Functional Grip Training for Mountain Biking

Jun 6, 2012 at 23:11
Jun 6, 2012
by James Wilson  
 
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Grip strength is one of the most important yet least understood qualities for most mountain bikers. The rougher, gnarlier and rockier the trails and faster you try to ride them the more your grip gets taxed. The trail is literally trying to rip the handlebars out of your hands and if it succeeds you will go down…hard. While most riders know they need grip strength, the most common exercises used are not training the type of grip strength you really need on the bike.

Part of the confusion comes from the fact that anything that your hands and wrists do can be labeled as "grip strength". However, on the trail you need two types of very specific grip strength and some of the most common exercises that riders do don't address them.

Specifically, we need to build wrist stability, a strong "crush grip" and a reflexive grip strength that allows us to not death grip the handlebars all the time but still be able to quickly react with extra tension when needed. This means that exercises like wrist curls and those "gyro balls", two of the most common grip training exercises, are next to worthless on the trail.

In this video I explain why we need those very specific types of grip strength and how you can effectively train them with Bottoms Up Kettlebell Exercises and Kettlebell Swings & Snatches.

Views: 13,781    Faves: 87    Comments: 4




MTB Strength Training Systems is the world leader in integrated performance training programs for the unique demands of mountain biking. As the strength and conditioning coach for World Cup Teams and 3 National Championships, his programs have been proven at the highest levels. James has helped thousands of riders just like you improve their speed, endurance and skills on the trail. Visit www.bikejames.com to sign up for the free Trail Rider Fundamentals Video Mini-Course.

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40 Comments

  • + 81
 Dude, I have been married for 8 years. I have MAD wrist and grip strength now.
  • + 7
 That was a good one.
  • + 6
 tru dat, tru dat
  • + 7
 Do you think Bike James owns shoes?
  • + 1
 yep married and wrist go together for sure ,man thats funny and tru
  • + 1
 But a way to strengthen my left wrist is good. They are very uneven. 7 years.
[Reply]
  • + 17
 When i'm not riding my trails i'm digging on them. Swinging a pick and shovel for a few hours is solid grip training!
  • + 6
 I was going to say the same thing before seeing your comment. There is no better off season training than trail building. All those mountain bikers doing cross fit in a gym need to get out digging. It's free and rewarding.
  • + 3
 crossfit is intense as hell though!
  • + 4
 That may be true, but it's expensive and you don't end up with a new trail to ride for your efforts Smile
  • + 1
 Trail building.. cool and rewarding for sure!

what about doing pushups on a handle bar?
[Reply]
  • + 9
 Gyro balls don't emphasize wrist movement. Maybe to get it started you're rolling the wrist a bit, but once you get it up to a legit level of speed you generate all the movement with your arm, while the wrist must stay totally stable. You can feel the tension in your forearm, bicep, and even shoulder, and if you lose wrist stability the circular momentum has a hay-day with your hand and you lose control.

Also, what about the fact that the majority or the time, you index finger is unavailable to help with grip? When the grip situation is most tenuous, we've usually got a finger on the brake and a lot of the load ends up on the pinky and ring finger. Can you mimic this in the gym?

Lastly, I've found that proper brake setup is key. If they're angled too high or too low or are too far in or out, you're shooting your grip strength in the foot.
  • + 1
 "Lastly, I've found that proper brake setup is key. If they're angled too high or too low or are too far in or out, you're shooting your grip strength in the foot."

Exactly. This is why I spend a good amount of time with trial and error in getting the proper angle on my levers. I've found the correct position, finally. I get great grip with my 3 fingers and thumb while my index finger rests gently on the brake levers. Control is fantastic.
[Reply]
  • + 3
 I've not watched the video yet (can't at work Frown )I built my grip strength from doing grip-related heavy weights in the gym (trying to hold onto a 330lb barbell will soon improved my grip), rock climbing (honestly I cant think of much better one than this as your forearms will hurt for days) and rowing (not so much with this one but it does help). Also pull ups and lat pull downs will help too if, especially the pull ups if you want something easy at home.

