In the age of COVID-19, it’s not always easy to feel safe climbing and training at indoor gyms. That said, there are plenty of ways to train at home that are nearly as effective as a few hours pinching plastic in a gym. From hangboards to yoga (yes, yoga) home training can in many ways be more effective than a gym regimen, if you have the discipline to train hard and regularly at home.[There are also a few innovative products coming out on the scene, (like our very own Secret Stuff® Hygienic), that make it easier to train and still protect yourself and others from the novel coronavirus.]
Hand grips, in particular, are a key product I’m using to stay in shape during the pandemic. They’re so great because you can use them anywhere. I’m literally typing this article while using a Captains of Crush Hand Gripper in one hand. It may not be the most effective way to write, but I’m definitely going to send my project tomorrow (no promises on that one, actually).
There isn’t any other fitness component more integral to climbing than grip. Luckily, grip training is also one of the easiest skills to train. Hands grips are perhaps the only climbing training method that you can take anywhere and everywhere, all the time. They’re also one of the cheapest pieces of climbing gear you’ll ever buy, and they’ll probably last as long as your hands do. So it pays to spend some time exploring a few options.
We’ve come a long way since the old-school “squeeze a tennis ball” grip training methods. Nowadays, there are plenty of high-quality grip strengtheners to train fingers, wrists and forearms that are portable, effective, and affordable. Below are 10 of the best hand grips on the market in 2020.
Everyone knows Gripmaster. It’s like the iPhone of the grip training scene. The ProHands Pro is essentially the top-tier of Gripmaster’s current lineup, with padded fingers, a larger range of motion than the traditional Gripmaster, spring-loaded and precalibrated finger pressures, and an ergonomic grip.
As far as hand grips that allow you to train each finger individually (articulated strengtheners), it’s as good as they come.
The Pro is available with a variety of color-coded tension levels, from Light (5 lbs per digit) to XX-Heavy (13 lbs per digit). The only downside is that there is no adjustability. Each device offers a specific tension, so you’ll have to buy another tension level once you’re ready to move up. At $22.95 per hand grip, the price isn’t cheap.
These simple, durable, lightweight hand grip trainers are some of the best entry-level hand grips, and are also great for rehabilitation and therapeutic use. There’s not a whole lot to talk about here, this is just a silicone wring that you squeeze. The non-slip surface provides decent texture for grip, and it’s tear-resistant as well.
The Beaverve comes in 30-pound, 40-pound, and 50-pound tensions, so it doesn’t have much to offer veteran grip trainers, but is great for beginners and for therapeutic and preventative use. All told, these are lightweight, cheap grip strengtheners great to carry in a gym bag or on-the-go.
The Luxon is a relatively basic hand grip in terms of design, but it’s benefit is in its variability. This hand grip can offer tension levels from 22 pounds to 120 pounds, all in a single device, simply by adjusting the tension spring via a screw. It’s also fairly cheap, at only $10.99 for a pack of two. This makes it perfect to buy a pair and keep one by your bedside and one in your desk at work, for example.
The downside here is that the Luxon’s thinly-cushioned plastic handles aren’t very comfortable. If you’re looking for a low-cost option in the realm of adjustable hand grips for casual training, though, the Luxon is perfect.
This is something of a unique hand grip strengthener, since it only focuses on extension resistance. Still, extension resistance is a factor that’s often forgotten about in grip training, but is extremely important, particularly for injury prevention. The Xtensor features five individual finger and thumb bands (with a thumb band on each side for use by both hands), and an appearance somewhat like a superhero's glove.
This is a great hand grip strengthener for rehabilitation, or for augmenting your traditional grip training regimen with a flexion device like a Gripmaster. The only downside is the cost. At $29, this one of the more expensive hand grips on our listing. It’s also somewhat bulky. For a similar product on a budget, check out the Metolius GripSaver Plus (below), another extension hand gripper.
Although it doesn’t allow for individual finger training like the Gripmaster Pro, the Captains of Crush is one of my personal favorite grippers (and not just because of the badass name).
