HAND & UPPER LIMB GRIPS
Do you struggle with certain pole grips and wonder why they are harder than others? Do you worry that you may not have enough grip strength or mobility in the wrist or shoulder to perform a certain move?
Part one of this blog is designed to help you better understand the complexities of pole hand grips. I have outlined all mobility and strength requirements of the hand grips from beginner to advanced with the goal of helping you better prepare and strengthen for your pole practice and hopefully prevent injuries.
I hope you find this a valuable resource. Stay tuned for part two that will involve all other body part grips and holds (eg. armpit, leg hold and foot).
What does it take to get a grip?
The human hand is a marvellous engineering feat! Its design allows for such diversity in movement. With its intricate web of muscles and ligaments, it has the strength and power to wield a hammer, but also the finesse and dexterity to play keystrokes on a piano.
While some muscles, known as lumbricals and interossei, reside in the hand to allow for more dexterity, the majority of the hand and wrist’s 27 bones are acted upon by muscles in the forearms through a system of pulleys on long tendons to leverage greater strength output.
The thumb is what sets us apart from other mammals. With its capability of opposition (ability to reach across the palm to touch the other fingers) it allows us the skill of grip.
There are two types of grip: the precision grip and the power grip.
The precision grip involves squeezing a small object between the pads of the thumb and index finger. This pinch grip is what we use for tasks requiring more dexterity such as holding a pen or threading a needle.
The power grip allows for the most amount of force production (1). It involves an object being
held in the palm with the fingers wrapped around the object and the thumb in opposition.
Variations of the power grip include the hammer (cyclindrical) grip, lumbrical grip, spherical grip and hook grip. Hammer grip is the most common grip we use for pole. Keep this in mind as we go through each individual pole hand grip.
Pole Upper Limb Grip Guide
Below I’ve created a list of all the pole hand grips with a brief description of the move, followed by a sublist of the specific mobility requirements per joint. I’ve also included a few examples of pole moves that require each grip. I’ve (loosely) listed all the grips from beginner to advanced and tactically colour coded them in this order as well. I say loosely ordered them because the difficulty of the grip may vary depending on the move you’re performing.
Use the images below as a reference for the terminology used to describe the mobility requirements and normal range of motion (ROM) for each joint.
Beginner → Intermediate → Advanced
True/Crush/Baseball/Straight Grip: This is the first grip you’ll learn on day one of your pole journey! It may be the simplest of pole grips, but it's by far the most important as it allows us to get into a variety of tricks. This is a classic power grip with the pole in the palm of the hand, the fingers wrapped around one side and the thumb wrapped around the other side. More specifically, this is a hammer grip as the wrist is also in ulnar deviation.
Spins (top arm)
Dip or outside step
Front and back hook
Pole climb (top arm)
Finger flexion and thumb opposition
Approx. 20-30 degrees of ulnar deviation
Approx. 80-90 degrees forearm pronation
Approx. 180 degrees elbow extension
Approx 130-150 degrees shoulder abduction*
*Meathook = shoulder in horizontal adduction
Anchor/Forearm/Brace: You’ve learned the basic grip and tried a few spins, now you’re ready to climb the pole. The anchor grip, also known as the forearm or brace grip, is crucial for climbing because it allows us to push our bodies away from the pole without falling into it. While the hand is in a crush grip, the ulnar border of the forearm is braced against the pole.
Hand in true/crush grip as above
Approx. 90 degrees elbow flexion
Approx 80-90 degrees shoulder flexion
Stronghold: Ready to go upside down? This is the grip we need for inverts. Using the crush grip again for hand placement, but this time the forearm is supinated so your thumb is facing you instead of away. With the elbow flexed, the pole sits snugly into the bicep for a nice secure contact spot.
80-90 degrees forearm supination
90 degrees elbow flexion
80-90 degrees shoulder flexion
Half Bracket/Split Grip: The half (and full) bracket harness the power of the “push and pull” technique. With the overhead arm in a straight grip, the bottom arm is pushing you away.
Moves: (bottom arm)
Top Arm = crush grip
Hand in Power grip
Neutral wrist - not too much ulnar or radial deviation, extension or flexion
Elbow flexion approx 90 degrees
Shoulder internal rotation/horizontal adduction
Full Bracket/Split Grip:
Top Arm = crush grip
Bottom Arm =
Point index finger down the pole to try and keep wrist neutral relative to ulnar deviation
Shoulder external rotation
Shoulder flexion approx 30 degrees
Cup Grip: Remember how I said that the thumb is what truly gives the human grip its strength? Well, just forget about that for this grip and trust in the mighty strength of your fingers! We use this grip for shoulder mounts at the advanced level, but if you’re brave you can try it in your handspring at the elite level.
Shoulder Mount (Advanced)
Hand in power grip with thumb on same side as fingers
Brass Monkey/Shotgun/Flag Grip: The brass monkey, a staple move in your advanced pole trick catalog and an important transitional move. So when you’re staring straight down at the ground, what’s holding you in place? Well of course you’ve got a foot/leg and your other arm, but what if you decide to do a Janeiro? Then I guess you better know what goes into this type of armpit hold!
