Grip training is often the missing piece in MMA training. Sure, there is a lot to cover in a training week and covering the best bang for your buck exercises becomes a priority with limited time.
But the grip is far too important to be neglected. A grip can be a weak link when looking to finish takedowns or finish submissions against strong opponents.
Further, a strong, conditioned grip has a protective effect by keeping your hands healthy and away from potential injury.
In MMA, the most common grips are support, monkey, or clamp grips. This is because you can’t grab any clothing so all gripping is performed either through grabbing your opponent or your own hands.
It makes sense then to focus on develop strength in these specific gripping techniques.
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Support gripping is the most common grip technique used in MMA. It refers to the fingers and thumb being in a static position while holding or gripping an object. Wrist control with the thumb around would be considered a support grip or gripping a barbell.
Due to the extra layer of material MMA gloves give on the palm of the hand and around the wrist, grips in MMA are mainly support grips with a wider hand.
The larger the object to grip, the harder it is to grip. Hence the importance of developing bone crushing grip strength.
1. Dead Hangs
One of the easiest supporting grip exercises as it requires little equipment other than something to hang on. It’s important when performing this exercise to have the thumbs around the bar in order to properly train the support grip.
If you hang off something like a large tree branch, you won’t be able to get your thumb around. This exercise emphasizes the monkey grip instead.
The dead hang is best performed for 1-3 sets of 20-60+ seconds. If you are a real masochist or just want to challenge yourself and track your progress, you can do 1 set for as long as possible.
2. Farmers Walk
Strongmen are known for their ridiculous grip strength. And for good reason. Their sport requires them to pick up heavy implements and carry them. Often, these implements are awkward and large adding greater difficulty.
Performing the Farmers Walk is easy, simply pick up your Farmers implements and walk. Farmer’s bars can be rather niche equipment so they aren’t so readily available in most gyms.
However, you can substitute them with a trap bar, dumbbells, kettlebells, or even holding the middle of two barbells. You can even loop towels around dumbbells to increase the intensity of the grip.
These can be performed in a multitude of variations. You can go for time, distance, max weight, or even speed.
Starting out, 2-3 sets of 20-40 m is usually a good stimulus.
3. Rope or Towel Pull-up
Pull-ups are too easy for you? Adding a towel or using a rope turns the pull-up into a hand and forearm burner.
Once you can start performing these with added weight, you know your grip is becoming unbreakable.
Starting with bodyweight is the safest way to start. 2-4 sets of how ever many reps you are comfortable with works well.
If you can’t perform one rep or struggle to perform multiple, you can also hang from the rope or towel to improve your grip strength for this movement.
4. Fat Gripz Power Hold
I love Fat Gripz. They can be used on so many different exercises to challenge the grip in a wider, supporting position. If you’re not sure which Fat Gripz to buy, see my breakdown of the three models.
The power hold is very simple. Set up your rack or pins to a height just below where the bar would sit when you stand up tall while holding it.
Try to keep the bar slightly away from your legs so you don’t use your legs to help support the bar.
These are best performed for 1-3 sets of 30-60 seconds. If you have a solid strength training background, starting with a weight of 60 kgs (135 lbs) is usually a good starting point.
Decrease or increase the weight as you see fit.
5. Hammer Pronation/Supinations
Do you know why laborers have crazy forearm size and grip strength? Because they use heavy tools such as sledgehammers day in and day out.
The Hammer Pronation/Supination can be performed with any implement that has a weighted end such as a baseball bat.
In fact, the end doesn’t even have to consist of an extra load. Just be moving your hand further from the end of the implement increases the lever meaning you have to create more force to turn the implement.
This has an added benefit of trainnig and conditioning the wrists.
Performing 1-3 sets of 10-20 rotations will do the job. You can progress the exercise by moving your hand further away from the end.
6. Double Overhand Deadlifts
If you strength train regularly for MMA, you likely perform some variation of the deadlift. Whether that’s a conventional deadlift, trap bar, or Romanian deadlift, performing the lift with a double overhand grip will challenge your grip much more than using a mixed or hook grip.
Now, that doesn’t mean every lift should be performed with a double overhead grip as you will severely limit the load and subsequent maximum strength adaptations.
However, an easy way to get extra grip work is to perform most of your warm-up sets with a double overhand grip. Once you get to a weight that is starting to get too heavy for double overhand, switch to mixed or hook grip.
Depending on the phase of training you’re in, 2-5 sets of 2-6 repetitions with loads ranging from 70-90% 1RM provide plenty of variety.
7. Fat Gripz Curl
Who doesn’t love a gun show? There aren’t many athletes out there that don’t like training their vanity muscles. Not to mention, strong, big biceps come in handy when sinking all kinds of chokes.
Adding the Fat Gripz adds greater stress through the hands and forearms turning a normal bicep curl into an intensive grip exercise.
You don’t just have to use the barbell curl either, you can use dumbbells or even kettlebells with the Fat Gripz. You can also rotate your hands to perform Hammer Curls or Reverse Curls.
You can perform repetitions as low as 6 and as high as 20+ depending on the goal of your training cycle. 2-4 sets will be plenty to pump some blood through the arms.
8. Thor’s Hammer
This might be Thor’s favourite exercise. No, not Thor Bjornsson the professional strongman. Thor the Marvel superhero.
