Grip Training and Antagonistic Balance

Editor’s Note: This is a guest post by grip expert Jedd Johnson.

You are all probably well on your way toward including proper hand flexion exercises in your program if you are doing the variety of exercises that Al does here on his site.

However, I am willing to bet that almost none of you train the opposing movement patterns. In fact, it’s probably never crossed your mind before now, unless you’ve sustained an injury and done work with a physical therapist.

What is Antagonistic Balance?

The term “antagonistic balance” refers to maintaining a realistic balance of strength between opposing muscle groups.

For example, the shoulder needs to maintain a proper balance between the work and force used in pushing and pulling exercises like push-ups and pull-ups. Without proper antagonistic balance, shoulder problems can occur.

Here are some examples of conditions that can result when there is an imbalance, such as too many pushing movements and not enough pulling movements:

  • Poor Posture
  • Rounded Back
  • Slouched Shoulders
  • Neck Pain
  • Headaches
  • Upper Back Weakness
  • Pulled Muscles
  • Cramps
  • Poor Performance in Sports
  • Poor Results in the Strength Training Program

The shoulder, however, is not the reason I am writing today. Instead, I want to talk about your hands.

Antagonistic Balance and Hand Health
No doubt about it, a lot of the training we do is heavily dependent on grip strength. This is very important to take into consideration. After all, when you are in the middle of “skinning the cat” the last thing you want to have happen is to lose your grip and crack your skull on the pavement.

Just like the health of the shoulder joint, hand health from proper antagonistic balance should be a part of your training. This involves proper balance between flexion and extension movements of the hand and wrist.

Over time, being in a state of antagonistic imbalance can lead to many problems from the elbow down to the fingers.

  • Misalignment of Carpal (Wrist) Bones
  • Stiff Hands
  • Carpal Tunnel Syndrome
  • Tingling in the Fingers
  • Weakness in the Hands, Fingers and Thumbs

The easiest way to maintain balance between the antagonists of the hands is by including finger and wrist extension movements.

Here are three ways you can include extensor training in your routine without breaking the bank.

1. Rubber Band Finger Extensions

A good set of rubber bands can be picked up at any office supply store. I like #84 Rubber Bands from Staples.

String them over your fingers and thumb and open your fingers against the resistance. The primary purpose of rubber band work is for endurance, so hit them until your forearm heats up and feels like it might just burn the next person that rubs against it.


2. Protein Container Extensor Training

Protein powder jugs and other similar-shaped containers make for great tools for working the extensors. Just throw some sand, steel shot, or bent steel from nail bending inside and you have a great tool for extensor training.

Stick your fingers and thumb in, open up all the way, and lift the container up off the ground. If you have monstrous hands, you may need something bigger. I use an Utz Cheese Ball container. I’m not sure how it made its way into my house…

3. Sand Bucket
Take a large bucket and put some sand in it. Dig the fingers down into the sand and open your hand against the resistance. This will work the extensors more intensely than the other two, so be ready for a pump. Call me a wuss, but I can’t stand getting the sand under my finger nails, so I usually wear leather working gloves while I do this. You may like this better as well.

These three methods of training the extensors are very cheap, probably costing you less than $10 in total, but they enable you to hit the extensors under light resistance for lots of reps (rubber bands), isometrically with heavier loads (candy container), and dynamically with heavier loads and fewer repetitions (sand bucket) so you are able to strengthen the extensors and maintain the antagonistic balance that is so important for hand health.

How Often to Do These Movements
Since I compete at grip sport, I do rubber band extensions every single day I train in an effort to maintain my antagonistic balance. Because the resistance is light, you can probably do these multiple times a week as well, probably 3 or 4 times, even.

I will do the sand bucket or the extensor lift once a week and I rotate each week. This frequency is probably good for you as well.

These methods should keep you going in your workouts, enabling you to progress more quickly and stay “in the game” for many years to come.

Jedd Johnson, CSCS has competed in numerous strongman and grip contests and holds the world record for the two hands pinch. Jedd is also a regular speaker & presenter at the Pennsylvania State Strength and Conditioning Clinic.

You can find more of Jedd’s writing on DieselCrew.com and TheGripAuthority.com.

If you’d like to find out more about grip competition, check out GripSport.org, the homepage for the North American Grip Sport Association.

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