Is your grip strength holding you back from heavier deadlifts or do you simply want bigger forearms? One technique that claims to improve grip strength and forearm size is using thicker grips that fit on a barbell or dumbbell. In this article we look at the science behind thicker grips, and whether they work.
Grip Thickness and 1RM
When comparing deadlifting using an olympic bar with a 2 inch or 3 inch bar, the 2- and 3-inch bars reduced 1RM by 28.3% and 55% respectively. That is due to grip strength (forearms) limitations. That is not to say that thick grips are bad, rather they focus the effort on your forearms making them work above their normal requirements. If you want to crush an apple in one hand, the thick grips will help.
Clearly you don’t want to be training at 55% below regular intensity though, your 1RM would decrease if you were to do that. So this suggests that 2-inch thick grips are a good medium, providing additional forearm stimulus without reducing your 1RM too much. Another alternative is to do your warm-up sets with the thick grips, then doing your work sets without them. This way you’re working your forearms more than usual, but not decreasing your work sets.
Grip Thickness and Muscular Activity
Reference 2 simply explains why the previous paragraphs are true: forearm muscular activity is reduced when using a smaller handle rather than a larger one. It’s easy to hold a small bar that fits nicely into your fingers, and hard to hold one that has to be squeezed by your whole hand.
Grip Strength and Psychology
Most lifters have experienced days when their psychology has been off, and in turn their lifts were way down. Your brain usually gives up before your body does, but this limitation can be minimized and grip strength is somewhat related to that. For example, when you are doing a set of pull-ups and you stop not because your lats are giving out but because your grip is hurting. If you increase your grip strength, you can more easily hold the bar in a way that is not painful (in the curled fingers) so you will no longer quit because of your grip: your reps will have increased and then your strength and muscle gains will follow.
Which One I Use
I use the Iron Bull Strength TGRIP 2.0 which is 2 inches thick. I recommend the 2 inch size if you’re just starting out with thick grips. You will definitely feel it in your forearms. It is pretty hard to slip onto the bar, but other than that it works well. At least you know it won’t slip off!
Is it necessary? Not entirely, but it is a good option for improving grip strength. Thick grips have variable resistance, since you can use them with different weights of bar or exercise. Some alternative products like the spring grips have only one resistance level, and as we know, increasing the resistance is more effective than doing 100+ reps of light resistance. In that respect it is the superior option, if you do decide to help your forearms catch up to the rest of your body.
- Acute Muscular Strength assessment Using Free Weight Bars of Different Thickness. RATAMESS, NICHOLAS A; FAIGENBAUM, AVERY D; MANGINE, GERALD T; HOFFMAN, JAY R; KANG, JIE [↩]
- An Analysis of Handle Designs for Reducing Manual Effort: The Influence of Grip Diameter. Katharyn A. Grant, Daniel J. Habes, Libby L. Steward [↩]