The beautiful gladiator sport that is football features incredible feats of athleticism on every single play. From stocky running backs who run faster than a speeding bullet, to hulking defensive linemen who are more powerful than a locomotive, to sculpted wide receivers with the ability to leap tall buildings in a single bound, football has no shortage of superhumans. These players are strong from head to toe, spending countless hours preparing their bodies for the battles that occur on the gridiron.
During this preparation period, it is easy to focus on strengthening the bigger muscles. Everyone wants stronger biceps, or a bigger chest, or thicker quads. These are easy and popular muscle groups to work out, making it difficult to separate yourself from your peers in this area. However, the truly successful football players are the ones who look past what everyone else is doing, and instead build an edge by working on things that are often overlooked. The smaller muscles in the body get neglected by far too many players, even though they are incredibly important to a successful football career. The hands are a perfect example.
Hand strength is an underappreciated but vital tool for football players. Regardless of what position you play, you will be using your hands very often. While strong biceps, triceps and shoulders help with the tasks the hands are given during a game, the ability to grip things better than the opponent can be the difference between an average player and a great player. And yet, many players forget to dedicate some time to their hands, mostly because it is not as flashy of a workout as the bench press, deadlift, etc.
Spoiler alert: Every player you are lining up against also benches and deadlifts. Do you want to be able to manhandle them with your soul-crushing strong paws? Then don’t overlook them! Here are some exercises to help you build up a Herculean grip.
Imagine being able to train for something with a piece of equipment you could fit in your pocket. Imagine you could improve as an athlete from wherever you are. If you are looking for a way to build up your hand strength on the go, look no further than the grip trainer.
The grip trainer is a popular training device that is portable and effective. It works by simply squeezing the handles, or some kind of apparatus that a hand can wrap around, over and over again for sets throughout the day. The handles are resisted, making it harder to move them as they get closer together. Additionally, many grip trainers come featuring a knob that can increase or decrease the intensity of the resistance. Mix in a set of low-resistance, high-repetition squeezes, then follow it up with a few high-intensity, low-repetition squeezes for maximum grip strengthening.
The best part about a grip trainer is its versatility, and any football player serious about his grip strength should look to invest in one. Take it with you to school, to work, in the car, anywhere. The grip trainer makes it possible to gain an edge on your competitors from wherever you are.
Believe it or not, one of the keys to a crushing grip is in a specific kind of food. Even more surprising is that you are not supposed to eat the food in order to strengthen your hands. I’m talking about rice.
All you need to complete this workout is a five-gallon bucket and some uncooked rice. Buy a few cartons of it, or enough to fill about half of the bucket. Do not be fooled by this equipment’s humble ingredients; strengthening your grip in a rice bucket is one intense workout.
The rice bucket hand strengthening workout involves a simple task. All you have to do is move your hand around in a repetitive motion, as it is completely submerged in the rice. You should dig in up until a little past your wrist, or about one-third of the way up your forearm. Once your hand is inside the rice bucket, you can perform a variety of movements that help with your grip strength.
Some of the classic rice bucket movements include the simple squeezes, finger flutters, crab claws and hide and seek. The squeezing exercise involves simply grabbing a chunk of rice inside the bucket and gripping it tightly until you feel a “pop.” This is the rice shifting in your hand. Complete this process for 10 to 15 reps, then switch to the other hand and pound out 10 to 15 more. Finger flutters are done by alternating moving each of your fingers for a period of time. This strengthens each finger individually, as they are each resisting the surrounding rice with each movement. Crab claws happen when the athlete clamps their hands like a crab while they are inside the bucket. The thumb should meet the middle finger, with the four non-thumbs functioning as one, simulating a crab claw. This exercise is performed for reps, similar to the squeezing exercise. Hide and seek is a rice bucket movement that requires some kind of small prop. Take a small object like a marble or penny and have someone else bury it into the bucket. It is your job to dig in there and look for it. You will be using every one of your hand muscles to scour through the rice in search of the treasure, adding a fun element to this workout regimen.
We all know how one is to hold a suitcase, right? It is held at your side with one hand, something that requires at least a small amount of grip strength in order to maintain this hold. Now, imagine this suitcase is filled with weights, forcing you to hold up upwards of 50 pounds. Doesn’t sound too fun, does it?
