Grip training is essential in obstacle course racing because you will rely on your grip in pretty much every obstacle. A strong grip is especially important in hangs and in obstacles like pegboards which also call for intense concentration. However, grip strength isn’t the only thing you should be concerned about. Since you’ll be doing multiple obstacles and using your hands over and over again, you will also need good grip endurance. Put them together and you’ll be able to conquer the monkey bars, rope climbs, and everything in between.
How can I improve my grip?
Any piece of equipment or exercise machine that requires you to use your hands can technically improve your grip, but there are some that are specifically made to strengthen your grip and improve endurance.
Wrist and forearm blaster
Wrist and forearm blasters are ideal for two-handed grip workouts. All you have to do is attach a weighted plate of your preference to the blaster and you’re ready to go. The instability of the hanging weight adds to the challenge, and as you get stronger and more confident, you can move up to heavier weighted plates.
Depending on the kind of gripper you have available, you can work out your hand or even just one or two fingers at a time. The gripper is highly effective for training your grip, wrist, and forearms, because it can force your whole hand to hold the object and squeeze. Like the wrist and forearm blaster, many grippers come with adjustable resistance. This is a budget-friendly choice because you won’t have to purchase a new gripper every time you progress with your strength training.
The kettlebell strengthens your grip and the rest of your body all at once, making it incredibly efficient. If you’re pressed for time or don’t have grip-specific equipment on hand, rather than dedicating a separate portion of your workout to grip strength, you can opt to simply swap out dumbbells for kettlebells in your other exercises. The force produced by the kettlebell as it swings will really activate your grip and help you reach your grip strength and grip endurance goals.
This exercise is simple and easy yet so efficient. Quite literally, all you have to do is hang from a bar or gymnastic ring. If you’re only on your first try, you may need a bit of assistance. Just put your feet on the ground or have a step stool nearby to stand on, then have at it. Start with a few seconds, allowing yourself to figure out the most comfortable way to grip the bar or ring and to position your body without feeling pinched or sore. Once you’re settled on that, try hanging for a full 30 seconds, then gradually work all the way up to one minute or more.
Wrist curls/reverse wrist curls
You can work on your grip and wrist strength with wrist curls or reverse wrist curls. Take a dumbbell or kettlebell, grab the handle, and bring it up so that your forearm touches your thigh. For wrist curls, hold the handle from the bottom, with your palm facing the ceiling. For reverse wrist curls, hold the handle form above so that your palm faces the floor. Either way, your wrist should hang just over the edge of your thigh. Inhale, then begin by making an upwards curling motion with your wrist while exhaling. As you lower your wrist back down, inhale again. Be mindful of your breathing as you do your reps.
False grip hang
If you’re up for a big challenge, give the false grip hang a shot. First, stand in between two gymnastic rings and take a false grip. This means that you should insert your hands in a forward motion, and rest them on the bottom of the rings with your knuckles facing outwards. Your arms, meanwhile, should be fully extended. When your hands are in place, hang your full body weight on the rings. Lift yourself up by pulling from the shoulders and shoulder blades, then when you’ve gone as high as you can, slowly lower yourself back down. If you’re struggling to get started, find some stability by putting your feet on the ground when you need to.
Beginner’s grip strengthening program
If you’re a complete stranger to grip training, the bar hang is your friend. Find a gymnastic ring or a bar of the appropriate height for you and get comfortable. Start off with broken hangs - no pressure, just getting a feel for the exercise. In the span of one session, try to complete 30 seconds of hanging. Break the 30 seconds into three sets of ten, or two sets of 15, if you’re up to it. The goal isn’t to stay up for a straight 30 seconds right away; it’s just to get in a total of 30 seconds of hanging while you’re at the bar or ring.
Once you have that down, try for the full 30-seconds non-stop. After you’ve successfully completed your first 30-second hang, take a rest, then do it again. Challenge yourself to do three sets of 30-second hangs with short rest periods in between. If you’re worried about your hands getting calloused, this might be a good time to consider gloves.
When you’ve gained confidence with your 30-second hangs, you can move up to progressively longer hangs. Soon, you will be ready to do alternating hangs, as well, switching from one hand to another. Practice your alternating hands in both stationary (staying on one bar or ring and periodically switching hands) and mobile (going all the way across the monkey bars, gymnastic rings, or peg board) situations, as you’ll be needing both on race day.
Not a single day goes by without you using your hands in one way or another. A firm grip is necessary not just to successfully conquer an OCR course, but in your everyday tasks. It’s always a plus to be able to hold, pull, and carry things, and doubly so when you can do it without getting tired.