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The Effects of Age on Grip Strength

Wednesday, August 19th, 2015

The Effects of Age on Grip Strength

By: Chris Rice

    Preface by Jedd Johnson: Is it true you lose strength as you grow older? Are you able to retain any of that strength, or is it all just a lost cause? And if strength diminishes, in general, over the years, are there any forms of strength that we can hope to hold onto? These are questions that are being more and more common all the time…
    Chris Rice, while one of the oldest Grip Sport competitors, is also an experience strength athlete – PERIOD, having participated in Powerlifting, Olympic Weightlifting, Strongman, and Kettlebell Sport, to name just a few of his endeavors over the years – and that’s just since I met him in 2003. He’s also an avid climber, going on several climbing expeditions every year.
    Chris is also a good writer, able to turn his thoughts into the written word with a distinct clarity, not always seen amongst all those in the iron game. It’s my pleasure to feature another piece from Chris. This time he answers the question, What effects does age have on grip strength? Take it away, Climber! -Jedd-

The Effects of Age on Grip Strength

Chris Rice, Grip Nationals 2010
4″ Wrist Roller

I’ve thought about writing this for a while now as I’m in a sort of unique position as I think I’m the oldest active Grip Sport competitor I know of at age 67. The decline in overall body strength with age seems fairly well accepted but the question of age on one’s hand and forearm strength seems much less clear. My overall body strength has certainly declined over the years in spite of my best efforts. I’m sorry about the fact I have to post numbers and this may come across as a bragging session but I don’t know how to talk about my progress since starting into the actual “sport” of grip without putting it into some kind of context that shows my gains were not what could be called “beginners gains”.

Some discussion of age related “peak” abilities should also be discussed. Our bodies seem to develop and then lose certain qualities in a certain order. Quickness and explosiveness seem to be a young man’s game – peaking in the early to mid-20s perhaps. Speed holds on a little longer but strength doesn’t seem to peak until later – perhaps mid to late 30s with a huge amount of variation on both sides of that number. But generally speaking by one’s middle 40s, some decline has started in overall body strength and all other physical attributes. This assumes of course that you have trained and continued to train and compete during the entire time period.

There are basically two kinds of “old” lifters – those who have trained hard consistently over their lifetime and those who started a good bit later in life. There are some considerable differences between the two. I started general weight training in 1959 so I have years of consistent training behind me. Starting training at a more advanced age is going to be considerable different in results – the so called “beginners gains” will occur at any age. It is never too late to start and expect significant increases in hand strength.

Another thing I have noticed is what might be called the accumulated loss of “resilience” – defined by Webster as “the ability to become strong, healthy, or successful again after something bad happens” or “the ability of something to return to its original shape after it has been pulled, stretched, pressed, bent, etc.” Years of life’s accumulated tweaks and injuries can make or break one’s abilities – and the longer one lives the more they add up. Please read this paragraph again as I think it’s hugely important. The importance of avoiding injury in training cannot be overstated. I have a large assortment of old injuries that I have to deal with that do affect my training and require constant therapy work.

I started the actual “sport” of Grip in 2003 when I found the GripBoard. At that time I had already owned the COC # 1 – 2 – and 3 for several years – I had bought them to try and help my climbing grip strength. I was able to close both the #1 and #2 right out of the package but not the #3 – I believe that if the COC 2.5 had existed then I could have closed it at that time as well.

I trained with them but they were no help for my climbing so I pretty much forgot about them until I found the GripBoard. By the time I found the GripBoard I had been climbing for around 20 years (and lifting consistently since 1959) and had done quite a bit of training towards that end. Lots of wrist curls – reverse wrist curls – very heavy finger curls – and hangboard routines plus years of hanging by my fingers on rock faces around the world. I had also been doing construction ever since I was a kid as a second job. I brought years of hard work and training with my hands with me when I discovered Grip as a sport – my base strength was already fairly well developed. So basically I was 55 years old with a long background of more general grip training when I first started any specific training for the events and feats of strength involved in the “sport of Grip”.

