By Brad Johnson
Author of Bodyweight Exercises for Extraordinary Strength
I had the idea of gripper pull-ups after reading about strap holds in The Grip Master's Manual. John Brookfield taught us to use strap holds to help transition from one gripper to the next. My first thought when I saw this was, "What a great idea!" My next thought was, "I wonder if it is possible to do strap hold pull-ups with grippers?"
I like exercises which work my grip in addition to my upper body and/or abdominals. I fastened a couple of old leather straps to a bar and tried it. The only Captains of Crush grippers that I had at the time were the Trainer, the No. 1, and the No. 2. I grabbed the Trainer in one hand and the No. 1 in the other, squeezed them as tightly as I could on the straps and attempted to pull myself up. The gripper handles kept slipping off the straps and I could not do the pull-up. I considered buying a couple of easier grippers from a local sporting goods store but knew that they would not be tough enough to withstand this type of treatment. When I received the 2005 catalog, I was very pleased to find that IronMind was selling easier grippers. I immediately bought two CoC Guides. Even though the Guides only require approximately 60 pounds of pressure to close, I knew that they would be heavy duty. When I received them, I found that they were, indeed, up to the task, and I did my first gripper pull-up.
Hitch a pair of Close the Gap Straps over a bar. You could also figure out a way to attach leather straps to a bar. I prefer the Close the Gap Straps because they are very easy to attach and remove from my pull-up bar. Place the straps about shoulder width apart. Hold a pair of inverted grippers (the two handles facing up and the coil facing down) in each hand. Carefully position the gripper handles on the strap. I like to get a deep bite on the strap so that the top of the gripper handles are even with the bottom of the straps. Make sure that the handles of both grippers are in line with the straps. You will need to squeeze the gripper handles tightly onto the straps or they will slip off and you will be unable to pull yourself up.
There are many ways to vary the difficulty of gripper pull-ups. First, you can use easier or harder grippers. You can vary the strap thickness (it is harder to pull yourself up with thinner straps). Finally, you can increase or decrease the percentage of your body weight that you are pulling. There are several reasons why you may not be able to pull your entire body weight even if you are using the easiest grippers. You may just need more work with the grippers to develop the necessary crushing strength. You may not currently be able to do a pull-up with your full body weight.
Gripper pull-ups, as with any other body weight exercise, will be easier for lighter athletes. At 5'-8" and 145 pounds, body weight exercises tend to be pretty easy for me. A person who is quite a bit heavier may not be able to pull themselves up even when they are much stronger than I. This does not mean that you cannot benefit from this exercise, though. Simply stand on a bathroom scale and record the amount of weight that is registered on the scale as you do this exercise. Gradually work to the point that there is no weight left on the scale.
If gripper pull-ups are too easy for you, you can use stronger grippers or thinner straps. Another method is to add weight to your body and continue using the easier grippers. This is my favorite method because I like exercises that are equally challenging to my grip and to the other muscles involved in the exercise. I currently do pull-ups with two CoC Guides and additional weight attached to my body. I plan to continue adding weight to my body while using the CoC Guides until I get to the point where I can easily hang from the straps but cannot perform the pull-up. I will then transition to two CoC Sports and gradually add weight to my body.
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You'll find more bodyweight training articles by Brad Johnson in MILO: A Journal for Serious Strength Athletes.