Updated: May 20
Improve your Grip Strength - Part One
October 3rd, 2020
Amazing fact: We are all born with the ability to grip from the moment we first open our eyes to the world. Gripping is an innate infant reflex that develops as we age to become a deliberate powerful action.
But nothing quite requires a strong hand grip like pole and aerial. The moment we decide that we want to hang out upside down for the rest of our lives, our grip needs to step up it’s game!
And as we spend our whole life with our feet planted on the ground, that day when we decide we want to flip this, our wrists become our weight-bearing joints. And If those wrists are not loaded correctly, serious injury can occur - that may even require surgery! So just like in Happy Gilmore, we need to realise ‘It’s all in the wrists!’
Today’s blog will break down the wrist and forearm related anatomy of our grips, the most common types of grips and some basic strengthening exercises you can add into your routine to improve your grip.
If you suffer from sweatiness make sure you have a read through of our last blog here which covers in detail other non-strengthening ways to improve grip and treatment for hyperhidrosis (excessive sweating).
Wrist/Forearm Anatomy 101
Before we go any further though, it would be helpful to orientate ourselves to wrist and forearm anatomy and movements. Check out the pictures below for a visual representation.
Wrist Extension: A position that commonly leads to discomfort of the wrist or injury, wrist extension involves bringing the back of the fingers up to the elbow. We often require full wrist extension range of motion to perform handstand or similar floor-based movements. When overloaded or loaded incorrectly, this position can lead to ligamentous or muscular injury.
Wrist Flexion: Unlike its antagonist movement of extension, we don’t require as much range of wrist flexion in pole. This movement is commonly coupled with ulnar deviation of the wrist and used in a flamenco silk grip or for powerful spin movements like swing spin.
Ulnar deviation: This is the movement of sliding the outside of our 5th finger towards our forearm. This movement and position is very common in pole and can commonly cause a number of issues if not loaded correctly. A common source of outside wrist pain is in twisted grip shoulder mounts or split grips. Avoiding excessive ulnar deviation in these positions will reduce the amount of load the wrist experiences in these tricks.
Radial deviation: A far less common movement in pole, this is the opposite movement to ulnar deviation and is used in positions like dangerous bridge, symphony and cup grip shoulder mounts.
Pronation: The rotation movements of the forearm are some of the most important in aerial. Pronation involves the forearm being rotated so the palm is facing away from the body. When hanging down from a hoop or pole in a straight grip our forearm is in pronation which allows the shoulder to be stabilised in external rotation. But the nifty thing is the wrist can be rotated in the opposite direction (away from the poler). This movement is powered by the pronator teres and pronator quadratus.
Supination: Supination is the opposite to pronation and involves the forearm/palm being rotated towards the body. This movement is controlled by the supinator and biceps muscles.
Muscles Required in a Grip: Gripping a pole, hoop or silk is considered a basic of aerial, but it actually requires a lot of different muscle and joint actions. Of importance are the long and short finger flexors which help to grip a pole and the intrinsic muscles of the hand (the interossei and lumbricals) which provide stability to our grip. Also, the thumb has it’s own set of muscles too that allow for a wrapping motion around the apparatus. The wrist/finger extensor muscles help to provide synergistic stabilisation and absorption of load in aerial.
Now you’re all caught up on the anatomy side of things, let’s tackle the pole grips!
So there are so many different grips we can use on the pole, and I can’t cover them all in exhaustive detail, so we will cover the three main types of grips in this blog: straight, cup and twisted.
Straight Grip/True Grip: Known as the power or crush grip off the pole, this is the most common grip used to grasp an object or hold onto a pole. It’s the position that generates the most power from a grip so naturally is the position we first learn how to grip onto a pole.
Cup Grip: Known as support grip off the pole, this grip is commonly seen in movements such as an overhead hang. In pole, this position is used for floorwork and tricks like shoulder mounts. On the pole this position requires an active supination of the forearm.
Twisted Grip: Sometimes seen as the bane of people’s existence, this grip places the arm into an internally rotated position, the forearm into pronation and the wrist into ulnar deviation. A position like this can feel awkward or uncomfortable if you’re lacking strength or range of motion in the shoulder and wrist. This position is required for movements such as ballerina (music box dancer if you’re from my studio).
Did you know….???
A study was in done in 2017 with a group of 52 pole dancers who undertook a grip strengthening program. End results of the program showed not only a significant improvement in hand strength, but also improved postural stability (proprioception) (1); all of which would help improve grip strength and postural stability on the pole!
So with all of this information at hand it’s time to put in the hard yards and strengthen!
Let’s start with some basic strengthening exercises today to get our grip foundations strong:
1. Wrist extension – a staple move of the wrist, this exercise will work those wrist extensors which are so vital to provide pole stability
2. Book walks – an interesting and dynamic wrist movement, this exercise aims to strengthen the radial and ulnar deviation of the wrist all whilst utilising our pinch grip
3. Drop and catch – an explosive exercise to strengthen both the wrist extensors and flexors in one quick movement
4. Wrist twists – a useful pole-specific exercise that will work specific pole grips. Using a pole extension (ideally 250mm or longer) firmly grasp the pole & twist in opposite directions
5. Wrist rollups – a great exercise that challenges the proprioceptive components of the wrist and strengthens the wrist to a pole-specific grip. Using a pole extension, rope & weight, twist through the wrist to lower & lift the weight.
6. Broomstick rotations – this challenging exercise improvements our forearm pronation and supination strength. As you get stronger, move away from the brush end and keep the movement slow
7. Reverse bicep curl with wrist extension – in pronation we are working to strengthen our wrist extensors without the assistance of a surface to lean on in exercise 1.
8. Plate grip holds – a great exercise to strengthen the finger flexors of the forearm and hand. Try alternating the pinch with different fingers
9. Stress ball/bottle or hand grippers – a classic hand strengthening exercise which can be done with a few different types of apparatus to strengthen the finger flexors
So there you have it! 9 brilliant exercises to strengthen your grip away from the pole studio or gym. Now make sure you hang tight (see what I did there!) for next week’s blog drop which will cover some more advanced grip strengthening exercises for higher level polers.
Wrist injured or wanting tailored guidance and rehabilitation for your grip strength?
Online telehealth appointments can be booked with the Pole Physio via our ‘Book Online’ page that can be found here. Assessment and tailored rehabilitation are provided in accordance with best practice and evidence-based treatment to help you unleash your 'poletential'.
Until next time, train safe.
The Pole Physio
Disclaimer: This information is not tailored to you as an individual and do not constitute as medical advice. If you have medical or injury concerns, then please individually consult with a medical professional.
Nawrocka A, Mynarski A, Powerska A, Rozpara M, Garbaciak W. Effects of exercise training experience on hand grip strength, body composition and postural stability in fitness pole dancers. J Sports Med Phys Fitness. 2017 Sep; 57(9):1098-1103.