The Captains of Crush sports a relatively basic design, its three-coil spring connects two diamond-textured handles, which you squeeze together. Durability is a primary asset here. The aircraft-grade aluminum build will take a beating. The device allows for a wide range of motion, and the included IronMind digital training booklet is also helpful.
The downside is that this hand grip only offers one tension per device. IronMind has a wide range of grippers, from 60 pounds all the way to 365 pounds (!!!), but you have to buy each individually, and at $27.95, they aren’t cheap.
The Death Grip from MummyFit is similar to the Luxon in build and design. Where it differs is in it’s much higher price ($27.99 on a current sale) and range, since the Death Grip offers anywhere between 55 and 154 pounds of tension. The other unique factor is that this hand grip is completely silent, with no squeaking or squawking noises like most grip trainers.
This makes it great for under the radar training in the office or while traveling on a plane, for example. The Death Grip’s finger grip is also slightly contoured, so it’s a bit more comfortable than the Luxon.
The Block from Tension Climbing is a bit different than the other hand-held hand grips on this list. This is more of a freehang style trainer, but it’s extremely small and lightweight, portable enough that you can take it on work trips, hang it from the side of your van, or off a tree branch while camping. You can also attach weights to it and use it to lift, or even pull against your own foot.
The Block is pretty simple. It’s a block of wood with a bunch of different holds. Edges, crimps, a mono, pinches. Best of all, it’s only $45. All told, The Block is an excellent way to take your training on the go while still getting a bit of that fingerboard functionality. It’s the perfect middle ground between a hand-hand grip strengthener and a larger fingerboard.
I had to slot at least one fingerboard on here, and the Grindstone Mk2 is one of my favorites. I’ve used dozens of fingerboards over the years, and the Grindstone Mk2 stands out due to a marriage of simplicity and functionality. For those of you still using resin, look at making the switch to wood. The wood design here is much kinder on the skin, and the lack of texturing has a marked improvement on grip.
The asymmetrical layout of the holds does a good job providing a more consistent training setup, with equal spacing on each hold, to avoid that typical “shoulder squeeze” you get when using the inside holds on a lot of boards. The nuanced profiling on the edges helps avoid the pressure points you’ll find on the edges on most hangboards, making it way easier to hang on triples, doubles, or monos and avoid taking up space on the board for smaller width pockets. There are also a ton of different depths here. All in all, the Grindstone is one of the most versatile hangboards I know of.
The Mk2 retails for $150 (or $125 for boards with a defect).
At $16.99, this four-pack of resistance putty is a great deal, considering you get four different levels of resistance, from X-Soft to Firm. If you’re dedicated and committed, then in many ways putty is the most versatile and effective grip training method. The dynamic nature of putty makes it perfect for everything from simple strengthening to working on dexterity and fine motor skills.
You can stretch, twist, squeeze, and pinch this putty to get a variety of workouts on a variety of muscle groups. Roll it into a ball and pinch it between your thumb and a finger to improve coordination and strength, then stretch it out and wrap it around your thumb for extension exercises. Putty is more of a DIY hand grip trainer, and it requires some motivation and dedication to use properly, but it’s one of the most effective training methods out there.
Okay, I’ll admit it. I haven’t actually tried this one out, but it looks pretty cool. It’s on sale right now for $18.80, so not a bad price, and it comes in a variety of sizes and a variety of tensions. By adjusting your hand and finger position, you can train a variety of strengths, from flexion to extension, opposition and supination. While the 14” size would be pretty unwieldy, they do offer a 7” size that is small enough to be semi-portable.
Also, I’m pretty sure you could use this thing as a Frisbee, which would be kind of dope.
Owen Clarke is a veteran climber and climbing journalist. He is a columnist for Rock & Ice, Gym Climber, and The Outdoor Journal. Follow his thoughts in his opinion column, “The Choss Pile,” published every Thursday on Rock & Ice.