Survival isn’t easy or else the world would have no headlines about people dying as a result of responding ineffectively to an emergency situation. This provides some truth to the saying “only the strong survive.” Strength, over luck and hope, will determine survivability. Mental strength helps the survivor through tough situations and motivates when times are tough. Physical strength helps someone survive and provides an edge over those who don’t train it. If it is possible to improve ability in the outdoors by strengthening every metaphorical link in the survival chain, why wouldn’t someone? With this understanding comes the focus of this blog post because if there is one physical attribute overlooked more than others, it is grip strength. I stress grip strength regularly. Aside from the embarrassment and awkwardness of a weak handshake, a weak hand leads to more significant problems for the outdoorsman. Handgun-shooting enthusiasts know the reliability issues resulting from “limp wristing” a pistol while shooting it. Furthermore, anyone who uses a blade knows the concern of “riding it” if the handle slips in the hand and the fingers meet the edge. Having strong forearms and hands helps accomplish tasks and make lifting, carrying, pulling and pushing easier. Here are a few workouts I perform regularly to develop my grip strength. Try them out and remember you have to start from somewhere. You won’t see progress overnight but it will come. Be patient!
Let me put out this warning before you try this, DON’T HIT YOURSELF IN THE HEAD! While you are at it, don’t do this around anything you can damage. One of the best workouts I’ve found for improving grip strength is the axe/sledgehammer workout. All you need is a tool with a weighted end and a long handle. The tool is held at the bottom of the grip, at shoulder level, arm extended. Your arm remains stationary as you rotate the tool to horizontal to the left and right as well as forward and back toward your shoulder. If you are doing it correctly, you can imagine why I advise to watch your forehead. If you rather start off with something that makes this exercise less dangerous, a simple metal pipe can be used. The strongest men, like those you see on sports channels lifting cars and picking up giant atlas stones, are able to do this with heavy sledgehammers. For us mortals who aspire to have as strong of a grip, a medium-sized axe is a good start.
Wrist Curler (homemade)
You probably remember this workout device since your high school weight room. A wrist curler is nothing more than a thin diameter bar that has a length of cord wrapped around the center and attached to a weight at the other end. Held at shoulder level, the wrist curler is rotated until the cord wraps around the bar and lifts the weight that usually is found on the floor to begin. Once the weight reaches just under the bar, the weight is slowly walked back down before the bar is turned around and the wrists lift the bar by rotating it the other direction. The beauty of this workout is the way it engages multiple muscle groups. It can be made out in the field with nothing more than paracord, a branch and anything of weight such as rocks, water bottles, or packs. To vary the workout, the diameter of the bar can be changed as well as the number of repetitions (all the way up and down) completed with varying weights. My personal wrist curler was made by a friend with scrap wood, some paracord and a lathe. With a little creativity, you can make one out of heavy PVC pipe or whatever you have on hand.
Rattan Stick Pushups
As a Sayoc Kali Instructor, I regularly teach my students how to do proven workouts shown to me by my senior instructors. Since our system is weapons based, we value the importance of a good grip. Some of the most time-honored and most effective ways of developing grip strength involve the use of rattan sticks. Two pushup variations can be done easily that really test your ability to hold onto the tool you are using. One-stick angled push ups are performed when you hold a single rattan stick in both hands about shoulder width apart. One end of the stick is placed against the ground and balanced on with the two hands holding the stick in a manner where they are not touching the ground. Another form of rattan pushups are accomplished holding two sticks. Balancing again is done with the ends holding the stick a few inches from the bottom in a thumbs down position. These push ups will improve how well you control blades of any size. How does grip strength come into play with Fiddleback Forge knives? Well, pick up any of Andy’s knives and you know you have something special in your hand. The man and the crew at Fiddleback Forge know how to shape handles and the tools they make are meant to be used. I remember hearing Andy talk about his handles once before and he stressed the importance of making the handles comfortable to hold while using them. Fiddleback Forge knives will not fail you but will your grip fail them?. Keep your grip strong and you’ll get more work out of your knife!