Hand grip strength exercise for martial arts

A while ago, Thomas asked me a question on my Facebook page about something I mentioned on my latest DVD. It concerned a hand grip strength exercise for martial arts and self-defense I explained on there but didn’t show. Just to be clear, I didn’t show it because we needed to keep the amount of footage under control or else the video would be cut up into multiple discs and I wanted to avoid that (more discs is more expensive for both the publisher and the buyer, aka: you.)

I mentioned this exercise in a section about gripping techniques in which hand grip strength plays an important part. These are the tearing, ripping grasping and crushing techniques of the “tiger” mindset I showed.  Now back in the day, hand grip exercises were part and parcel of many traditional styles. There were tons of conditioning drills you needed to do religiously, including toughening the skin, muscle and tendons of your hands and fingers. If you do this kind of training correctly, you can get some scary results with it: I once saw my teacher rip a student’s t-shirt to shreds and draw blood by accident when he didn’t control his technique enough.  And that was when he wasn’t even trying.

You don’t need to get to that point but there is a minimum amount of training necessary to be able to pull off the techniques I showed in my video. That’s where this hand grip strength exercise comes in. All you need is an old newspaper and you’re good to go.

The video is a bit uneven in quality because the sunlight was playing tricks, but here goes:


Hand grip strength exercise for martial arts

A couple of things you should know about this hand grip strength exercise:

  • It’s nothing new. My first Chinese Martial Arts teacher showed it to me almost 30 years ago and I’m sure he got it form somebody else before that.
  • You can use something other than a newspaper. If a single sheet of newspaper is too easy, try two or three sheets at the same time. Or try some light cardboard, that’s fun too. These all have the advantage that it gets tougher as you squash it into a smaller ball. Because the smaller it gets, the denser it becomes and the harder you have to squeeze to keep on crushing it. So this way, the drill is increasingly difficult, the longer it goes on and the more tired you get. Alternatively, you can use sand bags (or a sandbell like this one) though these offer a different type of training all together. Not better or worse, just different.
  • Be consistent. If you want results, do this hand grip strength exercise regularly. At least twice a week. Anything less and you’re wasting your time.
  • It’s not about strength alone. The goal is to have not just hand grip strength but also perfect control. I mention this in the video but it is worth repeating: don’t just open and close your fingers, work just as hard on controlling the movement. To that end, you can focus on separate fingers at a time or combine several digits like I showed. It’s all good, as long as you make it a conscious decision every single time as to which finger or type of grip you do with every single repetition.
  • Stretch.  After you do this conditioning drill, stretch your fingers and forearms. It’ll help keep them flexible and limber as you build strength in them. This in turn will give you more precision when you use them to grip or crush something.
  • Be creative. Have fun with this drill. Use the variations I explained and make up your own. There’s no reason why  a hand grip strength exercise needs to be boring, not at all. Make it fun and challenging and you’ll get results faster because you’ll train harder that way.
  • Apply the strength within a technique. I showed this in the last part of the video but the whole point of this hand grip strength exercise is to be able to perform certain techniques that require this kind of strength. You’re not doing this training for the fun of it, it’s supposed to be used with your techniques. So spend some time on gripping, ripping and crushing techniques after you finish a couple of weeks doing this drill. Otherwise your new-found strength will just be a potential asset instead of a practical one you use consciously.

These are just some of the things you should keep in mind for this exercise. Obviously, you’re free to add your own unique twist or variation to it.

Hand grip strength exercise for martial arts

If you’re interested in buying my video, click this image.

The time this hand grip strength exercise helped me out.

The last time I worked as a bouncer, I had grabbed a guy to toss him outside because he was starting trouble. He started resisting half-way to the door, so I flipped him onto the floor on his belly for better control. I fish-hooked his mouth, worked him back into a solid grip and was just about to walk him out when a girlfriend of his ran up to me and grabbed me by the hand, asking to let him go. She was smart about it too: she grabbed my little pinky finger with her entire hand and tried to peel it away to make me lose my grip.

