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Five exercises to improve grip on your climbing holds right away!

Imagine this scenario that every climber has experienced: You are desperately trying to hang on to that tiny hold as you go for that final big move on the route you’ve been looking forward to climbing all day. Time after time, you feel your hand slip off. You want to get past this. You know you can, but the strength just isn’t there. It’s incredibly frustrating. How can you build up the strength and endurance in your hands to complete some of these moves? There are so many options, but some of the easiest ones require just a few simple items you probably have around the house already.

Grip strength is controlled by muscles that start in the forearm and cross into your hands (extrinsic muscles) and also by muscles that are found solely within the hands (intrinsic muscles). Being able to train both types is critical for obtaining great strength. It is also important to train not only in the direction of clenching fists but also in the direction of expanding fingers. But first, let’s start with training around the wrist to hit the extrinsic muscles. Rest your forearm on a table or arm of a chair with your hand able to hang off the edge. With your palm facing toward the sky, hold onto a light object, such as a water bottle (you could choose many different items for this). Curl your wrist and once you have done that, SLOWLY lower the object back to the starting position. To train in the opposite direction, turn your hand so that the palm faces down while holding that water bottle and do the same thing! Lift the water bottle with your forearm still against the table and SLOWLY lower. Doing 4-5 sets of 10 will be a great start to your routine.

Following this up with a few exercises that can target both extrinsic and intrinsic is a great idea! Grab a thick and sturdy rubber band. Place it around all five fingers near your middle knuckle (or toward the tips of the fingers for a bigger challenge!) and slowly expand your fingers and relax. This is great to work on the muscles that stabilize the hand and wrist while you are grasping a hold. Many different variations exist for this kind of exercise. You can work each one of your fingers through the exercise. You can also use 2-3 at a time as if you were using a hold that requires 3 fingers.

Training in the opposite direction is easy with an old carabiner and something with some weight you can attach to it. Again, a water bottle is a good idea. With the carabiner hooked onto a water bottle, place a finger in the carabiner and lift the weight of the object. Doing this by bending all of the joints of your finger on some reps and also by isolating the movement to individual knuckles on other reps is great to strengthen different muscles. Just like the rubber band training, you can come up with many ways to do this exercise using multiple fingers at a time.

I’ve got something else for you that can easily be used in both directions. This requires a small container of rice that you don’t mind sticking your hand in. With a fist made, place your hand in the rice and then splay out your fingers against the resistance of the rice. Then make a fist again. There should be resistance in both directions as you repeat this movement. It’s such a quick and easy way to increase power in so many muscle groups!

Again, these are just a few ways to do things. Most of the items are found in just about every home in the country. Don’t get me wrong, hang boards and fancy grip strength devices are great. These ideas, however, can be used just about anywhere regardless of where you are or what type of equipment you can afford. Give these a try and let me know your results! If you are unsure about anything you read in this post and want more info, email me at or reach out on Backcountry Physical Therapy’s social media pages. Be sure to check back on the website for more blog posts and follow us on social media for helpful tips to keep yourself pain-free!

a man standing with his arms crossed in front of him.

Dr. Scott Runyon

Backcountry Physical Therapy

We Help Mountain Athletes Not Only Recover From Injuries, But Build Them Back Stronger Than They Were Before, So That Injuries Are Less Likely To Happen Again!