To answer the question of what happens to grip strength as one ages I think it is important to not only be aware of the strength levels that I brought with me from my “life” but to look at the progress I was able to make (or not make) in the different lifts and feats of strength through training in what might be called my “senior citizen” years. During this time period my bodyweight probably fluctuated by maybe 10# up and down – so an increase in body size was not a factor in any increases in strength. My hand size is 7 5/8” and has not changed – my hands may have gotten a little thicker but that’s only a guess. I don’t see the point in listing all the lifts I have done but some discussion of the basics and my progress might be of value.

Grippers – Grippers have a huge skill component considering the “set” used. My early attempts used no set – I placed it in my hand and squeezed – I had no concept of a “set”. My later closes were done with a so called parallel set or similar so a real comparison of actual “strength” is difficult. Age 55 no set – I closed a COC #2 at 104# gripper but I feel I could have done more if it had been available to me. Best competition close was a 20 mm block set of 156# around age 60 to 62. Best Credit Card close was a 146# COC #3 (not in competition). Best no set close ever is 142# on a narrow spread gripper. My best competition close choked to parallel was 192.8# and a COC #4 of 195# in training. So gripper strength improved both due to skill of setting and also I feel the muscles became a good bit stronger. I probably need to mention that I dislike grippers and almost never trained them. I personally feel the choked closes show “strength” levels better than closes done with any of the various “sets” used that seem to involve a high level of “skill”.

Block Weights DL and Clean – L&R handed – The “test” for block weight is the “Blob” or half of a 100# York dumbbell – which will weigh around 50# obviously. At age 55 I lifted an “easy” Blob the first time I actually saw one (I had been training with other types of block weights for a short time previously). Later on I lifted it both left and right handed and cleaned it left and right hand. Even later I was able to lift a “Fatman Blob” right handed to full DL. I feel hand size and the way my thumb sits was (is) somewhat of a limitation for blocks but mostly I just never got strong enough to do more. I did make substantial progress with plate pinching though as hand size and spread didn’t seem as limiting. I went from 2 -25s and 2 -35s right hand in the beginning to 2 -45s, 5 – 10s, and 3-25s both R & L hand within the last couple years.

Axle DO DL – Fat bar was something that I did not bring good natural strength to in my mind. I don’t remember my early numbers but I’ll guess maybe 320#? I have done 356# several times in competition and 363# as an extra attempt once (not official). Best training lifts were around 375 to 380#. These lifts were done with a max regular bar DL of around 400# which I think limited me somewhat – making the lift take a longer time to complete. I could at one time lift and hold for several seconds 420# in a short range rack pull. Progress was difficult in this lift for me and took a lot of work.

David Horne Euro Pinch – Probably the lift I seem to have had the best natural inclination for. It is also the lift I spent the most time figuring out how to do better on. I like to think I have increased this lift with a combination of strength increases and learning to take advantage of my personal strengths and weaknesses better and better. Going from memory only I think I did 180 something my first comp with the device and pretty quickly went to 195 – 200#. From there I made the decision to “become good” on this lift. I was one of the early guys to do bodyweight on it and spent a good bit of time tweaking my technique. Even with the age increase I have steadily been able to get small increases in this one to 235.78# for the current #17 position on NAGS.

DO Bending – When bending really got started I tried it and simply sucked – I struggled to bend pretty much anything. Then Frankyboy from Germany came to visit me and showed me some technique – in a matter of an hour or so I went from doing an IM Blue nail to just failing to finish a Grade 8 Bolt. Skill and position are absolute keys. Over time I increased to IM Red Nails and a best ever of a 5/16” x 6” Cut Red Nail or FBBC bar. But I was tearing my shoulders to pieces and quickly decided the risk was too great for me.

Reverse Bending – This came fairly naturally for me. With some training and technique work I was able to go from a beginning best of ¼’ x 6” Grade 5 Bolts to doing Red Nails reverse and a best competition bend of a 6” piece of Drill Rod in competition (I don’t remember the poundage rating but it had been rated by Eric Milfield (the number 505# comes to mind but may be off). I think I had fairly good wrist strength from all the life work I had done and mostly needed better positions and technique.

