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Categories: Strength Training

Increase Grip Strength With Captains-of-Crush Grippers

By Marc Perry / September 25, 2017

This summer while I was training with a 24 kg (53 pound) kettlebell, I could barely do 10 single-arm snatches in a row.

After working on my grip strength in just a few months, I was able to do 10 single-arm snatches with a 32kg (70 pound) kettlebell, a nearly 50% improvement.

My muscularity has also improved as I am able to lift more weight and my confidence has increased because I feel much stronger.

How the heck did I get my grip and body so much stronger so fast?

This dramatic strength increase I experienced is in large part a result of using Captains-of-Crush Grippers multiple times per day, every day.

While this dedication to grip strength may seem like overkill to you, if you want to increase your overall strength fast – whether you want to lift more weight off the ground, or get to 10 pull-ups – using Captains-of-Crush grippers may get you to your goal faster.

Why Is Grip Strength Important?

Research shows that grip strength is a marker of overall body strength and that lack of grip strength is a predictor of poor health.1 Research also shows grip strength decreases with age, with one study showing women’s grip strength decreasing at a faster rate, and men have twice the grip strength as women.2

According to Pavel Tsatsouline, one of the world’s foremost strength experts, increasing grip strength is one of the easiest and fastest ways to become stronger.3 The other way: building core strength.

You may be wondering how grip strength builds full body strength? Powerlifters and other strength athletes have observed that increasing grip strength leads to greater muscle activation in general.  For example, if you try pressing a dumbbell over your head with a loose grip, it’s much more difficult than if you squeeze the handle very hard. The harder you can squeeze the handle, the more muscle fibers that activate in your shoulder, which in turn can help you lift more weight.

To wrap up this discussion on the importance of grip strength, I’ll leave you with some words of wisdom I learned from my friend Jason Kapnick who is a successful powerlifter:

1)      You are only as strong as your hands

2)      If you can’t hold it, you can’t lift it

What Are Captains-Of-Crush Grippers?

In 1993, Ironmind developed an aircraft-grade aluminum gripper called Captains-of-Crush for serious strength athletes and strongmen as an alternative to the cheap plastic variety common at the time.

Since then, the Captains-of-Crush have developed a cult-like following among the hard-core strength crowd of burly men and women. Over time, strength athletes from sports ranging from martial arts to football have been using these grippers to get stronger faster.

Ironmind now has 11 different gripper options, but the core grippers are the #1, #2, #3, and #4, which range from 140 pounds of pressure to close to 365 pounds of pressure. Only 5 people in the world are documented to have closed the #4. Currently, 5 of the options are “tweeners” to help you bridge the gap from one gripper to another, like the No. 1.5 to help you go from the #1 to #2.

Which Captains-of-Crush Gripper Should I Start With?

In the video above, I said that Ironmind recommends a practice gripper and a goal gripper, but they actually recommend three grippers for you to train with:

1)      Warm-Up Gripper – This helps warm up your hands before you increase tension when closing something harder.

2)      Working Gripper – This is a gripper you can close around 5 to 10 times.  This will help you build strength.

3) Challenger (Goal) Gripper – This is a gripper you are trying to close.

Men:

Most men should purchase the Trainer, which is 100 pounds of pressure as the working gripper. Even if you can’t close it, it will eventually become your working gripper, or even warm-up gripper, then move on to the #1, which is the goal gripper of 140 pounds of pressure. If you have above average strength and can deadlift above 350+ pounds, start with the #1 and buy the #2 as your goal gripper, which requires 195 pounds of pressure to close.  If you want to get a warm up gripper, you can get the Sport.

Women:

Women can start out with the Guide at 60 pounds of pressure, then move on to the Sport at 80 pounds of pressure. Keep in mind these grippers are tough on your hands so if you have soft hands and want to keep them that way, these are definitely not for you.

CoC Grippers are also fun to bring to the office to see who can close them. You may be surprised how few guys can close the Captains-of-Crush #1 on the first try.  Finally, they make for a unique and cool gift. I bought 10 of them as gifts last year.

CAPTAINS OF CRUSH MODEL POUNDS OF PRESSURE TO CLOSE
Guide 60
Sport 80
Trainer 100
Point Five 120
#1 140
#1.5 167.5
#2 195
#2.5 237.5
#3 280
#3.5 322.5
#4 365

How To Close The Captains-of-Crush Grippers

There is literally a book written about how to close the grippers but here are a few tips that may be helpful for you:

Tip #1 – Proper Set Up Is Very Important

How you set up the gripper in your hand has a big impact on how much pressure you can apply to close it. You want the handle to be roughly in the middle of your palm (some people recommend at the top of your palm), and your pinky at the very bottom of the opposite handle. The photo below shows my pinky in the correct placement, but the bottom handle should be higher up on the palm, almost bisecting it. Then you use the other hand to help close it slightly to help wrap your fingers around the handle.

