Body levers can play a pretty big role in what we are naturally good at. People with long arms, for example, are likely to be especially good at throwing, rowing, martial arts, and racquet sports. Taller people will generally have a height advantage in basketball and volleyball. Tall, heavy people can typically lift heavy weights, exhibit impressive grip strength, and be successful in strongman and Scottish athletics.
And then there are people like me. I’m short, I’m lightweight, and I don’t have particularly long limbs. But damn it, I want the winnings. I love strongman and other feats of strength that definitely favor people who are a lot less T-Rex after going through the dryer than me.
So what can a little human do?
Here’s the good news: if you’re short, it’ll usually be easier to lift things. If an object has to travel a shorter distance, it requires much less work. If you are low to the ground, the deadlift will be much easier.
Shorter arms mean a super efficient press – hello, big bench and overhead press! Short legs generally mean an easier squat. What if you have short arms and a lighter body? You’ll probably be better at pull-ups than the average bear. Since many of the standard lifts are more efficient for us little ones, it can become much easier for us to get really strong, pound for pound.
But here’s where we might be losing: grip strength. If you can’t hold on to the bar, the lift doesn’t happen. For any athlete, grip strength tends to be the limiting factor in many movements. When your hands are smaller, they don’t wrap around the bar as well as a lifter with longer fingers, so your chances of losing your grip on your lift will generally be higher.
THE CORRECTION TO GET A STRONGER GRIP
I’m a big proponent of training the weakest link, and for Team Tiny Hands in particular, grip is likely to be a detrimental drawback for most of us. However, all hope of heavy lifting is not lost. The following proven methods of building an iron grip will help you back up those big lifts you’re ready for.
- Thick bar training
The thicker the bar, the harder it is to hold on to, and learning how to handle a thick bar can result in a much stronger grip on a standard bar. Training with a thick barbell can improve grip strength and there are many ways to increase the girth of a barbell. If you’re looking for another bar to add to your collection, an axle bar might be just what you need. – the diameter is typically 50mm, almost double that of a 25mm to 28mm diameter of any standard Olympic bar.
If you want to keep it simple, you can invest in a pair of Fat Gripz, which simply snap onto a regular bar and add different grip widths. Even easier, wrap a washcloth or towel around the areas you plan to grab. The more the fabric wraps around the bar, the thicker the grip area.
Since training with a thick barbell is a much less efficient way to hold onto a barbell, you simply won’t be able to pull as much weight as you would with a standard barbell. Therefore, it is important to include thick bar training as supplement to, and does not replace heavy training with dumbbells. Actually, a study has shown that in those who trained with Fat Gripz, the forearm and deltoid muscles worked overtime in deadlifts, pull-ups and bent-over rows. However, muscle activity in the upper arm decreased significantly compared to performing these movements without the thick bar. Get the best of both worlds – don’t overlook the heavy stuff!
- Deadlift with an overhand grip
Retain the mixed grip only when you can no longer grip the bar with an overhand grip. It’s a great way to strengthen your hands on big weights and improve your ability to hold onto the bar.
- Try heavy holds for the weather
Holding the bar at the top of a deadlift for about eight to 10 seconds can help build endurance and grip strength, and can also teach your body to lock in that weight for longer periods of time. Exercises such as farmer lifts and heavy shrugs can also condition your grip.
- The plate lacks time
Try to grab two weight plates, ideally with smooth back surfaces. Hold the plates together, smooth side out, between your fingers and thumbs. You can do this one-handed or two-handed, and you can also perform charged carries this way. It’s a fantastic way to improve your grip strength and your thumb’s ability to help stabilize a weight.
- wrist training
If you’re generally a smaller person, chances are your wrists are also small. Improved wrist strength and stability leads to stronger forearms and more stable, powerful pressing and lifting. Wrist curls, both front and back, and wrist rolls are extremely useful tools for building wrist strength. That said, we often forget that the wrist moves in more directions than just up and down. Yo-yo type rollers are a great tool for training lateral wrist movements, while leverage and hammer spins are a great way to build wrist strength at odd angles and leverage.
The best way to get better at lifting heavy weights is to, well, lift heavy weights. But improving grip strength can really give us short people – and everyone else, really – the ability to confidently handle more weight, build up some serious forearm muscle and pursue those gains more effectively than ever.
Melody Schoenfeld, CSCS, is an award-winning trainer, international speaker and coach. Schoenfeld is also co-author (with Lee Boyce) of the recent Strength Training for All Body Types: The Science of Lifting and Levers.
You can find her on social media: @5ftoffury1