≡ Menu

10 Essential Strength Books: Part 2-The Grip Master’s Manual

I got into grip training after I hurt my shoulder.  I also had a knee that was giving me some problems at the time.  All of my upper body pressing was out, and I couldn’t do deadlifts or squats on that dumb knee.  I was ready to get under the covers and sob, but someone wiser than I said “Use an injury to make something else stronger.”  At the time, I didn’t know people did anything to strengthen their hands.  Strong hands don’t look good in booty shorts and all that…

Little did I know that I had opened a door that would never shut again.  It’s hard to explain how fun grip training can be.  Maybe it’s the surprise factor.  If a guy with giant shoulders or arms walks into a room, people will probably assume he’s very strong.  Maybe he is, and maybe he isn’t.  The point is, nobody would pay any attention to his hands and wonder “Hmmm…could that guy pinch my head off with his grip?”

John Brookfield is an unassuming,  laid-back, down-to-earth guy who could pinch your head off with his grip.  His strength is phenomenal.  People in the grip world (there is such a thing, and it rules) speak Brookfield’s name with extreme reverence.  He is a legend and has achieved near-mythical status just because he’s so strong.  And make no mistake: he’s strong all over, but it’s his grip that opened that uncloseable (not a real word) door for me.

The Gripmaster’s Manual is a slim, no-nonsense book that works.  If you want a stronger grip, this book will help you.  One of the problems I ran into as a grip newbie was lack of imagination.  The bench press and the bicep curl are know to everyone, whether they lift or not.  Can you think of a grip exercise that is to grip what the bench press is to the upper body?  What exercises will develop your pinching power in the same way that the squat or deadlift work your lower body?  Most grip knowledge isn’t common knowledge. If you knew, go have a trophy made for yourself.  I didn’t, so The Gripmaster’s Manual was something of a revelation.

Note: if you look for this at your library and don’t find it in the catalog, try searching for The Grip Master’s Manual instead (two words). I’ve seen it both ways.

There are lots of cool grip tools out there.  For a price, you can have anything you want custom-made.  There is a lot of appeal in that.  If money is an issue, John Brookfield is the master of hand strength on the cheap.  If you can afford some bricks, rubber bands, and some 2 x 4s, then you’re on your way.

Back to the surprise factor:  It’s a surprise when someone shows you how strong their hands or forearms are, because hands look like….hands.  They don’t get veiny and bulging and demand the attention.  You don’t drape sexy little string tanks over your fingers to show off the exquisite symmetry of your knuckles and cuticles that you’ve slaved over.  But when a pair of hands–hands that look just like anyone else’s–do something like tear a phonebook, a deck of cards, or bend a horseshoe in front of you, it’s a surprise.  There’s an element of showmanship to it.

georgeThat’s why the old-time strongmen were such successful performers.  I have all the respect in the world for someone who can lift giant weight in the squat or bench press.  But those are things that you’re going to see if you frequent powerlifting gyms or competitions, in which case you may never see it.  But when you see someone rolling up a skillet with their bare hands–and I don’t care if it’s at a state fair, on the news, or in a movie–it surprises you because you can’t believe what you saw.  You can watch a 1000 bench press and say “Wow, that’s a lot of weight,” but unless you bench, you can’t really identify with it.

But take your frying pan out of the cupboard and try to roll it up until it fits through your watchband…you will say “How in the world could anyone actually do that?”  The good news is, it’s not impossible.

The answers are simple and the work required is uncomplicated.  The effort it takes is significant, and you won’t get very far without persistence and frequent practice. And perhaps the Grip Master’s Manual.

Grip training is really, really fun.  It’s satisfying in a different way than muscle-building.  I believe that my favorite aspect is that it gives you a chance to be stronger than you look.  Bruce Lee was a tiny guy, but people could not believe how strong he was.  I’d take that (although I’ll never be a tiny guy) a million times over before I’d take a bodybuilder’s body that everyone just assumed was powerful.

The only point that matters: if you are the least bit intrigued by grip strength or strongman feats, The Grip Master’s Manual is the best place to start.

Good luck!

And speaking of grip strength, Adam Glass and Brad Nelson just released an incredible DVD of their Grip N Rip 2010 workshop. I was there and it changed my training forever. Highly recommended!

If you liked this post, please Subscribe To The RSS feed. Thanks!


This article is Part Two of a series. Read Part 1 here.

Comments on this entry are closed.

  • flagmonkey April 23, 2009, 1:01 pm


    great post. I totally agree with you. 2 months ago I did’nt even know there was a grip training at all if it’s not for rehab. Then I saw this skinny guy on youtube ripping a phonebook and immediately thougth: This must be a trick.

    On the same night I ripped the H&M summer catalogue and a 400 pages phonebook. This was such a great feeling that I started collecting phonebooks from parents and neighbours.

    Since I never did any specific training I’m pretty sure your recommended book will be on my list for the next order. Hope I can progress to the big phonebooks after a while.

    Have fun.

  • Josh Hanagarne April 23, 2009, 2:03 pm

    Holy cow. If you did all that the first night you’re a natural. You’ll be at the big phonebooks before you know it. Incidentally, if you’re looking for a source, my grocery store (Albertson’s) always has a few hundred books just sitting by the entrance. You might try your friendly neighborhood grocers if you’re finding it hard to come by mutilatable (sp?) objects.

  • David Cain April 23, 2009, 3:27 pm

    Nail bending seems to really be catching on at dragondoor.com. I had no idea there was such a subculture centered around warping metal with one’s hands.

  • Josh Hanagarne April 23, 2009, 3:48 pm

    Oh yeah. There are some real crazies over on DD. I’ll be doing a review soon of a “bending starters kit.” You can actually buy the “bag o’ nails.” But it takes the most incredible effort. It comes down to being able to do one rep that can take a loooooong time. And then the real lunatics will start trying to bend x amount of bolts or nails in x amount of minutes. I’m a real novice yet, but it’s pretty fun.

  • Ben Owens April 23, 2009, 5:09 pm

    Grip training is a lot of fun, and is something I would never have known about (just like kettlebells) if it weren’t for you. I would still be kick-backing and leg-pressing myself silly to this day if you didn’t keep finding these AWESOME tools and showing them to me. Now I just need to find a steady supply of phonebooks (I depleted mine today) because I am becoming addicted to tearing them.

  • Josh Hanagarne April 23, 2009, 5:20 pm

    Come up to Albertons’. It’s fun, huh?

  • Andy June 4, 2009, 12:57 pm

    Haha. That video is awesome. It just doesn’t compute!!! I’d never have thought you could fold a frying pan bare handed. I’ve had a dodgy hand for over a year now after an operation and didn’t know how to rehabilitate it. My normal gym work just involves hanging onto the weight so obviously isn’t doing much for the hand. I’m intrigued.

    I’m also going to send this link to my brother as he’s a fitness nut and got me into the Kettlebells and is trying to get me into his crossfit stuff.

    Great article too Josh.

    • Josh Hanagarne June 4, 2009, 1:03 pm

      Thanks Andy. I’m with you–It never occurred to me that you might be able to do something like that with your hands. Intriguing is the perfect word for it.