When it comes to Brazilian Jiu Jitsu, it’s said that your hips and your grips are the foundation of your Jiu Jitsu. If you don’t have great hip mobility and grip strength, your opponent controls the outcome of the match. People often tend to focus on learning all the techniques, sweeps, and submissions in BJJ. But one thing that most neglect is how to improve grip strength for BJJ. In this guide, we take a look at one of the important foundations in BJJ. We take a look at the importance of having a solid grip and how to improve grip strength for BJJ.
The Importance of Building Solid Grip Strength for BJJ
So why is it important? Is it all that important to have a strong grip for BJJ?
In any grappling related martial art, grips are extremely important for your progression. The one that controls the better grips controls the match. The same holds especially true in BJJ – especially if you are wearing a Gi!
If you’ve done any training in the Gi, you’ll easily see why having a strong grip is crucial for BJJ. After your first few sessions, your fingers and forearms will feel super tight. Even more so if you decide to compete in a BJJ Tournament – your forearms will feel on fire after a match! If this does happen, it’s a clear sign that you need to work on improving your grip strength for BJJ.
Jiu Jitsu is all about being able to control your opponent’s movement. You can do so by establishing a good grip, on their collar, their sleeve, their pant leg, or whatever you can grab hold off. Basically, once you establish your grips, it can isolate a limb and really slow down your opponent’s movement!
It’s not all about having good technique, you need to have a solid grip as well. If you have a weak grip, your opponent can easily wiggle out of that easily! Basically, to sum it up, if you have a stronger grip, you have a much stronger control of your opponent.
Anatomy of Your Grip Strength and Types of Grips
When looking to improve your grip strength for BJJ, one thing you should consider is the various types of grips there are available to you.
One common misconception people have is that your grips are mostly hand strength. But the truth is that the anatomy of your grip strength relies on several muscle groups.
There are over 30 muscles that contribute to your overall grip strength. It isn’t just you hand muscles. It’s the tendons on your fingers, it’s the flexors on your wrists, it’s your biceps and triceps, and everything in between!
So if you want to have that solid grip, you need to work all contributing muscle fibers. Luckily you can do so by strengthening each type of grip.
The types of grips you can do can be categorized into 4 major types of exercises: Pulling, Pinching, Crushing, and Holding.
Probably the more common types of gripping exercise is through a pulling motion. There are multiple ways you can strengthen your pulling muscles. You can do so by doing a pullup, a row, climbing a rope, etc. You can argue that those exercises workout larger muscle groups like your lats, core, or your delts, but it actually activates your gripping muscle fibers as well. Having a good grip with your pulls are super important for BJJ. It’s what you use to pull your opponent down to break their posture or to get them off balance for the sweep!
A Pinching grip involves a great deal of thumb strength. Pinch training is super important to overall grip strength. It requires you to use the forceps of the thumb and your fingers. This is easily one of the most neglected exercises – even those who think they have strong grips! Some exercises you can do to strengthen your pinchers is by pinching thin pieces of steel together. You could use two weighted plates from the gym and pinch them together.
The crushing grip is the type of gripping exercise in which you use the muscles clench to make a fist. This is typically the gripping muscles you would use to crush a beer can. These grips are particularly very important as this is typically the grip you would use to grab hold of your opponent’s cross collar. One of the most famous methods to increase crushing grip strength for BJJ is to use hand gripper tool or a stress ball.
A holding grip is a type of gripping exercise in which you will be able to hold onto something for an extended period of time. One example would be to grab hold of a pull up bar and holding yourself up without letting go. You can also grab onto a straight barbell right in front of you like you would for a deadlift or simply holding onto a pair of dumbbells off to your side. Being able to grab hold for extended periods is super crucial in BJJ. When you are in a match, you will be fighting for grips and trying to break grips, having superior holding muscles can be the determining factor for grip control.
