How to Improve Grip Strength with (No-)Equipment Exercises?

As an athlete and a human being, I spend a lot of time paying attention to grip strength.

The term refers to the ability of our hands to grab and hold onto objects. It matters because grip strength plays a role in a variety of athletic pursuits, from tennis to ultimate Frisbee to weightlifting. It’s also essential for everyday activities such as carrying grocery bags, opening jars, playing musical instruments, or lugging around a heavy briefcase.

Improving grip strength leads to improvements in the ability to safely participate in these activities and increases endurance during them. And that can lead to athletic and functional strength gains throughout the entire body.

Here’s an important note, however! We use our hands to perform a variety of different gripping actions, from

  • crushing
  • to pinching,
  • carrying,
  • and opening.

This helps explain why simply using a squeezable gripper or performing hundreds of wrist curls won’t lead to significant grip strength gains. It takes a more dynamic plan to enhance all the ways our hands are capable of gripping. And that’s where these ten exercises come in.

1. Farmers Walk

This one is very straightforward: I just hold a heavy thing in each hand and walk until my grip is fatigued. In terms of what to carry:

  • dumbbells
  • barbells
  • kettlebells
  • farmer’s handles
  • filled grocery bags
  • water jugs
  • or water jugs filled with sand are all great options.

Not only will this improve grip strength, but it also gives functional fitness a boost.

2. Fat Bar Holds Grip Exercise

This one requires some standard gym equipment, but it’s highly effective. I start with a fat bar (aka a barbell with an unusually wide circumference) and add some plates to the bar. After that, there are two variations that I like to play around with.

The first involves simply seeing how long I can hold onto the weighted bar and challenging myself to up this time on a regular basis.

The second option is to perform rows and deadlifts with the fat bar or a fat grip kettlebell.

In both cases, holding onto the fat bar proves more challenging than holding a normal barbell, which allows for a stellar grip workout.

3. Fingertip Pushups

This exercise is especially effective because it strengthens the muscles used for both contracting and expanding the hands (the flexors and extensors). To perform it, I move through the motions of a regular pushup—only I keep my palms raised off the floor so I’m balanced on my fingertips through the entire movement. (The thumbs face my body while the rest of my fingers point away from me.) These aren’t for the faint of heart, but they will definitely yield serious grip strength gains.

4. Hand Extensions

Like fingertip pushups, hand extensions work the grip in the opposite way of most grip exercises, resulting in more balanced strength.

All that’s needed is a thick rubber band (or several). I start by looping the rubber band around all five of my fingers. Then I extend my hand open and repeat this movement for 30 to 60 seconds or for a number of reps of my choosing. I add more rubber bands for higher resistance and intensity. Focus on contracting the muscles in your hand with precision, not with brute force.

5. Hex Holds Grip Strength Exercise

This exercise is best performed with hex dumbbells, but round ones (or any round, hand-sized, relatively heavy object) will also work. To practice, I simply hold the head of a dumbbell in each hand, aiming for three sets of 30-second holds with one minute of rest between each set.

6. Newspaper Tears

Before tossing the newspaper in the recycling, I use it to give my grip a workout. I stack approximately six pages on top of each other and roll them up into a cylinder. Then I start twisting the cylinder as if I were squeezing out a towel, with the hands approximately three inches apart. I continue this motion until the pages tear the whole way through.

7. One-handed Bar Hang

Holding up the entire body with one hand is no easy feat—which is why this is such a great strategy for improving grip strength. Anyone who isn’t strong enough to hang from a bar or gymnastics ring with one hand should start by using two.

Once I worked up to being able to hold on for 1 to 2 minutes straight, I started giving one-handed hangs a try. The goal is to work up to hanging for 1 to 2 minutes with each hand to increase grip strength and endurance.

Note: if you need a pull-up bar for this, check out my best pull-up-bar reviews here.

8. Plate Pinches

As the name implies, this exercise calls for using two weight plates. These are fairly inexpensive and make a great contribution to a home gym. But it would probably be possible to recreate the same effects using any thin, round, relatively heavy object sitting in the garage or house.

Here’s how it works: I take two weight plates and pinch them together between my fingertips. The goal is to gradually increase the length of time I can hold onto the plates before my grip starts to weaken. (A word of warning: Keep your feet out of the drop zone in case a plate slips through your fingers!)

9. Rock Climbing as Grip Exercise

There’s a reason climbers are renowned for their grip strength and endurance. The local rock wall or climbing gym is a great resource for increasing grip strength while improving overall fitness.

10. Towel Pull-Ups

This has proven to be an easy way to increase the gains I see from my pull-ups because I’m maximizing their effect on my grip strength. I just hang a towel over a normal pull-up bar and then perform pull-ups the same way I normally would. The towel makes it that much harder to hold onto the bar during the full range of motion of each pull-up, which challenges grip strength and endurance. Towels can also be employed during inverted rows and curls to further challenge grip strength.

Final Note on Grip Exercises

Making grip strength a priority is a great way to boost athletic performance and improve the ability to perform everyday tasks with ease. That’s why I’ve committed to incorporating many of these exercises into my regular fitness routine. By employing a variety of exercises that challenge the grip, I’m enhancing my functional fitness and increasing the odds that I’ll continue to enjoy major gains in my strength routine.