Sledge Hammer Choke – relatively speaking a newer competition lift – I seemed to do well quickly on it with no training before that first contest. I did better in the second competition on it but I never trained it “directly” but did a lot of work with the “Wrist Thingy” in training that I feel had a very positive impact. I’ve also spent a considerable amount of time working with sledge hammers and axes.

The take-away, I guess, is that from the age of 55 to a current age of 66 – and with a long history of previous training – I increased every grip related lift or test number by either a small or fairly large margin. In some cases, I think much of those results were due to technique but I feel my “strength” actually got better as well in all areas.

Currently I am not training grip towards competition but am climbing quite a bit – but I do intend to do a few more contests over the next few years – it is my hope to compete at age 70 and set Masters age group records in that class.

At that point I will consider retirement.

Time will tell.

At least in this experiment of one – grip strength has not seemingly suffered the same decline as the rest of my body strength.

-Chris Rice-

Check out this other article from Chris Rice: Grip Training for Beginner Climbers

Never Count Yourself Out – Double Inch Dumbbell Farmer’s Walk

Monday, June 22nd, 2015

As I always say, don’t EVER count yourself out.

At the beginning of last Thursday’s session, I was questioning if it was even a good idea to train with all the aches and pains I had all over my body. It was hard getting warm, and it seemed like even the equipment was working against me, as my Pull-down Machine was giving me a hassle and so was my Glute Ham.

It would have been easy to just say, “Screw It,” and wrap the session up before it even started, but Luke was making the drive down, so I just put my head down forged ahead.

The resolve paid off BIG TIME, as I had what I can only describe as my absolute best day of thick bar training in my lifetime.

I’ve rarely been able to even Deadlift 2 Inch Dumbbells more than once in my lifting career, so to be able to carry them multiple times in one session is out of this world for me.

What’s crazy is my best DIFW probably would have been my first one, but I wasn’t prepared to even walk them. They just felt good when I stood up, so I decided to take a few steps and had to set them down because I ran out of platform to carry them on.

My training has definitely been dialed in as of late. I thank God for that.

After years and years of Inch Dumbbell Frustration, it is nice to have finally carried these beasts a few times the other day. I pretty much carried them on Thursday, in that one session, just as many times (if not more) than I have carried them in all the rest of my life, put together.

Next time, I gotta get them outside for some REAL distance!

All the best in your training!


Are You Training to Lift the Inch Dumbbell? This DVD Will Help You:

North American Grip Sport Championship 2015

Wednesday, June 10th, 2015

This past weekend was “Nationals,” the North American Grip Sport Championship.


If you’re not familiar, the way Nationals works is you must qualify via 1 of several ways.

One way is based on your finish in a sanctioned contest. Generally, top 3 in your class will get you qualified.

Another way is by breaking a long-standing record, such as a bodyweight record for certain lifts, or by breaking a World Record in other lifts.

Still, another way is to certify on highly recognized 3rd party feats of strength, such as the IronMind #3 Gripper or Red Nail.

Finally, if you can qualify one year, and you go to the NAGS Championship and compete, then you’ll be qualified for the next year.

Various contests take place all over the United States and Canada throughout the year, and competitors qualify at every single contest, for the chance to compete at Nationals, the biggest and most prestigious competition all year long.

In 2014, I was lucky enough to win the overall competition. The events were good for me, and I trained them hard, and it resulted in a strong win over top competition.

This year, the events were a bit different. They were events that I was OK in, but the mix wasn’t anywhere near as strong for me in 2014, so I knew I had my work cut out for me.

Going in, I knew my main competition would be Andrew Durniat and Kody Burns. Andrew and I have been battling it out in Grip Sport since 2008, and Kody has proven to be extremely talented in all forms of grip in the last few years.


I knew going in that Grippers would be strong for me. I have been closing my 170-rated Tetting 7 on a regular basis in training. I’ve done it before, but more sporadically.

The grippers used at Nationals are only used at Nationals. They were first used in 2014, so the 2015 contest was only the 2nd time they’ve ever been out of a shipping box.

