Get-A-Grip: How Does Yours Measure Up?

Recent evidence of our society’s gradual loss of gripping strength is very interesting. This writing even suggests there may be a connection between grip strength and one’s longevity.

While I tend to think the average weightlifter today has pretty good hand strength it would be interesting to gauge this against lifters a few years back. Any grad students out there need a research project?

When I was USAW’s executive director (and national coach, at the same time) I started up Weightlifting USA as a member benefit (back when you actually got something for your then very small annual registration fee). This publication remained a hard copy mailing to members until 2008.

In the May-June 1983 Weightlifting USA we published a report on my measurements of Soviet, Bulgarian, and USA lifters, using a standard hand dynamometer, like that referenced in the Nautilus article.

Below is the article as it appeared more than 30 years ago. Let me point out a few details for recent weightlifting fans. First, the grip results are well correlated to the subject’s bodyweight (no surprise). Second, the bodyweight categories referenced are those in effect at the time, not today’s class designations. Third, Bulgarian Sulimanov is better known today as Suleymanoglu, the first weightlifter to earn three Olympic gold medals. The changing of his family name three times is another story. Finally, bodyweight categories are listed metrically, the grip results are in pounds. That’s the way the dynamometer read and how the article first appeared.

Hand (Grip) Strength
(from Weightlifting USA, Vol. I, No.2, May-June 1983)

For the past several years, much of the research coming out of Eastern Bloc countries has alluded to hand strength, its development, and such factors as hand size (particularly thumb length) as criteria for selection to weightlifting.

At the recent Record Makers’ Invitational in Allentown, a hand dynamometer (JAMAR Askmow Engineering Co.) was shown to Soviet and Bulgarian lifters. No encouragement was needed for the Soviets. The Quality Inn lobby in Philadelphia was quickly reduced to a competition site for gripping strength. The Bulgarians, in their usual reserved manner, gave a fairly good effort when requested to squeeze, but some only took one trial, seemingly content to watch the Soviet delegation fight over who could squeeze the hardest.

Sarkisian had been in the lobby early, so he took numerous attempts. His best of 140lbls was not witnessed by any of his teammates, and he could not produce more than 100 lbs. when challenged by Pisarenko. The World Champion Superheavyweight insisted his 60kg teammate was lying, especially since Anatoli was only hitting 130-140lbs. After getting fired up, Pisarenko finally squeezed until the needle read 170lbs.!

I asked the Bulgarian staff if Sulimanov had problems gripping the bar since he is so small. They responded that his hands are not dwarfed like the rest of his body and, unlike so many 52-56k lifters, he has no trouble gripping the bar. The 15-year old Bulgarian had less than average results, but he only tried once.

Here are the dynamometer results achieved by the two visiting teams. Also listed for comparison are the results of American lifters training at the Olympic Training Center.

  Country   Athlete Category Result
  USSR   Sarkisian 60kg 140lbs
    Sots 100kg 132lbs
    Arakelov 110kg 110kg
    Tarenenko 110kg 150lbs
    Pisarenko +110kg 170lbs
 Bulgaria   Sulimanov 56kg 60lbs
    Rusev 75kg 90lbs
    Zlatev 82.5kg 100lbs
    Blagoev 90kg 115lbs
    Krastev +110kg 140lbs
 OTC   Reed 75kg 95lbs
    Johnson 82.5kg 124lbs
    Mucardo 90kg 105lbs
    Balison 90kg 120lbs
    Davis 100kg 120lbs
    Wentlejewski 100kg 135lbs
    Eaton 110kg 122lbs
    Carlton 110kg 145lbs


Here are some exercises for developing your grip:

1. Recommended specific exercises include:

Snatching (power or squat) 1. Light sets done with thumbless grip
Clean (power or squat) 2. Medium sets done with ”simple” grip (no hook)
Pulling (Snatch or Clean, no straps) 3. Medium to heavy sets done with hook grip (no straps)

The above exercises can also be done with thick barbells.

2. Some non-specific exercises include:

Wrist curls
Wrist roller
Pinch gripping pairs of plates
Rope climbing


Get A Grip T-Shirt

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Men's Get a Grip T-shirt
Available in grey with white lettering

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Women's Get A Grip T-shirt
Available in blue with white lettering

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And here is the link to the current topic of grip strength as referenced above Raising the American Weakling.