Having a good grip comes in handy not just shaking hands, but doing many tasks required of military and special ops personnel. Here is a recent email asking about improving grip for exercises that include rope climbs, pullups, and even dry firing with your non-dominant hand.
Stew, I am actually pretty good at pullups, but have found it tough to do multiple sets of higher reps not because I cannot do any more pullups, but because I cannot hang on the bar any longer. My forearms are on fire! I have the same issues when doing rope climbs and even some tactical skills. How can I get my forearms stronger?
This is an excellent question as there are many things you can do to supplement your workout to get a better grip. Your grip muscles are actually located in your forearm and your hand is mostly tendons attaching them with a few hand muscles involved as well. This is why when doing pullups, rope climbs, farmer walks, and other tasks you feel your hands getting tired as well as your forearms. The good news is that grip and forearm strength / endurance / muscle stamina can be added fairly quickly with a 5—10 minute circuit following normal workouts for upper body. In a few weeks, you will notice a difference if you do the following circuit 2—3 times a week. In a few months, you will have that "old man grip strength" that can hold onto anything for long periods of time too.
The exercises incorporate grip training while also adding more classic calisthenics movements that will assist your abilities to climb rope, walls, fences, and obstacles. Get good at pull-ups and dips as they will help you pull yourself up and over climbing obstacles when faced with a wall, rope, or ladder climb. I like to add the grip circuit of new exercises to the back end of a pullup workout. So get your pullups and after a few sets of good reps — start adding in the GRIP CIRCUIT:
Pull-Ups (Several Grips)
Grab the pull-up bar with your hands placed about shoulder-width apart and your palms facing away from you. Pull yourself upward until your chin is over the bar and complete the exercise by slowly moving to the hanging position.
Drape a rope over the pull-up bar and grab onto the two ends of the rope to perform your pull-up sets. This will simulate rope climbs and really works the grip.
For this classic grip exercise, tie a weight (5—10 pounds) to the rope. This will work the wrists through a full range of motion while also building forearm strength and stamina. Build up to a 1 minute set of rolling up and down.
Old School Rice Bucket
Get a five gallon bucket and fill the bucket with rice. Place your fingers about knuckle deep in the rice. Open and close your hand fully for 50 reps each hand. Works hand, grip, forearm strength. Repeat with both hands for 1 minute or 50—60 full open/closes of the hand. you can also try to dig your hand to the bottom of the bucket moving forward by open / closing your hand.
If you do not have a vertical rope to climb, moving the battle ropes up and down and side to side horizontally will suffice to strengthen the grip required for rope climbs. Lean back a little and grab the ropes to shake up and down and left to right for 1 minute. Then try together up/down for 1 minute.
Some of this Grip Circuit is pulled from the book Tactical Fitness designed for military, special ops, police, and fire fighter style fitness programming. It also includes the Tactical Fitness Test we created called the Dirty Dozen.