Last year, I managed a 155 Left and a 170 Right. This year, I PR’d on both hands with a 160 Left and a 180 Right. I believe this makes me only the third or fourth person to ever close a Top Row gripper. There are three rows of grippers on the table, and 180 begins the top row. It’s a strange feeling being able to say that, as I have never been crazy strong on grippers.

Right Hand Grippers

Left Hand Grippers

Two Hands Pinch

What was once my best event that would be a sure overall win for me has turned into a nightmare. Training for this event went straight into the toilet mid-way through April for unknown reasons. In April, I had lifted an all-time training PR of 258lbs and broke 260 off the ground. Then, the next workout it was like I had no idea what I was doing.

I was able to get 235 fairly easy on my 2nd attempt, but 245 laughed in my face in my 3rd and 4th attempts. It would have been really nice to get those points, but I ended up just an inch or so shy on my 3rd lift and less than an inch on my 4th lift.

Kody Burns hit a successful lift of 254. This was the first time I’ve been beaten on 2 Hand Pinch in a contest since 2005, when Chad Woodall beat me at the Global Grip Challenge.

Double Overhand Axle

In contrast from Pinch, my Axle had been super strong throughout April and May. I was lifting 393 for multiple singles and some doubles in May. I just recently hit my first ever lifts of 400lbs on the Axle at the New York Grip Throwdown in April, so I figured this year would be the year I finally got 400lbs in competition at Nationals as well.

Unfortunately, I didn’t quite get legal lifts. I got them very close to Lockout, but didn’t have enough control over the bar to get good calls. Close but no cigar.

Wrist Roller

The Wrist Roller this year involved an elevating lift arm and a sled drag. I feel like I prepared very well for this event, as I cut my time down to a third of what it was in March when I tried it at Andrew’s gym in March. I got a little over 10 seconds.


Going into the Medley, I was sitting in 2nd Place. I didn’t know how far behind I was of the Leader, Kody Burns, though. I knew I beat him in Grippers, and that he had beaten me in Pinch, Axle, and Wrist Roller, so for all I knew I was down 3 to 5 points.

I didn’t worry about the deficit I was facing. Instead, I just focused on seeing each one of the implements coming up when it was my turn to make my run.

The way the Medley worked was there were two rows of 12 implements. One row was lighter, one row was heavier. If you completed the lighter implement, you got half a point. If you got the heavier implement, you got 1 point. You could try the harder one, and if you missed, you could go do the lighter one, but you would only get points for the heavier variation. So, the best possible score was 12 points.

I honestly thought I was going to Stack the whole Medley, except for the Sledge Lever to the Face. I figured I would run out of time to even try it, so my goal was 11 points.

To my surprise, the Saxon Bar loaded to 205lbs was EXTREMELY tough. The finish was very slick and chalk would not stick to it, so NOBODY ended up getting it.

Also, the Sorinex Anvil proved too heavy for me. I got it an inch off the floor, but nowhere near lockout. In both cases of the Saxon Bar and the Anvil, I had to go to the lighter versions and settle for half a point each.

Additionally, the adrenaline must have given me a kick, because I shot through the entire Medley and had time to try the Hammer Lever, and I completed it. So, that gave me 10 of the 1-point feats and 2 of the half-point feats, for a total of 11 points, exactly the total that I wanted.

The scores must have been closer that I anticipated, because the 11 points was enough to allow me to inch my way past Kody Burns in the Final Standings, and I was elated to learn that I had won the Overall competition.

With this victory, it makes my 3rd consecutive Division Champion and 2nd consecutive Overall Champion. I honestly couldn’t believe it.

I am beyond thankful to God for my health and my ability to stay focused. In past contests, my disappointing finishes in the Pinch and Axle would have resulted in a great deal of anger, but this year I was able to remain focused.

I am thankful to my wife, Delraine, and my family for supporting me in my endeavors in Grip Sport.

I am so thankful to have a great partner like Luke Raymond who trains his butt off every bit as hard as I do and truly pushes me to be better.

I thank my other training partner, Mark Gannon, who pushes me hard on Friday mornings and lets me work a little thick bar into the sessions, even though it eats up some time and makes me grumpy to train with.