Tip #2 – Do a Few Sets Daily

I recommend doing 1 set of 5 reps each hand, alternating. But you can think about it like 10 sets of 1 rep. Repeat for a total of 2 to 3 sessions per day. The more you practice closing the gripper each day, the faster your grip strength will increase. I carry a #1 and #2 in my briefcase, so it’s always on me. If I need a little break from my computer, I may stand up and do some closes with the gripper. In my first week of constant grip work, I increased my grip strength by at least 20%.

Tip #3 – Do Assisted Closes

The last inch of closing the goal gripper can be very challenging. You can use your opposite hand, or leg to help you close the gripper, then resist the gripper as it forces your hand open, which can increase hand strength. But use the negatives strategy sparingly as it is very intense.

Tip #4 – Stretch Your Hands & Wrists

If you are working on your grip a lot, I recommend stretching your hands and wrists after each session. This helps prevent your muscles from becoming too tight and may aid in recovery.

Tip #5 – Warm-Up

Before you max out on a gripper, you want to be sure you warm up your hands. You can use a warm up gripper, or try doing grip work after your workout, which is an easy solution. I find my grip is a good 10% stronger after a lifting session when my hands and body are nice and warm.

Keep in mind that you will be training your wrist and hand flexors, which are the muscles that close your hand. Doing a few exercises to help work your extensors can help keep everything balanced. Some people fit a rubber band around their fingers, then open their fingers up. I like to make one hand into a fist, then put the other hand over it, then resist opening up my hand. It’s just like the rubber hand strategy without using a rubber band.

You may notice your dominant hand is quite a bit stronger than your non-dominant hand. Research has shown on average there is roughly a 10% difference in strength between the dominant and non-dominant hand.4

Will The Grippers Hurt My Hands?

Yes they will, initially. The handles are knurled, which means there is a small diamond shaped pattern embedded in the aluminum handles, which feels like metal sandpaper. If you want soft hands, then these grippers are definitely not for you!

One of the benefits of using the grippers is that they toughen up your hands, which can prevent blisters when kettlebell, or barbell training without gloves.

Captains-of-Crush Grippers are not the only way to improve your grip strength, but they may be the fastest. BuiltLean contributor Steve Bergeron wrote an article about 8 Exercises For a Stronger Grip. To increase grip strength without training your grip directly, I would avoid using weight straps to help you hold weight, consider adding some kettlebell training and swings into your regimen if you don’t use them now, along with pull-ups and deadlifts if you are not doing them.

I hope you enjoyed this overview.  If you have any questions, thoughts, or any experiences to share with the grippers, leave a comment below!

30Comments

  • Audra says:

    Hi Mark, enjoyed the article. You mentioned a couple of times that these are rough on your hands. Couldn't someone just wear gloves? Or am I missing something? Thanks!

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    • Marc Perry, CSCS, CPT says:

      That's a great question and I really don't know the answer because I've never tried. I assume the answer is "Yes". Maybe you can give it a shot and report back.

      Cancel reply
  • Mike Maynard says:

    I can't wait to try these. I felt like I have been starting to plateau as of late so I'm excited to try these so I can get over the hump. Great article as always Marc!

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    • Marc Perry, CSCS, CPT says:

      Thanks, Mike.

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  • Enrique says:

    Thanks Mark, this will help me since I have wrists too thin. Saludos. GOD bless you.

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  • Byron says:

    Mark, I loved the article. But don't you need to rest muscles? Isn't there a repair process that needs to happen? Or are hand/forearm muscles different?
    Thanks!

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    • Marc Perry, CSCS, CPT says:

      Hey Byron, that's a good question. The goal of grip training is to train your neuromuscular system and not fatigue your muscles too much. If you are closing them for a few reps a few times per day, that should not burn out. The idea is not to train the grip to failure every rep, or every set. The concept is called "grease the groove" and it's ridiculously effective at increasing strength. Not training to failure all the time will help prevent overtraining and issues with your hands and wrists. One thing I should have included is to stretch your hands and wrists out after doing your sets, which also should help with recovery.

      Cancel reply
  • Phil says:

    A good and informative article Mark. Many thanks!

    I have heard from numerous grip specialists such as Jedd Johnson, Paul Knight etc. to be VERY careful with negatives. Only to use them sparingly (if at all) and only when fully warned up.

    A few guys in the grip game have received life changing injuries to their hands using heavy negatives, so I just thought I'd make this important point.

    I learned this tip from some of the best in the sport and it's kept me safe up to now.

    In short just grabbing grippers with "cold" hands is a surefire way to pull/tear something or worse! Treat them with respect and you'll be fine...

    A good post gripper stretching protocol will help to keep your hands loose and relaxed too. This is as just important as using the grippers themselves.