That’s where all my hand grip strength training paid off: she couldn’t. My weakest finger was stronger than her entire hand.

After a second or two of her trying to break my grip and me telling her to let go, I decided I didn’t want to hit her but the situation needed to be resolved ASAP. So I dropped the guy to the floor and cleared her hand off of mine with a sweeping slap. She got the message. Before the guy was full well on the ground I was already back on him and managed to escort him to the door.

The only reason that girl didn’t break my grip (or my poor little finger) was the hand grip strength exercise I showed you here. It was an integral part of my conditioning training for a long, long time and it gave me the strength I needed to get the job done.

So give this one a try and see if it works for you too.


  1. slim934 says:

    Would one really need a drill like this if they were already incorporating something like thivk bar weight training into their strength training regime?

    For example, with something like this http://www.fatgripz.com/.

    • IMO, yes. Fat gripz are great but they work your hand very differently than this drill. Muscles tend to get stronger in the range of motion they are used. As fat gripz have limited range of motion (you can’t fully close your hand on them) the results will likely be limited as well. Mind you, they have a lot of benefits but not all of them translate directly to martial arts or self-defense, despite what their advertising claims.

  2. rob doore says:

    hi wim,i will certainly give these exercises a go as i do combatives
    which is a lot of open hand techniques and ripping and tearing
    so the need for hand,finger and forearm strength is a must
    i currently do lots of plate curls,wrist curls,grips,pinches,etc
    so i will add these in
    thanks rob.

  3. Running a chain saw for hours at a time regularly will also build quite a grip:-) My cousin, a Golden Gloves boxer, once told me that when he was a faller, he started and stopped a fight by just grabbing a hold of a guy.

    And for stretching out those massive muscles, I find that hand stands help a lot.


    • I used to work construction as a kid, that helps too. :-)
      Ever since I cracked the scaphoid in my left wrist doing palm strikes, handstands aren’t very comfortable for me. So I stick to boring stretching routines. :-)

  4. Hi Wim, interesting video (never considered that before). Nice job on the bouncing incident: Good professional, moderate and appropriate use of force which is my primary goal! Big thumb’s up!

  5. j. a. mullins says:

    hey wim,
    i have used a similar exercise for years. i broke several bones in my right hands years ago and had to go through physical therapy. the therapist taught me to use a playdough ball about 2 inches in diameter. holding the ball in your palm and begin squeezing your fingers into your palm flattening the ball as thoroughly as possible using only that hand. once the clay is flattened out as far as you can get it ou then close your hand balling it back up. roll the ball around as you do this to actually make it somewhat round. after doing both hands like this i often do it again but i incorporate wrist rotation to it. i do this, usually, in sets. i can do a ball in each hand at once for three 5 minute sets, 30 seconds between sets, balling the dough up followed by three sets of 2 minutes with 30 seconds rest between each adding wrist motion. it’s a killer, i do this three times per week. it has taken me years to get to this point. at one point i was doing this everyday, but that soon led to tendon troubles from overuse. due to the cost of playdough i soon found myself using modeling clay instead.

  6. charles James says:

    Nice article Mr. Demeere.

    I think it speaks to the simplicity one can use to achieve great things. I remember at the onset of recruit training at Parris Island when a drill instructor demonstrated, using us recruits, how we would suffer if we messed up. He looked at me, I was about 210 pounds of muscle then, and decided to demonstrate on me.

    He used a simple towel. He had me hold it in my finger tips at each corner, length wise, with arms straight out in front of me with elbows locked, arms parallel to the deck. I was then told to fold that towel until I had it folded as far as it would go while maintaining the arms as indicated. Then he had me unfold it, fold it, unfold it, fold it and lo-n-behold my arms quickly started to burn and drop. If your arms dropped then the drill instructors started in on you.

    Anyway, I believe many would kind of scoff at your hand strengthening exercise until they try it and then “whoa” that is hard to do, cool, thanks.

    Charles J.

  7. Derrick Clark says:

    Good stuff! Myself I train in self-defense and one of my main focus is grip strength.

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