Any exercise where you have to stop the weight (or whatever it is) from falling from the palms of your hands or your fingertips will help greatly. Makes a huge difference when riding I've found.

Also, just ride more! That constant vibration and impact from the front end really will help too.

Add to this... better grip = usually bigger forearms, which is an awesome side-effect!
  • + 1
 Rock climbing is absolutely ace for finger strength, but the muscles in your wrist which bring your fingers up to crimp a tiny ledge aren't the same ones involved in a crush grip.
  • + 2
 Yes, but your fingers clasp around an object forcing it against your palm and thumb, therefore gripping it. I can't see what other part of your hand does gripping if your fingers do not?
  • + 1
 t3.gstatic.com/images?q=tbn:ANd9GcShILyoapEwz_AQApqwInWjZj798iwNBN1rRAomaicYZq4dzzkl

The climbing crimp, yes? Your fingers are not attempting to curl into the palm in this position, they are hinging at the knuckle joint while the palm remains straight. The force is applied down from the fingertips. Whereas if you curl your hands into a fist, you exert inward pressure. In my experience juggling both sports, the two muscle groups are actually quite isolated.
  • + 3
 Climbing is not all crimping. Pinches and slopers will develop a whole lot of grip strength. And not all climbing involves downward force. Overhangs will do wonders for your grip strength. But, while rock climbing will build grip strength like nothing else, it is slightly different than what is needed for biking. With climbing, you are constantly gripping, releasing and adjusting. With biking, you're pretty much holding the same position and tension the whole time. One exercise that I found helped was wrapping a dumbell (or any other weight) in a towel, and then grasping the towel from the top, and doing curls with it. Kills two birds with one stone - you get your bicep workout in, and at the same time, you have to grip the towel firm enough to not drop it.
  • + 1
 Of course, I was just illustrating my point. I train on an overhanging wall, but if my mountain biking demanded a lot of grip strength I'm sure I would supplement grip exercises. What I meant with the crimp example was that just because your forearms hurt doesn't mean it's necessarily beneficial, because the muscle groups differ. Salute
  • + 1
 Rock climbing works, noticed a big difference on bike related grip when I was rock climbing.

Heavy barbell works also does wonders. Deadlifts/rows and other pulling movements made a major difference for me. Or as stated before, deadlift/pull ups with towels as grips, or fatbars/fatgripz improves grip a lot. Arm pump and tired hands are the last of my worries now, even riding 8 hours of dh on rugged terrain.

Currently trying to build better deadlift grip with timed barbell/plate isometric holds but that's another story. It still shows that you can work grip strength up quickly with not much.
[Reply]
  • + 1
 Just to clarify something, these exercises are not meant to perfectly mimic what your hands do on the trail, that is not the point of strength training. You want to work on the general abilities (also known as General Physical Prep) needed and use the trail to turn that into the specific stuff (also known as Specific Physical Prep) you need on the trail. The GPP supports the SPP but can not replace it and is not meant to mimic it.

I also know that your wrist needs to be mobile but driving movement through the wrist and being able to move it and then stabilize it are two different things. Wrist curls and the gyro ball drive movement through the wrist which is not the same as what some of you are describing. Mobile and stable wrists are what we want.

