Develop a Mighty Grip by Terry Todd

The following grip and forearm workout course was developed by oldschool strongman Terry Todd. 

All of the exercises and feats of strength mention in this article can help you achieve a greater grip and forearm. Their practice will not only help you in the performance of your regular exercises, but they will make you more successful in any of the hand-to-hand strength games, such as arm wrestling, finger twisting, gripping, and finger pulling (hackling). Of course, these hand-to-hand contests are very beneficial in themselves in the moulding of a mighty hand and forearm, but the many exercises and stunts listed are necessary not only for success in these games, but to toughen the fingers and lower arm so as to avoid injury.

1. Magazines, newspapers and telephone books. Any of these items can serve as means with which to practice tearing. Old magazines and newspapers are much easier to obtain than telephone books, and the ripping of them is an excellent exercise for the thumbs and fingers. Tear them with as many different grips as you can dream up.

2. Decks of Cards. This parlor trick should be reserved for exhibitions and special occasions for the obvious reason of expense. You can practice on this feat by using cardboard cut into the size of a playing card. Attempt to invent different methods by which to tear them.

3. Beverage Cans. This is a dangerous trick and should be avoided, unless gloves are worn, and even then it should be done with caution. First, bend the can double and then, grasping the ends with your hands, attempt to twist and tear it in half.

4. License Plates. This is a feat in the repertoire of only a few of the world’s strongest men, but for those of you who are ambitious, here’s something to work for. To practice for this, bend the plate in the center and work it back and forth until you have weakened it enough so that you can tear it. As you practice, you should attempt to bend them fewer times before tearing them and eventually, perhaps you can tear one without a bend.

From tearing, we move into the area of twisting and bending, which is related to the above-mentioned feats in muscle action, but which afford some novel, interesting methods of developing and testing hand and wrist strength.

1. Bottle-Caps. These should be straightened before an attempt is made at bending them if they have been crimped by the bottle opener. The easiest method is to place the cap between your forefinger and thumb and then bend it by thumb pressure. It is said that Mac Batchelor, the California strongman-bar tender, once bent a beet bottle cap in the above manner after some prankster friends of his had slipped a dime underneath the cork.

2. Beverage Cans. These cans, which are easily obtained, offer excellent means for finger strengthening. There are several different ways in which they can be bent, both one-handed and two-handed. Practice will bring quick proficiency at this trick.

It can be made competitive by giving two or more men the same number of cans and seeing who can bend theirs in the shortest time.

3. Beverage Can and Bottle Openers. Doubtless everyone is familiar with this type of opener. They can be bent and broken by a strong-handed man. Since they have one fairly sharp end, it is not a bad idea either to wrap the ends in cloth or wear gloves. Attempt to bend and break these with whichever grip feels most comfortable. When done correctly, this can be a very impressive stunt.

4. Spikes and Nails. Throughout the years, strongmen and spike-bending have always been closely identified with each other. Perhaps the chief reason for this is that a spike or a nail is something with which the general public is well-acquainted. 

This familiarity of the public allows them to be appreciative of the power involved in nail and spike-bending. Just as there is a barbell for every strength, so is there a nail, even if you must start with a straight pin. If you begin with short nails, get two short pieces of pipe to fit over the ends of the nail and this will increase your leverage and enable you to build the strength to work up to railroad spikes.

5. Iron Bars and Rods. These can be bent in a similar manner to nails and spikes, except that bar and rods can be had in much greater lengths. This makes possible the feat of bending the bar or rod into many different shapes, such as the letters of the alphabet. Some strongmen would take a rod several feet in length in one hand and bring it down across the opposite forearm with such force that it would bend around the arm.

Although somewhat violent, this is an impressive stunt but not as conducive to the development of wrist strength and forearm size as the two-handed twisting and bending of these rods. Until your hands become accustomed to the roughness of these rods, gloves should be worn.

6. Horseshoes. Bending a horseshoe is somewhat akin to a clean and jerk of 400 pounds.

Terry thought about the story what his grandfather said to him after he had smashed the shell of a hard-shell pecan between his thumb and forefinger, “Very few men and no boys can do that.”

This is a tremendously impressive of shoulder chest, arm, wrist, and finger strength. When attempting to bend horseshows, and for that matter any type of iron, remember that the pressure you exert creates friction and this friction creates the heat which allow the metal to bend.

