We often think that grip is something you either have or haven’t got, depending on the slipperiness of the situation, but in actual fact, grip comes down to muscle strength and like all muscles, we can condition and strengthen our ability through targeted exercises and repeat performance.
When we cycle, particularly if you are fond of mountain biking, grip becomes incredibly important, not just for performance and the ability to stay upright in difficult situations but also for even moderate endurance and comfort. Endurance and strength of really tight gripping ability is a key indicator of your body’s readiness to ride.
You don’t want your forearms fading on halfway to your destination or two thirds of the way through an event, you need those muscles to be as strong and dependable as your legs.
So what exactly are we using grip muscles for when we cycle?
Crush grip is the pressure we put on the breaks and handlebars when we squeeze our hands closed. They are muscles we switch on and off constantly during a ride.
Support grip is used to hold onto something for a long time, so the handlebars any time you are not engaging your crush grip (or stretching).
When you need to exercise your grip
If you notice that your hands and forearms become fatigued while you are cycling.
Here are some forearm exercises you can add to your weekly routine. Completing these once or twice a week is all you need to see results. You may want to add them to your gym visits as you will need the help of a kettlebell and a pull-up bar to get those muscles toned.
Please note that kettle bells can be very small (4-kilo). If you are new to weight exercises have a range to choose from to help get a good match for your current fitness level and always start slow. You can use dumbbells if you don’t have access to kettlebells, although kettlebells have better handles for gripping, making them ideal for grip strength training.
The farmer's walk isn’t just for forearm strength, it’s a great exercise that works your whole body including your whole arm, shoulders, upper back, glutes, hamstrings, quadriceps and calf muscles
This is also an exercise that can really grow with you. It involves walking with weights held at your sides. As you get better you can add more weight and increase your speed so your transition from a walk to moving as fast as possible.
To do this exercise stand tall with your feet hip-width apart, holding a kettlebell in each hand (or a dumbbell if you want to start out slow). Keep your back straight and shoulders tight while you take short, quick steps over a set distance and turn to come back to the start. 30 steps works well if you have the space for it. Repeat the return journey three times.
If you want to make this harder (or you have limited equipment) you can also do the one-sided farmer’s walk which will give your core a bigger workout. You will need to bend the arm that doesn’t have a weigh to give you an even posture. Keeping a steady walk for 30 steps, change hands, turn around and go back again.
Bottom’s Up Kettlebell Hold
This is a simple but effective method of forearm strength training and grip strength, but it will take some practice to get the balance right. Stand with your feet hip-width apart, with a slight bend in knees. Have a single kettlebell within easy reach between your legs. Grasp the kettlebell by handle and lift it to your shoulder allowing it to swing upside down as you lift. Keep your elbow as well as the kettlebell handle close to your body and your writs straight. The bottom of the weight will be at the top. If you notice a wobble in your wrist, move down to a lighter weight.
Hold for 20 seconds, switch to the other hand and repeat. Do three sets.
Want to make it harder? Extend your arms out from your body and bend your elbow so it is at a 90-degree angle. It’s the same move but you are now holding the weight further out, demanding more core control.
Squeeze A Ball
A tennis ball works really well for this exercise but you can use a stress ball or high bounce ball as well. Hold the ball in your hand and squeeze it as hard as you possibly can for 30 seconds. Switch over to the other hand and repeat. Repeat three times on each hand.
If you don’t have the upper body strength to do pull ups this is a great practice to help get you there and improve your grip while you are at it. As well as your grip strength this exercise will stretch out your spine. Make sure you are using a secure bar and slowly increase the duration to avoid injury.
Grab the bar with your palms facing away from you. Hang completely still (no rocking or dropping) for 30 seconds or as long as you ate able. Rest for 30 seconds before repeating for three sets in total.
Want to make it harder? Alternate from left to right by loosening the grip in one hand and allowing the other to take all the weight for five to ten seconds then swapping over. Keep swapping until both hands have taken the full weight three times. You can drop from the bar and take a 20 second rest between sets if needed. It is easier if you leave both hands on the bar at all times.