Yep, he even has an exercise named after him. Probably because he used this exercise to develop that ridiculous grip and forearm strength to throw that hammer of his.
Again, you can use any long implement such as a baseball bat, cricket bat, golf club, you name it. You simply try point the end of the hammer straight ahead, and then use your wrist to bring the hammer up towards your head.
Your arm doesn’t have to be straight. It feels more comfortable when it is slightly bent. Just don’t go too heavy in the beginning and accidentally give yourself a nose job.
1-3 sets of 5-10 repetitions is a great start. Move your hand further away from the end as you progress.
9. Bottoms Up Kettlebell Press
A lesser-known exercise variation with a kettlebell. Seriously, this may look easy, but this is one of the most challenging grip exercises you’ll ever do.
Trying to balance a heavy end in your hand, you can feel every single movement that the bell makes.
If you want to add some extra spice to the mix, you can perform carries with the kettlebell in the top or bottom position.
For the press, you can perform 2-4 sets of 5-10 repetitions. I would advise starting with a 12 kg kettlebell. If that feels comfortable, then move to the 16 kg.
The monkey grip is another common grip in MMA. It’s just not as common as the supporting grip. The monkey grip is like a hug but the hands don’t connect so all of your gripping strength comes from the squeeze from your upper arms, forearms, and hands.
This may occur during scrambles if when shooting for takedowns but not being able to connect the hands.
10. Sandbag Bearhug Carry
The sandbag is the kind of odd, awkward implement lifting. As it’s not a fixed object, the sand moving inside the bag provides an ever-changing stimulus.
The hardest part of the carry is actually getting the sandbag off the ground. Especially if it is large and heavy.
You need to roll the sandbag back and forth over each hand until you can wedge both hands one by one underneath it. You won’t be able to connect your hands.
You have to use your monkey grip to pick up it.
Just like with the Farmers Walk, you can go from time, distance, or by weight depending on how many sandbags you have.
Performing 1-3 sets of 20-40 m is a good place to start. If you want to really challenge yourself, you can perform 1 set of maximum distance with your sandbag.
11. Sandbag Floor to Shoulder
Don’t feel like walking? Then why not pick up the sandbag and heave it to your shoulder over, and over, and over again.
While the bearhug carry requires the ability to statically hold the sandbag in place, the extra heave to the shoulder requires even more strength from the arms to move the sandbag.
This is not an exercise I would perform too often, for too many sets, or too many reps. Higher volumes can beat up the lower back quickly which will negatively affect skills training.
1-3 sets of 2-4 repetitions is more than enough.
The clamp grip is characterized by the fingers pushing into the palm. The most notable use of the clamp grip in MMA would be the Gable grip.
A strong clamp grip will increase the odds of you completing your takedowns as your grip will be harder to break by your opponent’s defense.
12. Plate Clamp Lift
This is an easy, budget version of training the clamp grip. I only had large bumper plates available to demo this lift but it is much better to perform with smaller metal plates.
Simply grip the end of the plate between your fingers and your palms and lift it off the floor.
The plate in this example was very light, only 5 kg (10 lbs) so I lifted it with my arm. Once loads start getting heavier, you’ll have to use your legs and body to pick up the plates.
If you don’t have heavier plates to work with, you can increase the difficulty by adding more plates and making the clamp thicker.
Performing 1-3 sets of 1-4 repetitions is a good place to start.
13. EZ Bar Reverse Curl With Monkey Grip
This is a more unconventional approach to grip training. The EZ bar isn’t usually seen as a grip training apparatus. But with a small modification, it can be used for just that.
Simply grip the EZ bar with the palms facing down and your thumb AROUND the bar. This places greater stress on your fingers to perform the exercise.
You can perform this exercise with the same set and rep scheme as the Fat Gripz Curls earlier in this article. 2-4 sets of 6-20+ repetitions.
14. Sandbag Bearhug Carry with Gable Grip
Yep, the Sandbag Bearhug Carry makes a return. With one small change. Now you can connect the hands in a Gable grip while carrying.
This is one of my favorite carry variations and is perfect for developing grip strength specific to MMA.
Same as the previous sandbag carry, go for distance, time, or weight.
Strengthening the thumb and fingers will only help with the other grip variations. The pinch grip does just that and is characterized by bringing the fingers and thumb together as if you were pretending to be a crab.
15. Plate Pinch
The plate pinch will develop that drumstick looking thumb muscle on your hand. After performing these, you’ll definitely know you have them!
It’s important when performing these, you want to use two plates. Why? Because you want the smooth side of the plate to be on the outside.
Bumper plates can work but they usually have a lip that you can grip on. You want to avoid these to train this exercise to its full intent.
You can perform these with one or two hands. Two hand plate pinch is nice as you can load it quite heavy.
1-3 sets of 20-30 seconds does the job thoroughly. Start with two 10 kg (25 lb) plates together and progress from there.
16. Hex DB Lift
This would be considered an open hand or wide pinch grip. This will challenge your thumb and fingers in a different way compared to the plate pinch.
Simply grip the top of a Hex shaped dumbbell and hold.
You can hold for 1-3 sets of 20-60+ seconds. Start light! This is much harder than it looks.