexion. To be specific in this area one wouldn’t want to use a tennis ball even though squeezing a tennis ball increases this area of grip strength it’s not specific enough to carry over into the level of strength one would need to close a heavy hand gripper. Not even close! Lesson here is if you want to get better and stronger with hand grippers you use hand grippers specifically. Being even more specific let’s say the hand gripper you were trying to close had smooth handles instead of knurled handles? In this example most of your training would be with hand grippers with smooth handles. Going even further down the line of specificity let’s say the handle spread on the specific gripper you are working toward closing has a wide handle spread? If that be the case then you would want to train with grippers with a wider spread instead of a narrow spread. Pictured above is the Mighty Paul Knight crushing an extremely hard gripper at a grip contest as I judge his attempt as closed (handles touching). Again, this is the SAID principle in action! Paul specifically practiced closing heavy duty hand grippers with some form of progressive overload to force an adaptation to the specific areas involved in closing difficult hand grippers. One thing I didn’t cover is carryover of various grip exercises and grip implements relative to each other. I also only covered one component part of training and that’s the grip component. Obviously one would have to strengthen other component parts of the dead lift for example, the back, lats, traps, etc. to have the complete package to perform well at this lift. The same could be said of any other sport, feat or activity that involves multiple component parts. Now you have the tools to bring your grip strength up to par with the stronger links in your body. I look forward to writing more grip-related articles so you can hopefully utilize and incorporate some grip training into your current training routines and programming. If grip is your problem, you now have specific solutions to solve it. Get a GRIP and go do it!