Article written by Peter Baker
I know what you’re thinking. It sounds something like this: “My grip will be just fine doing regular old deadlifts on a plain bar.” And that might be true, to an extent. But if you want healthy hands, a better deadlift, a stronger grip, AND more function, you need to pinch lift. So I will tell you why you need to and show you how. Before that, we’re going to cover some basic hand motions so you have a frame of reference.
Basic Hand Motions
There are more than I am listing, but for the sake of simplicity, you’re going to want to pay attention to these three. We have:
Flexion—When you bring your fingers in to form a fist, this is flexion.
Extension—If you give someone a high five, you are putting your fingers in extension.
Opposition/Reposition—Moving your thumb to touch your index, middle, ring, or pinkie fingers is what we call opposition, and moving it away is reposition.
Having gone over that, we train flexion of the fingers the most, and extension, opposition, and reposition the least. So with that in mind, here are the reasons why you need to pinch lift.
- Your Thumbs
In every lift you do at the gym, your main fingers take a brunt of the loading. Grabbing barbells, dumbbells, pull-up bars, and the like contribute to that. And while they indeed help with building a strong supporting grip, you’re neglecting your thumbs. So why not train the thumbs? Throwing in some pinch lifting will help with this. A better way to look at it is as follows: you’re doing equal parts pushing and pulling by working your chest and back right? This helps keep you balanced, symmetrical, and overall, not looking like a silverback gorilla. So it follows with your hands. Adding in the pinch will lead to more muscular development of your hand and forearms if you incorporate it into your routine. In short, we are training the motions of opposition and reposition by practicing certain types of pinch lifting.
- Your Extensors
Spend a long time lifting, you might start to see some odd things. One such thing is the idea of using tiny but strong rubber bands to train the opening of your fingers, that is, the extension motion. While I don’t hate this idea, I would like to pose a few questions regarding this practice. My former coach, Adam T. Glass is a world record holder in grip sport. He posited that the hands don’t exert force by way of extension, the way they do in flexion. So having witnessed people use the bands to train their extension, he also witnessed many injuries. The Solution? Training the extensors in a position where they are strong but safe way. You can do just that with certain forms of pinch lifting.
I should also mention that just because there might be a better way to train your extensors, using the bands isn’t wrong, by any means. It just means you need to exercise caution if that is the route you choose to take.
How to Pinch Lift
Now that you have a good idea on why to pinch lift, it’s time to learn how to do it. For these movements, I am showing you some basics. Your creativity, equipment availability, and your strength will dictate how you can modify them.
- The Blob
A blob is the actual bell portion of a York dumbbell. Cut it off the handle, you have a blob. The strongest of the strong will be able to lift the bell of a 100lb dumbbell. If you’re not there yet, fear not. You can cut off the end of any other York dumbbell and use it. Still don’t have a York dumbbell? Use any hex dumbbell and do the same. If you opt for one of these variants,
If you opt for one of these variants, pay attention to a few things. In the picture, you will note that there is a nice dusty coat of chalk on the weight. This is important. Also, the leverage. You will have an easier time if you keep your elbow bent a little before you make your lift. Aside from that, when you are in position, stand up with it. Still can’t lift it? Drag it.
You may not feel like doing serious metal work to cut a dumbbell, so if that applies to you use both hands and use an untouched hex dumbbell.
- Pinch Grip Deadlift
This is going to be the one that focuses on strengthening your extensors. If you’re a strong woman, you can start out with two 25lb plates with the smooth sides on the outside. If you’re a man, try two 35lb plates. As with the blob, you want to use a lot of chalk and keep the slight bend in the elbows for better leverage. Just like before, once you are set up, treat it like a regular deadlift and stand up with it.
Now that you have some sweet new moves in your arsenal, you’re going to want to go and do them all the time. At least, I know I did. I urge you to curb that temptation. Your hands are loaded with connective tissues and they respond to stimulation in a different way than your muscles will. All that means, at first, is that a little bit will go a long way. As time passes, you can build on your hand training volume, but the rate at which your connective tissues gain strength is slower than your muscles.
A good way to go about this would be to tack on one or two sets of three to five reps at first on your deadlift day (or wherever you have time) and build the reps, then the sets from there. After you get a good groove in your pinch, you can start training them with greater frequency. Above all, use your best judgment.