Lastly, the two exercises I describe offer very unique training benefits that other methods like heavy lifting and chin ups, even climbing, do not. In the video I describe how bottoms up lifts allow you to check your grip strength through movement and how the swing/ snatch works on a reflexive grip strength. I am not saying that these are the only or "best" ways, I am simply trying to get riders to understand that there is a lot more to "grip strength" than most realize and that there are some very cool ways to train for those types of grip strength that you may not have seen before.
[Reply]
  • + 1
 I like the bottoms up KB squat clean. I'm going to do that one today. However, your KB snatch was not pretty. You basically did an American KB swing with a KB snatch finish, which = bruised forearms. A KB snatch travels straight up and you punch it. Next time you're in Southern California let me know and i'll show you how it's done.
[Reply]
  • + 1
 Perfect timing! I suffered a hand injury almost three weeks ago and am just beginning to get the use of my left thumb back, but am still no where near riding. I will watch this video when I get home and begin to implement its teachings. Hopefully I'll be back on the bike soon. Thanks James!
  • + 1
 Tried the kettle-squat-shoulder press yesterday afternoon, and MAN am I sore today! Good one!
[Reply]
  • + 1
 I’ve never seen a better endurance and strength workout than the Kettlebell Swing. I’ve been following this great program that provides you all the information you need. Please read my review here:
mikeshonestreviews.com/kettlebell-workout-review
[Reply]
  • + 1
 There is mention of the bars being ripped from your grip but no mention of eccentric training? What I mean by this is a resistance pulling the fingers out of the gripped position, this can easily be done with a barbell standing up (as if you are about to start a bicep curl) where you grip the bar and slowly open your grip keeping the bar in your fingers and then re-grip the bar. This strengthens the muscles that oppose forces weakening your grip on the handlebars. Deadlifts and pull/chin ups are very good for increasing grip strength too, also try using thicker handled bar/dumb bells when in the gym as this develops better forearm strength when doing any free-weight exercises.
[Reply]
  • + 1
 It appears to me you rationale is somewhat flawed, during riding your wrist undergoes flexion, extension, lateral and medial deviation. Any decent rider will have wrists are quite a mobile to adjust for body position or the bike moving underneath the rider. activities like climbing is fantastic for grip strength, or simply using heavy loads in the gym especially with exercises such as deadlifts... or simply ride more.
  • + 2
 I have respect for James and his training programs, but this one is a little far fetched IMO. I think there's a line when training becomes far to specific. The same thing applies to anyone who walks a dog. Your holding onto the leash with a normal grip until your retarded dog see's a squirrel and decides it must die, and proceeds to try and rip the leash free from your hands. Do the people that hang on do bottom's up kettle bell training for functional grip strength so they can walk their dog, or do they just have the reflex that says "Hold on dumb ass, or your going to the floor."
  • + 3
 I think this is about developing what amounts to explosive strength for your forearms. The ability to suddenly become extremely rigid and strong when needed so you can relax the rest of the time.

As for accounting for using the brakes? Extend your index finger?
[Reply]
  • + 1
 Kettlebells rule - the only weight you'll ever need. Also, never kettlebell with trainers (sneakers to you US and Cannuks) - Five Tens at best - Read Pavel 'Enter the kettlebel'l to find out why.
[Reply]
  • + 2
 Can anyone tell me why people workout barefoot? I have seen it at the gym and don't really understand it, as it seems a bit dangerous especially around heavy weight.
  • + 2
 It apparently aids in developing better proprioception around the ankle, if you have had a previous ankle injury or two it's possible not a bad thing to do. As far as danger goes, if you drop a 25kg plate on your foot with or without shoes the toes are mashed, the only thing a shoe would do is stop the blood spraying on your training partner.
  • + 1
 It allows the feet to work more naturally, keeping them strong and flexible. A lot of shoes are overly supportive and are not much different from wearing a cast, causing the feet to weaken. Being barefoot is more dangerous when it comes to accidents. Watch out for morons dropping dumbells. Of course when you talk extremes, shoes don't protect much, that doesn't mean there is no reason to wear them.
  • + 1
 Thanks for the feedback, It seems to make some sense, and after I wrote it, I thought about the weights not being much of a difference on a foot with or without a shoe.
[Reply]
  • + 3
 death grip a shovel and dig Razz
[Reply]
  • + 1
 masturbation? you can really feel that in your forearms after going for a while...
  • + 1
 It's bad for your sight, don't do it...
[Reply]
  • + 1
 Get yourself some "Captains of Crush" grippers and you are sorted! Check em out.
[Reply]
  • + 0
 Great info but I would recommend shoes if your working with weights. Yikes!
[Reply]
  • + 0
 Great stuff man, great stuff.
[Reply]

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