Grip Training for Adventure Racers

It’s hard to imagine an adventure race where you don’t use your hands.  The only instance you can safely tuck away those mitts is during the trekking section.  Even then, you may be using poles to help navigate the terrain and distribute weight.  So how do you go about training those hands and forearms to handle the demands of a long race of non-stop hand to handlebar, hand to paddle, hand to rope kind of activity?

One method of developing grip strength is to simply acquire it from racing.  It’s basically using racing as the training for more racing.  It’s not bad, it’s effective, but let’s look at ways to improve on this

One part of the adventure race that gets a lot of people is the portage.  The short-duration effort where you have to lug that heavy rental boat (the one you didn’t train with) over rocks, around trees and through parking lots.  Your arms are on fire and you are expected to then hop in and start paddling.  Burned out forearms are not ideal when you have 30 miles of paddling ahead of you.

There are a variety of training tools that can develop your grip:

  • Kettlebells are a great way to do this.  Swinging a bell through the air has a way of forcing you to hold on tight.  With consistent effort, the grip naturally develops.  So do callouses, you’ve been warned.
  • Odd objects are another way to develop grip strength:  sand bags, finger-pinch plate carry, these will definitely help with grip.  Hard to do, but they are effective.
  • Deadlifts – anytime you pick up a bar with weight on it (be sure you are lifting with correct form!!) you develop grip strength, if your goal is purely grip, go for the thickest bar you can hold onto, you won’t need much weight to get the benefit.
  • Newspaper – start with a piece of newspaper and crumple an entire sheet (USA Today size) into a ball.  Repeat.
  • Simulation – purchase a kayak carry handle and construct a “portager” with options for adding weight, build into your workouts and you will be getting sport specific training that you can measure.

Another thing to remember is that the grip is a system.  It’s not just your hands that are doing the work.  Forearms, shoulders, back, even glutes and legs are involved.  Select activities that will use your whole body (i.e. deadlift, kettlebells, portage training).  The other options are fine when you don’t have access to something like a thick-grip deadlift bar, but the more you can build grip training into a multi-functional, full-bodied approach, the better off you’ll be as a solid adventure racer.

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