While the best physical attributes for wrestling and grappling sports is speed, flexibility and agility, strength should not be overlooked. With so much on their plate, strength training tends to fall by the wayside in most wrestling programs; and rightfully so. Athletes with brute strength as their best attribute are easily outgunned by faster or more precise technicians. However when strength is improved in any athlete, overall performance is also improved. When programmed and executed correctly, sports specific strength training for wrestling will produce athletes that are bigger, faster and stronger in any arena. Grip training for example applies directly to many aspects of wrestling and is easy to program into an already busy schedule.
Oddly enough, grip training has an interesting side effect; besides giving you an iron handshake, it will make your entire body stronger. When you make an improvement in the strength of your hands, the strength of the rest of your body will also come up a bit. For a wrestler, stronger hands and wrists will allow full control of your opponent when you grab hold. When hand fighting in the standing position, wrestler’s grips are challenged by catching their opponent’s wrist, or grabbing hold of the back of their head for complete control or a hard snap. Defensively, if your grip is better than your opponent’s, you will be able to peel his hands off your wrists when he tries to pull you down after you’ve escaped from the bottom position. If your hands are strong enough, your opponent will never get away once you’ve established a hold; likewise, he will never be able to keep his grip on you as your stronger hands can break his apart.
Fortunately, improving the strength of your grip is easy and can be done with very little specialized equipment. However significant strength gains in your hands will never be realized with the generic grippers that can be bought in Kmart’s ‘sports section’; grip training is a bit more complicated than that. There are several different types of grip training, all pertaining to different functions of the hand. For example, pinching, squeezing/crushing and holding actions must all be trained differently for the most well rounded and functional grip. Wrestling and grappling combat sports use a variety of all different grip functions so all aspects should be addressed when developing your training program for the best success.
To break your opponent’s grip on your arm requires being able to force your thumb or fingers in between your opponent’s hand and your arm to pry open his grasp. This action calls upon a combination of crushing and pinching hand strength. To improve this, put the emphasis in training focusing on pinch grip for both the thumb and fingers. Great exercises to use include mat holds and plate holds for time. These are performed by holding two 5-10 lb. weight lifting plates together pinched in between your thumb and fingers for 30 seconds to 1 minute or longer if possible. Do 3 sets and try to increase either time or weight each time you do this. Another great way to train pinch grip (that benefits the fingers more than the thumb) is tearing phone books. When tearing phone books, start small and work your way up to thicker and thicker books; work on breaking the binding of the book first, then tear the rest of the pages.
Crushing grip strength is noticed in a firm handshake and developed by squeezing things with your hands. Super strong crushing grip strength is important for wrestlers so they can dominate the match by controlling their opponent’s wrists/arms. It’s also the easiest to train. Initially, you can significantly raise your crushing grip strength by simply focusing on squeezing your grip harder on your opponent’s arm and weight lifting bars while you’re training. This is the most functional way to train crushing grip strength, however you can have even greater improvements by using hand grippers for extra training. The best hand grippers are called ‘Captains of Crush’ as they are rated for strength athletes; they can be bought from a company called Ironmind.com. They come in various strengths so you can work your way up to the strongest model and chart your progress as you go. Once you can close a Captains of Crush gripper ten times, you should start training with the next level gripper. While a bit more expensive than generic grippers, Captains of Crush are virtually indestructible and will remain strong your entire career; they are a good investment as they will definitely improve your grip strength.
In many cases, wrestling and mma grappling often requires controlling your opponent’s wrist or martial arts gi for an extended period. Grip training to improve hand strength over a sustained period will directly impact a wrestler’s performance very quickly and should be added to every program. This is trained by holding weight lifting bars, preferably the thickness of a human limb (any size bar will do but the thicker the better) for longer and longer periods of time. A wrestler’s grip should be conditioned for sustained strength lasting longer than 6 minutes should the match go into overtime. An excellent tool for training a wrestler’s grip is with a towel. Use the towel as a replacement for certain handles in the weight room; use a towel for pull-ups, on a lat pull machine and when training arms as much as possible. A towel can also be used as the grip for tricep extensions and wrapped around a dumbbell or kettlebell for hammer curls.
You can also use a towel in and of itself for grip training if you have no access to the weight room. Using an oversized beach towel, double it (long ways) and simply roll it all the way up and down paying special attention to squeezing your grip as hard as possible with each turn of your wrist. You can also improve crushing grip as well as wrist strength using a towel soaked with water. Submerse a towel in a bucket of water, hold the wet towel vertically with both hands positioned right next to each other. Next, work all the water out of the towel twisting it moving down as you go; keep doing this until the towel is totally dry. If you do this correctly, just a few sets of this will exhaust your hands and totally engorge the forearms with blood. Another great training tool for fighters for wrestler’s grip is rope. Rope climbing, performing pull ups on ropes and training with battle ropes are excellent for producing an iron strong, sustained grip. For the best results, use rope that’s 1 1/2″ to 2″ thick (with 2″ thickness being best).
While improving your grip strength will go a long way for wrestlers and grapplers, priority should also be given to developing greater wrist strength. Having super strong wrists make it nearly impossible for your opponent to break your grip or get away once you’ve latched on. Wrist strength can be developed by using a wrist roller; these are easily made with a thick piece of pvc pipe and rope tied onto a weight. This exercise is performed by rolling up the rope as you twist the pvc pipe all the way up and down. You can also build great wrist strength holding the end of a pole or bar with a light weight on the other end. Simply raising the weight for numerous reps with both radial and ulnar deviation works great for building tendon strength of the wrist. A large frying pan or iron skillet is also an excellent tool to use for this exercise.
When scheduling grip training into your program, be careful not to overdo it. Remember that there is already much grip work being performed during your regular practices. You should never start out your wrestling practice or weight lifting session with grip training as this can ruin the rest of your work that day and easily lead to over training. Grip training should only be performed at the end of a workout. Add only 1-2 exercises for 2-4 sets a piece and only on days that allow. In other words if your wrestling practice session focused on hand fighting that day and everyone’s grip is tired at the end, make the call as to perform less or no supplemental grip training on that day. On that note, training your grip will only be effective if it’s performed on a regular basis, so pushing it as often as possible pays off.
When incorporating added grip training into your program, rotate different exercises to produce the best overall strength. Effective grip training is easy to incorporate into a wrestler’s schedule. Add a few sets of battle ropes at the end of practice one day/week. Another day ring water out of a towel until your hands are exhausted. For a third day, practice pinch grip by doing 3 sets of plate holds for 1 minute each. After three weeks of this, switch to different exercises. It’s also smart to tailor your grip training for a specific athlete’s need if you can discover this. If your wrestler has trouble breaking another’s grip because he has weak fingers, supplement his training with exercises like plate holds and tearing phone books to improve his pinch grip and thumb strength. Most athletes however will respond with very little extra grip training and simply adding any at all into your program often produces surprising results.