Why a Strong Grip Comes in Handy in the Military and Special Ops

Fitness facility near Fort Drum provides workouts focusing on grip strength.
The new Alpha Warrior Fitness Rig at Atkins Functional Fitness Facility in New York can provide Fort Drum community members a full-body workout, Ninja Warrior-style, that focuses on core strength and grip. (Michael Strasser/Fort Drum Garrison Public Affairs)

Having a good grip comes in handy not just for 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, pull-ups and even dry firing with your non-​​dominant hand.

Stew, I am actually pretty good at pull-ups, but have found it tough to do multiple sets of higher reps not because I cannot do any more pull-ups, 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?

There are many things you can do to supplement your workout to get a better grip. Your grip muscles are 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 pull-ups, 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 and muscle stamina can be enhanced fairly quickly with a five- to 10-minute circuit after normal upper-body workouts.

In a few weeks, you will notice a difference if you do the following circuit two or three times a week. In a few months, you will have that "old-man grip strength" that can hold on to 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; 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 pull-up workout. So get your pull-ups and, after a few sets of good reps, start adding in the grip circuit:

pull ups on bar

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.

pull ups on rope

Pull-​​ups (rope)

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.

rope weight

Weighted rope

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 one-minute set of rolling up and down.

rice bucket

Old-school rice bucket

Fill a five-gallon 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 and forearm strength. Repeat with both hands for one minute or 50-60 full openings and closings of the hand. You also can try to dig your hand to the bottom of the bucket by opening and closing your hand.

battle ropes

Battle ropes

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 one minute. Then try together up/​down for one minute.

Stew Smith is a former Navy SEAL and fitness author certified as a Strength and Conditioning Specialist (CSCS) with the National Strength and Conditioning Association. Visit his Fitness eBook store if you’re looking to start a workout program to create a healthy lifestyle. Send your fitness questions to stew@stewsmith.com.

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