Boost your grip strength and you'll be better able to hold onto your handlebars, control your bike, and reduce arm pump and hand pain. MTB fitness expert Jonny Thompson of Fit4Racing shares 4 exercises to boost your grip strength.
Grip strength is important and not just for a firm handshake. When it comes to mountain biking, if you can’t hold on to the handlebar with adequate grip, best case scenario you’re going to lack the necessary control needed to navigate the trail but you could also come to with a face full of dirt.
And it makes no difference if you ride a full-suspension bike or a hardtail, we’ve all experienced hand/arm pump to some degree. That burning sensation in your forearms as they swell up to popeye proportions, or simply lacking the strength in your fingers to pull the brake levers while still holding on to the handlebar are both telltale signs that your grip strength could be lacking.
Fancy grips, handlebars with dedicated flex and even carpal tunnel surgery are some of the increasingly expensive ways riders combat arm pump. The normal fix, however, is to simply pull over, shake your arms out then continue your ride. And while that’s fine if you’re not racing, a better solution is to target grip strength directly with some dedicated training.
Hangs, hold and pulls all work well for improving grip strength, so this month we’re going to challenge your grip strength specifically with four key exercises. After all, there are few areas in modern day-to-day life where we do just that – wheels on suitcases and home food delivery services have seen to that.
So developing your grip strength is important for riding, and higher levels of grip strength also correlate with other health outcomes, probably because people that do strength training or have a manual component to their work tend to be more active than average. So while it would be a stretch to assume that adding grip training alone to your daily routine could make you live longer, it will definitely improve your riding.
Four Exercises To Boost Grip Strength
As morbid as it sounds, the deadhang is a great way to blast your grip. It’s also a good way to decompress your spine and it’s perfect for improving your pull up capacity, and who doesn’t want to be able to do more pull ups?
How to do a deadhang
Simply find a pull up bar, gymnastic rings, or a solid ledge to hang from. Try to maintain a hollow body position; so core tight, feet slightly out in front of your torso. If the bar isn’t high enough to achieve that position it’s okay to have your legs bent behind you. Hold on until your grip gives out, then rest for 30-60s and repeat 3-5 times.
Lighter riders can add a weighted vest or simply hold a dumbbell between their feet to make the exercise more challenging.
2. Bottom-up Kettlebell Press
Stability at the wrist is a key component of grip strength, and that’s where flipping a kettlebell upside down can really elevate your grip game as it challenges both aspects simultaneously.
How to do a bottom-up kettlebell press
To perform the bottom up kettlebell press, hold a lunge position with your back knee on the ground. If your left foot is forward, hold the kettlebell in your right hand out in front of you, bottom up, with your elbow at 90 degrees. From the starting position press the kettlebell upwards until you reach your limit of mobility or stability, by pressing too far you could lose control of the kettlebell. Return to the starting position and repeat for between 5 and 20 reps depending on your goal – fewer reps for strength and more reps for endurance.
To target grip strength specifically, aim for the heaviest kettlebell you can lift for 5 sets of 5 reps, with 2 minutes rest between each set.
3. Farmers’ carry
Shake hands with a farmer and you’ll instantly realise that farm-strength is a real thing. So what better way to improve your grip strength than by performing farmers’ carries?
How to do a farmers’ carry
Grab a set of dumbbells or kettlebells, brace your core, keep your shoulders back and maintain an upright posture. Then simply start walking, it couldn’t be an exercise to perform. Keep walking at a slow steady pace until you feel like you’re about to drop the weights. Stop before you drop them, set the weights down and rest for 30-60s. Repeat the process 5 times. Initially select weights that you can hold for at least a minute, then as your grip strength improves you can incrementally increase the weights/distance you carry.
The deadlift is one of the most effective multi-joint exercises you can perform to improve general strength. And while it’s not designed to target grip strength specifically, more often that not it’s your grip that’s the first thing to give out on a heavy set of deadlifts. It’s why lifters use straps, or a mixed grip where one hand faces forward, the other backwards.
Given that mountain bikers aren’t training for pure strength, a double overhand grip (palms facing legs) on the deadlift is a great way to enhance your grip strength, while training all of the prime movers with the deadlift.
How to do deadlifts
The key to a safe deadlift is to brace your core throughout the movement. With a loaded barbell on the ground (or raises slightly off the ground, if you can’t pick it up without arching your back), bend over and take a symmetrical overhand grip on the bar, palms towards you. Then shuffle your feet so they both point forwards and inside your hands, in line with your hips.
Now your hands and feet are in the correct starting position, pull your hips down and try to flatten your back so you create a neutral spine, if you can’t at this stage, raise the bar off the ground in a rack or on stacked plates.
In this position you should be leaning over the bar with your hips at roughly 90 degrees, knees back and soft, not locked out. Now think about pushing your feet through the floor and stand up with the bar, keeping it close to your shins and thighs on the way up until you are standing upright, hips and knees locked out.
Reverse the motion to return the bar to the ground under control, and remember to set your hips back as you lower the bar.
If the goal is to increase your grip strength with the deadlift, stop just short of the plates touching the floor and aim for 12-15 reps. Repeat 3 times as heavy as your technique, or grip, will allow.