In competitive sports the emphasis is on “the edge!” What’s going to give you the edge and how can you gain it as quickly as possible. Nowhere is this truer than in sports like MMA, modern warfare where the slightest advantage can mean the difference between getting cut, winning the title, and living the life of your dreams.
Why You Need Improved Grip Strength for MMA
Phil Richards, world-renowned strength and conditioning coach to former two-time world champion boxer Amir Kahn, states that the two biggest components to building unbelievable strength in addition to gaining one hell of an edge for athletes across the board are “grip and neck strength.” After learning this, we set to work implementing some serious grip and neck strength work into the programs of our clients at We are Primal (UK); in particular, British Heavyweight MMA Fighter George “The Tonne” Tokkos.
“By training my grip I have been able to maximise my power output when fighting. Grip endurance and ability to apply all my muscular strength through the spearhead of my hand (grip) without my grip breaking are the main results. Fighting for grips is a huge part of Brazilian Jiu Jitsu and can often dictate where the fight goes, so possessing unparalleled grip strength gives you the advantage every time”.
George “The Tonne” Tokkos, British Heavyweight MMA Fighter.
There are a range of great isolation exercises for both grip and neck strength using dumbbells, straight bars, and cable attachments, but at We are Primal we incorporate as much “natural” movement as possible. Throwing in a ton of variables, challenges, and stimulations to the workouts fires up the central nervous system—keeping the body adapting and the strength increasing. If you want the best of anything you’ve got to go to the source.
Strongman Grip Strength for MMA
For strength, particularly grip strength, look no further than the world of competitive strongman. The first thing you’ll notice when watching competitive strongman events is the size of these guys, specifically their forearms and necks/shoulders. The next thing you notice are the variety of events. This variety is the key to gaining unbelievable grip strength. In an average strongman competition you’ll find a plethora of tools requiring very different grips, including ropes, sandbags, logs, Olympic barbells, kegs, maces, shields, atlas stones, and axle bars.
To give you a better idea of a typical competition, I competed last weekend at strength gym Progressive Training Systems (UK) and the events were as follows.
Event #1 – Maximum effort single rep “Trap Bar” Deadlift.
Event #2 – 20m drop and turn Yoke Walk for time.
Event #3 – 20m drop and turn Farmers Walk for time.
Event #4 – 20m Sled Rope Pull into 20m Standing Backwards Sled Drag.
Event #5 – Overhead Press Medley including two logs of different sizes and an axle bar.
Event #6 – Maximum Tractor Tire Flips in 1 minute
Event #7 – 10m Lorry Pull.
3 Tips for Building MMA Grip Strength
That’s seven events that each incorporate very different holds and grip thicknesses. The day after the competition my hands and forearms as well as my traps and neck were the two areas of my body most affected. They were sore, but felt unbelievably strong and seriously hypertrophied! So how to incorporate this into a workout? The three main points we’ve found for hugely effective grip training are consistent variation, utilising full body movements, and avoiding overload.
Grip Strength Tip #1: Variation
Varying your grip can have a huge impact on your strength training. It can come in the form of:
1. Handle diameter. Whether the exercise is performed with two hands or one (unilateral), e.g. a unilateral farmers walk to fire up the obliques.
2. Orientation of the hand and wrist. A dead hang with pronated (overhand), supinated (underhand) or neutral (palms facing each-other) grips being an example.
3. Whether the grip is closed hand, e.g. a deadlift or Steel Mace swing, or open hand, e.g. a pinch grip weight plate farmers walk or tire flip.
4. The number of fingers used. A two finger barbell deadlift is a great exercise, be sure to start light!
5. The shape of the handle. We use sandbags, fat grip barbells and dumbbells, thin ropes, thick ropes, pinch grips on weight plates, and palm only grips around a kettlebell.
Grip Strength Tip #2: Full Body, Strongman Movements
Most of our grip strength exercises are compound, strongman inspired movements including standard farmers walks, tire flips, and rope sled pulls. These exercises use as much movement and as many muscles as possible, strengthening not only the grip, but the legs, glutes, lower back, abs, obliques, and shoulders―everything a human needs to be strong. We like to throw in some metabolic conditioning such as rope climbs and unilateral kettlebell farmers walks to mix it up, usually up and down 6 flights of stairs. Not only are they great for grip and oblique strength, but they provide one hell of a quad and lung burner!
Grip Strength Tip #3: Avoid Overload
The final key to getting “the edge” is to avoid overload! Too much grip work, too often, too soon, will result in battered, weakened hands and forearms (likely very painful elbows too). So take it slow, spread six grip focused exercises across three workouts on a Monday, Wednesday, and Friday, supersetting them with non-grip focused movements like barbell squats, sprints, and prowler pushes. Keep the duration of the hold to less than sixty seconds and don’t go too heavy, too soon. Strength takes time and patience. Build the weight over the weeks in small increments, use variety and you’ll have the grip of a silverback in no time!
MMA Grip Strength Training Workout Plan
Here’s a quick example of a typical week for someone new to grip training at We are Primal.
A1: Straight Arm Pronated Dead-Hang – 3 rounds x 60 sec x 60 sec rest
A1: Double Kettlebell Front Squat – 4 rounds x 6 reps x 51×0 tempo
A2: 2 Step Stair Climb Holding Fat Grip Dumbbells – 4 rounds x 12 reps(per leg) x 90 sec rest
B1: Weighted Hyperextension – 4 rounds x 15 reps x 30×1 tempo
B2: Farmer’s Walks – 4 rounds x 2x20m drop and turn x 90 sec rest
C1: 10m sprint – 3rounds x 5x10m x 90 sec rest
A1: Bodyweight Lunges – 1 round x 10 reps
A2: Bodyweight Squat – 1 round x 10 reps
A3: Push-ups – 1 round x 10 reps
A1: Trap Bar Deadlifts – 8 rounds x 1-3 reps x 30×0 tempo x 90 sec rest.
B1: Axle Bar Standing Military Press x 4 rounds x 5 reps
B2: Supinated Chin-ups x 4 rounds x 10 reps x 30×1 tempo x 90 sec rest
C1: Seated 20m Rope Sled Pulls into 20m Backwards Sled Drag – 3 rounds x 1 rep
C2: Bodyweight Jump Squats – 3 rounds x 10 reps
C3: Kettlebell Swing – 3 rounds x 20 reps x 120 sec rest
A1: Pushups – 4 rounds x 10
A2: Hyperextensions – 4 rounds x 10 reps
A1: Fat Grip rack Bench Press – 8 rounds x 1-3 reps x 31×0 tempo x 60 sec rest
B1: Olympic Barbell Clean from Floor – 4 rounds x 4 reps
B2: Pinch Grip Weight Plate Walking Lunges – 4 rounds x 8 reps(each leg) x 20×0 tempo x 90 sec rest
C1: Tire Flips – 10 rounds x 3 reps x 60 sec rest