By Brad Johnson
Author of Bodyweight Exercises for Extraordinary Strength
I like to get the most out of every exercise that I include in a workout. I stay away from isolation movements and prefer exercises that require several muscles to work together for successful performance. There are many reasons that I do this but one of the main ones is that it allows you to get more done in less time. I especially like working my grip while performing variations of two basic bodyweight exercises: the push-up and the pull-up. If you read my first column on the IronMind website, you know that I have used grippers for pull-ups. Since that time, I have come up with many other unconventional uses for grippers. In this article, I will describe a way to utilize grippers while performing push-ups. This exercise will work your crushing grip while performing the push-up. It will also require your upper body muscles to work harder than they do during a regular bodyweight push-up.
I bought a pair of cheap push-up stands that I attach the grippers to. I am sure that you can make your own push-up bars that will work just as well. I simply removed the caps from the bars on the top end of each push-up stand. Insert one gripper handle into each stand so that the end of the push-up bar is flush with the top end of the gripper handle. The gripper handle that is not inserted into the push-up bar should be directly above the bar. If the gripper handles freely rotate in the bars, you will want to wrap some duct tape around them so they fit snugly. You do not want them to twist when you rest your weight on top of them because this will increase the risk of wrist injury.
The selection of appropriate strength grippers is important in order to get the most out of this exercise. You will need to have two grippers of even difficulty—probably Captains of Crush No. 3s or No. 4s. Ideally, the grippers should be beyond your present ability to close with your crushing grip alone. If you can already close the No. 3, select the No. 4.
Get into push-up position with your palms on the top gripper handles. The grippers need to be strong enough that you float on top of the grippers when you assume the top position of the push-up - that is, the top handle of the gripper will not make contact with the push-up bar with your bodyweight alone.
Now, utilize you upper body strength to press the gripper handles down closer to the push-up bars. This movement will activate the upper body muscles to an impressive degree. Although you want the gripper handles to come closer to the push-up bar handles, you still do not want them to touch, even when you are pushing them down as hard as you can. Keeping your thumb around the top gripper handles, wrap your fingers around the push-up bars. Pull the top gripper handles tightly against the push-up stands. Hold the grippers closed throughout with the assistance of the upper-body pushing and the hand crushing strength. Perform the desired number of sets and repetitions. After I finish a set of push-ups, I gradually take my bodyweight off the top gripper handles and use my crushing strength to resist the opening of the grippers.
As an option, you can insert the top gripper handles into bars that are longer than the gripper handles. This will give you a greater range of resistance for each pair of grippers—that is, if the CoC No. 3 grippers are too easy for you, but you cannot close the No. 4 with bodyweight, upper body pushing, and crushing grip strength. If you add the bar extension, you can place your hands farther back on the bars and hold them closed throughout the set in the manner described above. As you gain strength, move your hands a little closer to the top of the bar extensions. If you use the bar extensions, consider using duct tape on the top gripper handles to prevent slippage. If you do not wish to use the bar extensions, just hold the gripper handles as close to the push-up bars as possible throughout the set.
For a copy of Brad Johnson's book Bodyweight Exercises for Extraordinary Strength, please visit our on-line store.
You'll find more bodyweight training articles by Brad Johnson in MILO: A Journal for Serious Strength Athletes.