Suitcase exercises employ the simple concept of holding something at your side for as long as you can. The next time you are in the gym, take some time to grab either a plate or a barbell. Make sure you have the ability to hold it steady, without compromising your posture in the process. You will often see people trying to hold a weight they have no business holding by leaning to one side, which puts their back and shoulder at risk of injury. Once you have a comfortable but significant weight in your grasp, stand up straight and hold it steady. Depending on the intensity, you should aim to hold the plate or barbell for 20 to 60 seconds straight. Repeat this process with the other hand. Do three or four sets of this simple exercise and your hands will surely be sore the following day.
If there’s one thing about hand strengthening exercises, it’s that they are incredibly simple. The farmer’s carry is very similar to suitcases. It involves holding weight at your sides, which in this case should be done using a trap bar, dumbbells or plates. This is where the similarities end, however.
Unlike suitcases, the farmer’s carry is done with weight being held in both hands. Find a reasonable weight to carry, either in dumbbells, plates or on the trap bar. Once you are holding it in both hands, walk roughly 10 to 20 yards and then retreat to where you started. You should walk at a normal, steady pace, avoiding any sort of rush as the weight really begins to get heavy. Everything should be controlled, with your posture also not wavering in order to compensate for your lack of grip strength.
Repeat this exercise for three or four sets. You can increase the weight in your hands and decrease the walking distance or increase the distance and decrease the weight. Coupled with suitcases, the farmer’s carry is a great way to develop a dominant grip on the gridiron.
Keeping with the theme of simplicity for strengthening the grip, the two-arm hang is about as basic as it gets. You grab on to a pull-up bar over your head, and then you hang there. Plain and simple, easy as that.
It may be basic, but it is far from easy. Try to push yourself to hang as long as you possibly can. This is a good exercise in which to push yourself until failure. In farmer’s carries and suitcases, it is difficult to extend yourself this far because the weight will land near your feet after you drop it. In the two-arm hang though, you simply descend a few feet onto the floor when you can’t hold it anymore.
See if you can push yourself to hang for over a minute. Afterward, give yourself about a minute of rest and then rise up for another hang-till-failure exercise. You should also knock this exercise out three to four times, eventually minimizing the rest period as your hands get stronger. Your grip will get firmer and firmer with each set, supporting the weight of your body as you hang on for what will feel like an eternity. It is very much worth it on the football field.
What Strong Hands Can Do
Unless you are a punter or kicker, there is an enormous benefit to having strong hands, regardless of your position. If you are an offensive or defensive lineman, you are charged with driving into and moving another 300-pound human, who is trying to do the same to you. Strong hands help you grasp and manipulate the body in front of you, helping you dominate the battle in the trenches.
If you make your living as a running back, then grip strength helps you keep possession of the ball. Each and every time you get the ball, the play involves other players trying to rip it out of your grasp for a fumble. A sturdy grip ensures that that precious football stays safely tucked away in your arms, and not bouncing around on the turf. If you are a pass catcher, you are routinely called upon to secure passes thrown anywhere in your vicinity. A strong grip, and definitely some state-of-the-art football gloves, can help you haul in any and all balls thrown your way. If you are the quarterback doing the throwing, then the strength in your hands will help you firmly release and manipulate the ball, thus increasing velocity and accuracy to any part of the field.
For those of you on the defensive side of the ball, whose main focus is to tackle and disrupt, don’t think you can escape the pitfalls of having weak hands. Defensive players do quite a bit of jostling for position as they are running alongside the man they are covering. A strong pair of hands helps you get yourself into a good position as the ball is being thrown as you battle the opponent with a series of small grabs, rips and shoves. Furthermore, effective tackling, which is obviously the main goal of a defensive player, is nearly impossible without strong hands. A firm grip keeps the ball carrier from eluding them once contact has been made. All of the great defensive players, from Ray Lewis to Ronnie Lott to Rod Woodson, had an important common trait. Once you were in their grasp, you weren’t going anywhere. They have strong hands to thank for that, and it is something you should shoot for as well.
Do not get suckered into only focusing on the flashy exercises when preparing for your football season. Squatting is great, but is it going to help you prevent a fumble? Sprinting is tremendous, too, but will it really help you chuck the ball 60+ yards down the field? Grip training is not quite as fun as these other football workouts, but it might be just as important in determining your success. Do you want to be just another average player with a stellar bench press, but ordinary numbers on the field? If not, then make sure to dedicate some time to strengthening your hands with these key exercises.