Grip Challenge Workout: Pull Day

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U.S. Servicemembers hold themselves above the bar during the flexed-arm hang of the German physical training test while taking part in testing for the German Armed Forces Proficiency Badge at Camp Arifjan, Kuwait, Nov. 21, 2017. (U.S. Army photo by Sgt. David L. Nye, U.S. ARCENT PAO)

If you do not have a rope to climb, practice other ways to improve grip. Typically, any day you do a pulling-type exercise you will work your grip as well.

However, if your grip is not failing with your regular pull-up pyramid, sets of pull-downs, rows and rope climbs, consider the classic Strongman Hang Challenge. There are a few exercises out there that are as challenging as treading water with no hands or hanging from a pull-up bar for as long as you can. Repeated sets of hanging is even tougher -- especially added to a pulling day.

Whether it is adding hanging to your pull-up workouts or your deadlift workout days, you will find the supplemental grip exercise an effective way to top off your workout and increase your grip challenge quickly.

My recommendation is to add the 5-10 minute Hang Challenge to your workout 1-2 times a week and to combine it with other events that require grip strength (deadlift, pull-ups, pulldowns, rows, farmer walks, rope climbs, etc).

Here is how the Hang Challenge works:

Hang on a pull-up bar for as long as you can (feet cannot touch the floor)

  • Keep track of the time accumulated on the bar

When you fail from hanging, do the following exercises:

  • Run 400m at goal mile pace or 2 minute bike / elliptical.
  • Plank pose or flutter kicks 1 minute

After some time off the bar, the grip will somewhat recover and you then repeat the cycle of hanging and "rest exercises" until you either fail completely or reach the desired total time.

You may find that you need about a 3:1 rest to hang ratio to come close to previous hang times for each set. Hang for a minute -- select an active rest for 2-3 minutes in between sets for best results. Plus, if you choose your "rest sets" wisely, you can improve your running pace and some core strength and endurance skills as well.

A reasonable suggestion is to start with 5 minutes of total hanging. You may find this will take at least 5-6 sets to accumulate that amount of time.

If you do this for a month or so a few days a week, you will find your grip endurance will improve quickly and you can add more sets for a total time challenge of 8-10 minutes. As with all things, challenge yourself progressively. It took our group (advanced SpecOps candidates) more than 10 sets on average to do 8-10 minutes.

The lighter you are, the better you will typically do at this. Rowers and climbers tend to do really well with this hanging activity.

Warning: Do not do a relaxed shoulder flex (dead hang). Your shoulders should stay engaged the entire time as it is not great for the rotator cuff muscles and tendons when you're doing a fully relaxed dead hang. This goes for pull-ups as well.

There is an old saying that your "ears are poison for your shoulders" meaning your shoulders should not stretch or shrug anywhere near the vicinity of your ears. Keep shoulders and shoulder blades engaged and arms straight.

Related Article and Video

Operator Grip Article

Advanced Grip Exercises Video

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 starting a workout program to create a healthy lifestyle. Send your fitness questions to stew@stewsmith.com.

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