7 Exercises to Improve Grip Strength for BJJ
There are several ways you can improve your grip strength. Something to keep in mind when it comes to improving grip strength for BJJ is to concentrate on exercises that can be utilized in the mats. The goal of improving your grips is so that you can utilize them in a match. You might consider improving your grips with BJJ in mind. Here are a few exercises you can incorporate to improve your grip strength for BJJ.
Deadlifts by far are one of the most beneficial exercises for you. It works the majority of your muscle groups, and is simply the best for overall strength improvement. When it comes to deadlifts though, one of the muscle groups to give out first is your grips. That’s why you see all of those power lifters use lifting straps. But since these take grips out the equation, its not recommended to use these especially if you are trying to build grip strength for BJJ! Deadlifts are great overall for BJJ – it improves core strength, explosiveness, and gets you that iron grip!
Chin-Ups or Gi Pull Ups
Chin-ups are one of the best things you can do to improve grip strength. Sure, you can do pull ups also, but since in BJJ you don’t typically pull down with an over grip, you should focus more on your efforts to do chin-ups.
Thing about chin-ups though, not everyone can do them. So depending on your fitness level, you can simply adjust to what works for what you are capable of doing. Here are some alternatives:
Dead Man Hangs – an intro to chin-ups, simply grab hold of a pull up bar and try to hold on to the bar for as long as you can.
Isometric Pull Up Hold – from a pull up position, jump and hold yourself at the top of the pull up position and hold for as long as you can. Once your grip gives out, lower yourself down slowly.
Chin Ups – With control, pull yourself up the pull up bar with an underhand grip, repeat as many times as you can with good form
Gi Pullups – This ones the hard version. Put a Gi up on the pull up bar and grab hold of the collar, lapel, or sleeve and pull yourself up. This mimics exactly what you usually grab in a match. If you can do multiple pullups while grabbing on Gi fabric, your grips will be much harder to break in a match!
Farmer’s Walk is great for working your holding grip muscles. This requires you to hold onto a pair of heavy dumbbells on each side of your body. The goal is to hold on for as long as possible, while walking up and down for a distance. This builds up muscle endurance in the forearms and your overall grip, as well as your overall posture, hips, core, and legs.
Rock Climbers are known to have amazingly strong grips. It’s simply a byproduct of the sport their in. All the climbing and holding awkward positions, all the while maintaining their grips onto odd shape rocks sometimes. Climbing in general, builds up amazing strength in your gripping muscle fibers. You can either do this by going indoor/outdoor climbing. As an alternative, you can keep it old school - simply climb up and down a rope. The thicker the rope, the harder it is! This one's an oldie but a goodie!
The most common gripping exercise you are probably familiar with is using those old school grippers. These gripper tools provide a good amount of resistance for your hands. The basic goal is to make both handles touch by squeezing them together with your hands. There are grippers out there with a ton of resistance these days. They can range all the way to 300 lbs! Challenge yourself and see how much you can do!
Weighted Plate Pinchers
To work your pincher muscles, grab two weight plates and sandwich them together. Hold both plates on one hand and hold for time. Don’t let the plates slide down or separate. You'll feel the burn on those forearms in no time!
Another excellent tool to have in your tool belt when trying to improve your grip strength for BJJ is weighted rows. You can do this with some free weights by doing an upright row with a barbell. This works your core, your biceps, your back, traps, and improves gripping strength. You can also do the seated row variation if you choose to use a machine. These are also great for grip training as an alternative. Having excellent rows are great – they help pull your opponent’s down when you are playing guard!
It’s clear how important having strong grip strength is for BJJ. It helps tremendously when taking control of your opponent’s movement. Sometimes we get too focused on trying to do all the fancy techniques, the Berimbolos or Flying Triangle Chokes, that we forget the fundamentals of the game.
We sometimes neglect one of the most important fundamental out there – your grips! Remember, the one that controls the grips, controls the outcome of the match.
When it comes to a combat sport like Jiu Jitsu, having the superior grip can be the determining factor in winning or losing the fight!