    Hope this tip helps other readers!

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    • Marc Perry, CSCS, CPT says:

      Hi Phil, thanks for sharing your thoughts as you make all very important points. I'm going to add some of these concepts back into the article. Trying to max out when your grip is cold, such as first thing in the morning I've learned is definitely not a good idea. And agree with negatives, need to be very careful with them. It's strong medicine.

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      • Philip says:

        Great stuff Mark! Your point on balancing the hands by working the extensors is absolute gold.

        Articles like yours, showing how to safely bring strength, conditioning and balance to the hands is a wonderful thing! Thanks again.

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  • Surendra says:

    Wow, thanks a lot Marc! I really owe you one :)

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  • Jay says:

    Good article Mark.

    Al, I had horrible elbow tendonitis, which was greatly aggravated by some movements:

    1.pullup(pronate, ie palms away grip).

    2.Any kind of triceps extension on a straight bar.

    3. Any kind of reverse curl, whether on an EZ or straight bar.

    If you use a grip that irritates your joints, you are never going to prosper until you adjust your exercises to suit YOU, not what somebody else thinks is about perfect.

    I also had nasty hand and wrist tendonitis, aggravated by:

    4. A lot of work on my grip machine. That strengthens the finger flexors, while leaving the finger extensors(which open the hand) weak.

    5. Wrist curls etc strengthened my wrist flexors, but left the wrist extensors weak.

    The extensors are never going to be as strong as the flexors, but if you triple your hand and wrist strength, while leaving the extensors as weak as they were to start, you are asking for trouble. Don't forget that all your chinning, deadlifting, rowing and even curling will hammer your grip, but not those little extensors, which are neglected in most programs.

    The solution for me:

    Fixing the grip position:

    1. Neutral(parallel) grip chins on my gymnastic rings, and supinate(palms towards you) grip chins on my straight chinning bar. No pronate pullups whatsoever. All my lat pulldowns are with a more parallel grip using a V-handle/Rope/Ring.

    2. Tri extensions with a V-handle/Rope/Ring to get a more neutral grip. French Press with a Triceps Bar. For a compound movement that hammers grip: close grip bench with my Swiss Bar, that allows a parallel grip.

    3. EZ curls and hammer curls with a Triceps bar.

    Fixing the weak extensors:

    4. High rep finger(20 rep sets) extensions with large rubber bands after the heavy grip machine work. You can buy a pound of rubber bands at a Post Office or office supply. Best couple bucks you'll ever spend.

    5. High rep(20) rep reverse wrist curls on an EZ bar(straight bar kills my wrists, see what I mean by adjusting exercises to suit yourself) to balance all the wrist curls.

    I do go on:), but hope that gives you some ideas.

    If an arthritic old fart like me can prosper from the above adjustments, I'm sure you find some of them very beneficial.

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    • Marc Perry, CSCS, CPT says:

      This is all great stuff, Jay, thanks for sharing. I totally agree with balancing out the flexors and extensors. If they are unbalanced, as you point out, it can lead to problems. I will add this back into the article as I should have addressed it. I just make one hand into a fist, put the other hand over it, and resist trying to open my hand. Basically like the rubber band but no equipment is needed. Seems to help for me.

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  • Jesse says:

    I received fat gripz as a gift this past Christmas and have been using those with weights. Previously, I had used the COCG, but I eschewed my trainer and #1 once I switched to a new strategy. After this article, I plan to fold them back into my regimen.

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    • Marc Perry, CSCS, CPT says:

      Fat grips are great, but for increasing absolute grip strength fast, I've never come across anything that works faster than the grippers. If you can comfortably close the one for a set of 5, or 10, you've got a pretty strong grip.

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  • S.K. says:

    Hi Mark,
    I just came across your website recently and chanced upon your article about starvation mode. I wanted to leave a comment there but it was closed.
    I'm a female, i weigh 68kilos, am 168 cm in height. I take less than 1000 kilos a day.
    In your article, you mentioned that being in the starvation mode causes the metabolism to be low and therefore affecting weightloss. But what if I drink green tea (increases metabolism) throughout the day? Will that help? I do full body workouts for about 20 to 30 minutes on most days, strength training too, and in some days I swim. However i have not seen any results so far.. It's been a couple of months. Thank you in advance!

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    • Marc Perry, CSCS, CPT says:

      Under 1,000 calories sounds too low to me. I think you should check in with your nutritionist / your doctor. Somewhere around 1200 to 1400 may be a better level of calories, especially if you are training almost daily.

      Cancel reply
  • Don says:

    Marc,

    Great article, and you are right...I noticed a significant increase in grip strength after just one week of consistent work with the gripper. Thanks.

    Cancel reply
    • Marc Perry, CSCS, CPT says:

      Awesome, Don. Happy to hear that and thanks for sharing!

      Cancel reply