Regimens: Getting a Grip

May 2, 2004
Outside Magazine
Outside magazine, June 1994

Regimens: Getting a Grip
By John Brant

Keith Cedro, a former strength and conditioning coach for the New York Mets, has seen plenty of good athletes with bad hands. But his prescription isn't just for million-dollar ballplayers. Fortify your forearms, says Cedro, since that's where much of hand strength comes from.

Cedro cautions that the strongest hands aren't worth much without a fit upper body, so he recommends forearm exercises only as part of a larger fitness regimen. Elite rock climbers tend to take a more ardent stance on upper-body strength (they say you shouldn't focus on strengthening your hands until you can do about 50 chin-ups in ten minutes), but maybe that's why they're elite. For our more mortal purposes the following hand exercises can immediately complement your capabilities in any sport.

Loosen your hands, wrists, and forearms by making fists and extending your arms straight out at your sides, then opening and closing your hands in rapid succession for about 30 seconds. Open your hands as far as you can each time to work the hands' and fingers' full range of motion and to get the blood flowing to the extremities. You'll feel the extensor muscles along your forearms working.

Wrist curls, performed with a straight bar or dumbbells, work the forearms' flexor muscles. Make sure your thumbs are underneath the bar to better isolate the muscles, and bend your wrists as far as you can to increase your range of motion. Cedro recommends high-rep/low-weight sets because they improve endurance and prevent muscle strain. Use only as much weight as you can handle for three sets of 30-50 reps.

Reverse curls work the forearms' extensor muscles. Again, isolate those muscles by placing your thumbs below the bar, and keep your elbows close to your torso and still. From a standing position, start with the bar at your thighs and lift to your chest. Do three sets of 30-50 reps with relatively light weights.

To isolate the muscles governing the supinating and pronating motions of the hand--that is, the muscles that permit your hand to twist--lay your arm on a weight bench and bend the elbow 90 degrees, so that your forearm is straight up. Holding a dumbbell of manageable weight, torque the wrist back and forth laterally over its full range of motion. Do three sets of 15-25 reps.

To toughen the finger tendons, Gary Rall, owner of the Portland Rock Gym in Oregon, recommends hanging from a simulation board. Choose two generous holds (not small "lipped" holds, which can place excessive stress on the tendons), hang by at least three fingers of each hand for 20 seconds, and then recover for the same amount of time. Perform ten reps, employing enough resistance (via ankle weights or a weight attached at the waist) so that you're struggling to hang on during the last three repetitions. Another good way to work the fingers: Use any spring-loaded apparatus that works each digit individually, and do at least 50 reps at a stretch. Holding the device away from your palm will work the fingers' joints.

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