With a firm grip, you can control your opponent, defend against their attacks, and execute your own techniques. But how do you develop a powerful grip for BJJ?
Grip strength training for BJJ involves working various grips such as support, monkey, and crushing grip exercises to transfer to the mats.
But how important is grip strength to BJJ, and do you need to spend time off the mats to train it?
Does Grip Strength Matter In BJJ?
Have you ever felt the impending doom when a thick forearmed BJJ player grabs your wrist, and none of your grip breaks work?
And as you fight out of these grips, they dig underhooks or advance their position. But this is just one example of what a strong grip can do.
Finishing submissions against strong-willed opponents can often take higher levels of strength. For example, the stubborn BJJ player who does anything to survive the head and arm choke.
Yes, with better mechanics, you're likely to finish it. Still, the stronger grip will sometimes allow you to maintain the position to finish.
Let's not forget about the gi. While you curl your fingers to hold the sleeves and collars to reduce the involvement on the hands and reliance on grip, finishing various collar chokes takes a strong grip.
So, it makes sense to target grip training to improve BJJ performance. Especially since purple to black belts with 4 or more years of experience have significantly greater grip strength than white to blue belts with less than 4 years of experience .
However, this is likely due to the time accumulated gripping opponents and gis in training. Not so much by extracurricular grip training. But that doesn't make extra grip training any less important. It means you can give yourself an advantage as a lower belt.
But there's an important point to consider before obliterating your grip in the gym.
That is how much BJJ you're training and how intense those sessions are. If you're training 5 gi sessions a week with intense rolls, then extra grip training may cause you more harm than good.
But if only 1 or 2 of those involve hard rolls and you're doing no gi, then extra grip work won't cause problems. Further, if you're doing heavy deadlifts, rows, or pull-ups, these count as grip training. You can have your normal strength session target your grip with simple modifications.
Different Types Of Grip For BJJ
Not all grips are the same. Training one aspect of grip may not translate to other types of grips. For example, pinch grip strength isn’t likely to translate to crushing strength. Here’s a list with examples of them all.
The crimp grip is your distal finger strength. Within BJJ, it’s the grip you use when holding the gi sleeve when playing various guards. It’s not a grip you’ll train outside of BJJ.
The clamp grip is your finger, hand, and forearm strength. It’s similar to a monkey grip where the thumb isn’t involved.
The pinch grip is the strength of your fingers and thumb pressing together. You’ll find your thumb muscle becomes crampy after training it!
Crushing strength is your ability to create a fist crushing whatever is in your hand. It is a dynamic action and requires an active squeeze. For example, closing a gripper.
The support grip is similar to a crushing grip, but it's not about how hard you can squeeze. I'd class it more of an endurance-based grip.
Monkey grips involve far more of your hands and forearms. I break down monkey grips even further to open and closed hand grips. For example, bearhugging a sandbag without connecting your hands is open, while hanging from a pull-up bar with your thumb over the bar is a closed monkey grip.
Best BJJ Grip Exercises
The best thing about towel exercises is the little equipment needed to blast your hands and forearms. You can add them to a range of exercises to increase grip demands. The towel pull-up is one of the greatest tests of grip strength. Here’s how to do it:
Towel Barbell Curls
The towel barbell curl is an excellent option if you can't do towel pull-ups or want to spice up your arm training. In my experience, the fat bar curl is more challenging than the towel version, but they are different hand and grip positions, so it's worth doing both. Here's how:
Fat Bar Curls
It may seem weird having arm isolation exercises in a grip strength article. Still, the forearm recruitment when doing curls is massive. Add the fat bar, and you've turned it into a brutal grip exercise. Here's how to do it:
Fat Bar Deadlift
Using a fat bar or fat gripz shows significant increases in forearm activation when deadlifting versus using an Olympic bar . It seems logical since the diameter you must grip increases dramatically. Here’s how to do it:
This is the ultimate monkey grip exercise. You must wedge your hands under either side when lifting a heavy sandbag from the floor. It's impossible to connect them when the sandbag is heavy enough. So, to pick the bag up, it’s all hand, forearm, and biceps strength. Here’s how to do it:
Sandbag Bearhug Carries
The sandbag bearhug carry is my favorite carry exercise for BJJ because of the grip versatility. You can keep the monkey grip as you deadlift or transition to S grips, Gable grips, or seatbelt grips. Here's how to do it:
If there's a grip exercise I hate doing the most, it's the plate pinch. My thumb muscle almost cramps when doing these hard. It's important to use plates with a flat side like the original metal 45 lb plates. You can do these with one or two hands for time. Here's how:
Plate Clamp Lift
This is not an exercise I use as I feel you develop this strength through lots of BJJ and no thumb gripping the pull-up bar. However, to strengthen your fingers, use this and the plate pinch for a potent combination. Here's how to do it:
Best BJJ Grip Strength Workout
A1) Double Overhead Deadlift
3 x 3
B1) Fat Bar Deadlift
1 x 1
Small jumps to a heavy single)
C1) Towel Pull-Up
3 x Max reps
D1) Plate Pinch
2 x 20 sec
A1) Sandbag Bearhug Carry
3 x 20-40 m (vary grips)
B1) Towel Barbell Curls
3 x 8-10
C1) Plate Clamp Lift
2 x 10
D1) Plate Pinch
2 x 20 sec
Best Grip Strengthener For Jiu Jitsu
I bought my Fat Gripz over a decade ago and still use them in most of my gym sessions. They easily store in your gym bag and can be added to the barbell, dumbbells, or cable attachments to target the grip and forearms.
They have three sizes, but the original blue model is perfect for most BJJ practitioners. The Fat Gripz Ones are suitable for females with smaller hands.
Expand Your Hands
You can't hammer your grip for long periods and expect no niggles or injuries. Your hands and forearms take a beating if you're training your grip, doing BJJ, and general tasks at home—especially your finger and wrist flexors.
The IronMind Expand Your Hands Rubber Bands work the finger extensors, which get little to no love in the gym and on the mats. Do these for high reps, and you'll take care of your elbow and wrist pain.
Training your grip is a must for BJJ performance. But be careful with doing too much on top of the intense grip demands of BJJ. Less is more in this instance. Sometimes, it’s not about doing more grip work but reducing your injury risk by doing grip exercises like finger extensions to keep yourself healthy.
1. Fernandes Monteiro, L., Abian Vicen, J., Díaz Lara, F. J., & García García, J. M. (2014). Body composition, isometric hand grip, and explosive strength leg-similitarities and differences between novices and experts in an international competition of Brazilian jiu jiutsu.
2. Krings, B. M., Shepherd, B. D., Swain, J. C., Turner, A. J., Chander, H., Waldman, H. S., ... & Smith, J. W. (2019). Impact of Fat Grip Attachments on Muscular Strength and Neuromuscular Activation During Resistance Exercise. Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research.