One of the most popular “fitness” training things competitive shooters do is try and strengthen their grip. You can do several things for a vise-like grip, but first, let’s clarify a few things. Grip technique is indeed important. While grip strength is also important, primarily in your support hand, it should not be your primary focus. You’ll take seconds off your time and move through your transitions faster if you have stronger legs, a stable core, and possibly weigh less. That being said, grip strength is still a legitimate concern. Have you ever met someone with a limp handshake? Kind of gross, isn’t it?
There are three different aspects of grip strength: crush, pinch and support grip. Crush grip is simply closing your hands as tightly as you can. Pinch grip is just pinching an item between your thumb and fingers; support grip could also be considered grip endurance, or how long you can squeeze something tightly.
We all know crush grip is exactly what your support hand should be doing. It’s your non-dominant hand covering the remaining portion of the pistol grip and wrapping your fingers around your dominant hand to keep everything locked down. You can do a few things to strengthen this, but one of the easiest is an Iron Mind gripper. It’s two metal handles with a metal spring connecting them; you just squeeze it shut. If you’re trying to improve your max effort strength, you’ll need to keep your reps low, like five or less. My guess is one hand will be stronger than the other. It’s important to do the same number of reps with each hand—that way, you don’t feed an imbalance.
Pinch grip is one of my favorites to work on. It’s so crazy simple, yet can be insanely frustrating as well. You can argue that this isn’t as important as crush grip, but having the ability to drive your support hand pinky and ring finger down and secure a solid grip on the pistol is important for that follow-up shot. For pinch grip work, I like to do one of two things, either farmer walks while pinching a couple of plates, or palming the end of a dumbbell for time or reps. Remember to drive your fingers into the implement you’ve chosen to use. Make those fingers work.
Finally, support grip. This is where we get to put it all together. There are a couple of easy things you can do that improve this. One is to simply hang from a pull-up bar for as long as you can. You’ll feel it all the way down from your hands into your forearms. You can also grab some heavy dumbbells and simply go for a walk around the gym. Remember to keep your upper back tight on this walk. If you slouch or lean forward, you’ll feel it in your low back; nobody wants that. Finally, another simple thing you can do in the gym that will help with grip is to make everything harder to hold. For example, try using a fat bar or towel on all your pulling lifts or do fingertip push-ups.
I caution you with all grip work—you need to stretch your hands and wrists afterward. If you skip this, I promise you’ll get a nice painful case of tennis or golfer’s elbow. If that happens, it’ll be miserable for you to even grip your gun or open a jar. Take the time to pull your fingers back over your watch and stretch the hand and the belly of your forearm. Then reverse it, pull your fingers toward the bottom of your elbow, and stretch the top of your forearm. Also, with grip work, a little goes a long way. The muscles in your hand and forearm are small flexor and extensor muscles that fatigue easily and can get irritated quickly. You want to hit these movements in three sets and be done, leaving the gym feeling fresh as a daisy. Trust me, you don’t need to kill grip work like a Crossfit workout.
Again, if you want to get in better physical condition so you can run stages faster and shoot better, I strongly recommend a total body strength program. Hit legs, core stability and practice moving faster. Maybe eat more protein and green veggies so you weigh less and are lighter on your feet. After that, if you want to strengthen your grip, take some time to improve your crush, pinch, and support grip. A vise-like grip isn’t the end-all be-all—but it certainly helps.
Article from the May/June 2023 issue of USPSA’s magazine.