I sent a note to my parents who have supported me in athletics since I was a child and these days listen to my Grip stories with the same attention they used to listen to my baseball and basketball reports.

I sent out thanks to my massage therapist, Rachelle and my chiropractor, Dr. Napp for helping to keep me healthy throughout the year and especially the last few weeks.

And I want to thank all of you in the Diesel Universe for all the continued support over the years.

I couldn’t have done this without any of you. Thank you.

All the best in your training.


Many have asked me what’s next for me. The primary goal is to lean up a bit. I have already made some modifications to my diet and added back in morning and lunch-time cardio sessions. If you’re interested in taking off a few lbs, check out Napalm Fat Burning. That program covers exactly the kind of stuff I’ll be doing in the next few weeks leading up to my August family vacation to the beach!


Cool “New” Griplement – The Chunk

Sunday, May 17th, 2015

Grip Training with the “Chunk”

The Chunk

My gym is filled to the brim with cool grip training gear I’ve accumulated over the years.

That’s what happens when you collect stuff for over 10 years!

Every so often, I like to dig one of the hidden gems out of the corner, dust it off, and give it a few pulls.

Recently, we pulled out the “Chunk.” This one isn’t really “new” to me, as I’ve had it since 2006, but I don’t think I’ve ever put anything out in the public about it until now. So, in that sense, I guess you could say it’s new…

The Chunk Block Weight

The Chunk is a 66-lb steel or iron drop, or scrap piece, essentially a piece that was cut off and never used. The Chunk is what’s considered a Block Weight. Even though Block Weights are usually one of the heads of a dumbbell, they can be any block-shaped implement that you lift with an open handed pinch grip.

Block Weights can be very beneficial for your training. They work the thumb very hard, and they make the entire lower arm work together in order to perform your lifts.

Block Weight Training is a great form of grip training to add into your routine.

Block Weights develop hand and grip strength in a general sense, which means it has the potential to improve strength in order types of grip training, and will carry over to other types of lifting because you’ll be stronger overall from doing Block Weight Training.

Here’s a few videos where we lift the Chunk and try some cool variations by adding weight to it…

Intro to the Chunk

Just taking a look at the Chunk to see its weight and features such as edges and surfaces.

Protected Training on the Chunk

With the sharp edges the Chunk has, we tried protecting our skin with a suede bending wrap and lifting it.

Throwing Chains on the Chunk

Adding chains makes it tougher to complete the lift because it gets heavier, the higher you pull it. It’s an excellent way to train your grip, borrowed from the world of Powerlifting (Louie Simmons introduced me to the concept).

Major Take-aways from Today’s Post

Here’s a few things to remember from today’s post for your training.

  • Block Weights are beneficial because they target the thumb (often neglected in training) and develop the entire lower arm in a general sense.
  • Block Weights come in nearly endless shapes and sizes and can be used for many different types of lifts.
  • Don’t be afraid to pull from other established training protocols and try the concepts in your grip training in order to spice things up a bit and keep yourself progressing. Naturally, do so safely!

If you’d like to get started with Block Weight Training, but don’t know where to begin, then grab my Block Weight Training DVD today. It also comes in digital format so you don’t have to mess with shipping.

All the best in your training.


Discover New Levels of Hand Strength with Block Weight Training

7 Years in the Making – 400+lbs on the IM Axle – FINALLY

Monday, April 20th, 2015

wooh 408
On 4/18/15, at the New York Grip Throwdown in Carmel, NY, I finally hit a lifetime Competition PR on the IronMind Double Overhand Axle Deadlift Axle Deadlift with 400 and 408 pounds.

This is the best lift I’ve had in competition since 2007, when I first lifted 396lbs.

It felt great to finally complete these lifts, and the fact that there was absolutely no doubt in either one of them puts even more icing on the cake, brotherrrr.

Jedd Johnson – 400lb IronMind Axle Deadlift

Jedd Johnson – 408lb IronMind Axle Deadlift

It’s been a long-time coming, and I’m pumped to be able to share this with you.

Keep hitting it hard in your workouts. It’s all gonna pay off.

All the best in your training.


Learn the Basics of Strongman Training with the Introduction to Strongman DVD