Brass Monkey (Advanced)
Elbow flexion 130 degrees
Shoulder flexion 90 degrees
Armpit Grip: Similar to our brass monkey grip, this grip requires the hold only of our underarm (i.e no bottom arm involved). Uncomfortable to start with, this particular grip once comfortable can help you produce some beautiful moves, particularly as you unlock some more advanced positions. The armpit can be utilised as a grip from the front of the shoulder (i.e teddy) or the back of the shoulder (i.e yogini)
Shoulder flexion approximately 90 degrees
Horizontal flexion (adduction) or horizontal extension > 90 degrees
Goofy/Funny/Helix Grip: Think of how secure the stronghold grip feels with the pole all cuddly and snug into our bicep. Now let’s just be funny and put the pole on the outside of our bicep and wrap the forearm around the pole. That feels way less snuggly, but that’s okay! We’re pole dancers so we’re already a bit goofy.
Crush grip, claw grip or cup grip
Elbow flexion 90 degrees
Shoulder flexion 90 degrees
Princess Grip: This grip may sound delicate, but don’t let the name deceive you. First you’ve got a sneaky reach around grip requiring more wrist flexion with ulnar deviation which then creates a forearm contact point below the wrist that can create a bit of uncomfortable pressure. But then you need full shoulder overhead range of motion and internal rotation which means greater strength and stability requirements for the shoulder girdle. Now this may not be a big deal in a sexy pole squat, but it certainly adds another layer of difficulty in a shoulder mount. It’s very elegant though!
Bottom arm = cup grip
Top Arm =
Wrist flexion and ulnar deviation
Full shoulder flexion 180 degrees
Shoulder internal rotation
Twisted Grip: Oh the infamous twisted grip! So infamous in fact that we already have two blogs (yes two! Part 1 and 2) written about it. Definitely have a read of them if you’d like to know more about why it's so infamous. But for now, here’s a quick summary of what you need to know: it’s not bad for you if you meet all the following requirements.
Overhead shoulder internal rotation 90 degrees
Full shoulder flex 180 degrees
Football Grip: This looks complicated, but it’s really just a mixture of other grips we already know. The bottom arm is basically a forearm grip with the shoulder more in an overhead position. The top arm is similar to a stronghold or brass monkey except that you’re hugging the pole with more of the forearm instead of bicep.
Bottom arm forearm pronation
Top arm forearm supination
Tabletop Grip: This bendy behind the back grip is no easy feat as it requires a fair amount of shoulder mobility and stability. It’s namesake trick, the tabletop (plank), you need enough strength to carry a good percentage of your weight. Dragon tail uses this grip as well, but doesn’t carry as much weight of the body.
Wrist radial deviation 10-20 degrees
Forearm pronation 85 degrees
Elbow flexion 80-90 degrees
Shoulder extension and internal rotation
Simple in theory, but quite uncomfortable in reality, the elbow grip can be used to demonstrate a sense of effortlessness on the pole from simple spins through to advanced pops & transitions. A strong pull through the biceps helps to secure this grip in place & lose some skin in the process.
Devil's elbow split
Elbow showgirl/chair spin
Elbow hook ayesha
Elbow flexion 80-90 degrees
Shoulder flexion > 80 degrees
Forearm supinated or neutral
Why is meeting mobility requirements of a move important?
The reason I outlined the various mobility requirements for each grip is because meeting these needs is important to prevent compensation elsewhere which can lead to overuse and/or injury.
The theory behind this is that dynamic movements of the upper extremities require complex integration of joint mobility and sequential firing of muscle activation. This coordination of movement is known as a kinetic chain. If a chain link (ie.joint) is weak or immobile then an increase in load/force is placed on other links in the chain which can result in pain or injury (2). In other words, if you have poor wrist or forearm mobility then increased stress is placed on the elbow or shoulder and vice versa.
Some research has shown the way this compensation occurs. For example, one study found that restricting either elbow, forearm or finger mobility reduced overall hand function (3). Another study involving patients with radio-ulnar synostosis, a condition where a bony bridge connects the two forearm bones preventing full forearm rotation (supination/pronation), found that patients used greater shoulder rotation as compensatory movements during activities of daily living (4). In theory, this greater use of shoulder external and internal rotation could lead to overuse type injuries of the rotator cuff.
To reduce the risk of such injuries, use the guide above to check if your mobility is sufficient and then use the next section to determine if you meet the strength requirements!
Grip strength is arguably the most important component of pole fitness. In fact, two research studies have been done in the last five years that have looked at grip strength in pole dancers and research in pole dancing is so minimal! Both Nawrocka et al. (2017) and Mikula et al. (2021) (5 & 6) found that grip strength improves with training time and is greater in pole dancers at higher levels.
Several non-modifiable factors affect grip strength such as age, gender and hand dominance. Research shows that there is a difference in strength of 10% between the dominant and non-dominant hands in right hand dominant people, but in left hand dominant people there is no difference (7).
Grip strength is typically measured using a dynamometer in a clinic setting. The following table shows normative grip strength values in kilograms (kg) taken from a study done using an Australian based population (8)
How can you measure your grip strength without a dynamometer?
3 possible ways:
Squeeze bathroom (Analogue) scale
A lot of what we do in pole is a balance between pushing the pole and pulling it. Without this balance we would simply fall into the pole and that’s not pretty! More importantly, this constant activation of our arm and shoulder muscles allows us optimal strength and power to perform all our fancy pole moves. Most pole grips require the top arm to be actively pulling and the bottom arm to be pushing away. Let’s break down what muscle recruitment is involved for each.
The deltoid muscle is responsible for abduction, extension or flexion with some external or internal rotation depending on the plane of motion.
The pectoralis muscles are responsible for our powerful horizontal pushing motions