So, with this in mind, you can see that it often will take a few seconds for the bend to begin. If you want to break the nail, spike, bar, rod, or horseshoe you are bending, this can be done by rapidly bending and straightening the piece of metal you are attempting to break. The friction created by this will eventually break the metal at the point of the bend, but often the entire piece will become too hot to hold, so gloves should be worn. 

John Grun Marx could break a horseshoe in well under a minute.

Leaving the are of stunt, we will examine some exercises that will be developmental, both gripping power and to forearm girth:

1. Using Hand Gripper. These little devices can be very beneficial. First, get a pair that you can’t squeeze more than 15 or 20 times, and then continue working with them until you can do 30 or 35, after which you get a stronger set that cuts you back to 15 or 20, etc. Another interesting trick is to squeeze the handles together with a dime held by the base of the handles. Time yourself and see how long you are able to hold the dime before your grip tires.

2. Snatching, Cleaning, High-Pulling, and Deadlifting with using a “hook” grip or straps. Any of these exercises, if performed with a simple, overhand grip, will thicken and strengthen the fingers and forearm. Norbert Schemansky rarely uses straps or a “hook” grip, and his forearms are a testimonial to this type of exercise. A simple, but effective, way to blend this technique in with your regular workout is to merely work as high as you can in any of the above-mentioned exercises before resorting to a “hook” grip or straps.

3. Pinch Gripping. This exercise work the fingers and thumb in an unusual way, and it is not odd to see some men who will excel in pinch gripping but be only average in regular gripping feats and vice versa. Excellent competition can be had, not only by determining who can pinch grip the greatest weight, but by determining who can hold a given weight the longest time.

4. Lifting Weights with Different Fingers.

This type of exercise, in which often only one finger is used, is a superb way of building up a tenacious grip. The great German strongman, Herman Gorner, practiced this quite often as a means of strengthening his digits so that they could hold the massive weights his back was capable of hoisting in the deadlift. 

As you will realize, if you think about it for a minute, there are many, many different ways if performing this type of strengthening exercise. This can be done in chinning, as well as in the lifting of barbells and dumbbells.

5. Using Thick-handled Dumbbells and Barbells.

As these are hard to acquire these days, the simplest method to use is to wrap tin foil or tape around the bar where it is gripped. In this way, any desired thickness can easily be achieved.

After a few workouts with these thick bars, you will quickly realize where the old-timers got those thick, rope-muscles lower arms.

6. Isometric Squeeze

The beauty of this exercise is that you need nothing but something to grab and a little determination. You should attempt to sustain the squeeze for ten to fifteen seconds.

The only drawback to this type of exercise is that it’s not too interesting, since you can’t measure your progress. If you can get hold of a grip dynamometer, your problems are solved. A bathroom scale can also serve as a testing ground for the measuring of the might of your mitts, but a dynamometer is greatly superior because the needle stops at the highest mark registered during the squeeze.

Leaving the area of the pure gripping power of the hand, we will now look at a few exercises that are mainly wrist and forearm strengtheners and developers.

sledge hammer workout

1. Using a Leverage Bar. A leverage bar can be almost anything. Grab an empty exercise bar a little off center and you’ve got a leverage bar. Use this type of exercise in any way you inventive little mind can dream up – the more ways you find to lever, the greater you will benefit.

A rather showy feat of this nature is done with a pick or sledge hammer, as is shown in the picture accompanying this article. Although this stunt is impressive, the cost of a failure could very easily exceed the price of quite a few successes.

2. Supinated, or Underhanded, Wrist Curls.

using the normal curl grip, pick up a barbell, sit on a bench, and rest your forearms on your thighs. Use a weight in this exercise that only allows you to do 15 to 20 reps. After you have squeezed out the very last rep, hold the bar with straight wrists as long as you can.

This exercise, done with regularity, will do wonders for the underside of your forearm. You might vary this exercise occasionally by using a lighter weight and allowing the bar to roll down into your fingers on each repetition, but for a combination of size and power, it’s the same old story – you can not beat those heavy weights.

3. Pronated or Overhanded, Wrist Curls.

This exercise is sadly neglected, but it can add bulk and strength to the many muscles on the top of the forearm. Once again, use a weight that will stop you after 15 or 20 repetitions.

4. Wrist Roller.

This is an old, but valuable, forearm exercise that will “pump” your forearm more than any other movement. However, don’t make the beginner’s mistake of measuring the worth of an exercise by the amount of “pump” achieved. 

To get the maximum benefit out of this exercise, stand on a bench or chair, hang your arms straight down, and then use a weight you can roll up only two or three times.

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