Captains of Crush - The Sport of Grip Content from the guide to life, the universe and everything

Captains of Crush - The Sport of Grip

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Are you a Captain of Crush? Don't be surprised if you don't understand the question. Most people aren't Captains of Crush. This is the title given to those people that have closed1 the IronMind2 #3 hand gripper under certified conditions. This is no mean feat and the list of men (for all current Captains of Crush are male) is small.

The number of men that have closed the #4 gripper is even smaller and can currently be counted on the fingers of one hand, with only five members of this elite group. No doubt this list will grow in the future, albeit slowly.

Gripping Stuff

The hand grippers in question are not the common or garden plastic handled variety that one might find in a sports shop. Even the IronMind Trainer, or RB100 grippers, are about three times as hard. A hand gripper is constructed from two handles and a wound piece of steel wire. Handles are typically constructed from aluminium, brass or steel and tend to be knurled to facilitate grip. The diameter of the steel wire is a major factor in the difficulty of a given gripper. Other contributing factors include how deep the wire is set into the handles and how wide the handles are apart. Here is a picture of a typical gripper.

The trainer requires an effort of approximately 100 inch-pounds (IP) to close it. This means that a person using a one-inch handle would need to push with 100lb of force (45kg) in order to turn the handle around its pivot. Alternatively, a person using a 10-inch handle would need to push with just 10lb (4.5kg) or force (cf) - 'foot pounds'. This is a measure of the torque that must be exerted by the practitioner's hands. The aforementioned #3 gripper requires some 280 IP to close it, whilst the phenomenal #4 needs an effort amounting to 365 IP. You can imagine why the list of people that can close it is so short!

How to Close a Gripper

In order to close a gripper, one would typically 'set' the gripper in the palm. First one should inspect the winding of the steel wire by looking at it from the side. Normally, one of the sides will display a sharper than normal bend where it straightens out to enter the handle. This is known as the 'dog leg'; the handle with the dog leg is the one that should be placed on the palm, against the thumb pad.

Next, one will typically pinch the ends of the handles with the opposite hand, squeezing them together enough so that the fingers of the gripping hand can curl around the handle. This is not considered cheating, but the handles should not be forced beyond parallel. Once done, remove the free hand, and squeeze with the gripping hand. That's it! Harder! Come on, you can do it! ROAR! Feels good, doesn't it?

The first part of the squeeze is known as the 'sweep'. Generally speaking, this is relatively easy and it's just a precursor to the real meat of the exercise - the 'crush'. The crush refers to the part of the squeeze between getting the handles to parallel and getting the ends to touch. Grippers get harder to squeeze as they get closer to being closed, and the last 5mm and remaining can require a lot of training to overcome. Here is a picture of a gripper being squeezed shut. Actually, it's not quite closed, because it's not that easy holding a gripper shut whilst trying to focus a camera on it and take a photo at the same time.

Training to Close a Gripper

There are a number of ways in which a person can train their grip in order to close a hand gripper. These include:

  • Reps - repeatedly squeezing a gripper that you can already close or almost close. For example, 10 repetitions.
  • Max effort - exerting maximum effort on a gripper that you can't close.
  • Timed hold - squeezing shut a gripper and holding it closed for a period of time, eg, 10 seconds.
  • Negatives - squeezing a gripper shut and letting it out slowly, under control. 'Forced negatives' involve a gripper that you can't 'cheat close' (by pushing against the leg or other hand and then proceeding with the negative).
  • Strap holds - these involve looping a strap through a weightlifting plate or filled bucket and then gripping the ends of the strap with a closed gripper. The thinner the strap, the more difficult the exercise, as the gripper has to be held shut further. Alternatively, strap holds can be performed with an inverted pair of pliers.
  • Inverted crushes - holding the gripper upside down, possibly with only the bottom two or three fingers.
  • Overcrushes - do this by filing off the inside edge of a gripper that you can close, thus enabling it to be closed further than normal.

Why Do It?

There's something raw and basic about feats of strength. When thinking about strength in general, 'strongmen' in particular, most people think of heavy iron and big lifts. Hand strength and grip are more of a niche discipline but nonetheless impressive. Grip is important for strength training, helping the owner of the grip to lift larger weights; for 'showing off' feats of strength such as nail bending, phone directory or card deck tearing, grip strength can be an end unto itself. Training one's grip can yield benefits in other aspects of life. Sports such as golf, tennis, tug-o-war and climbing can be improved with a good grip and who knows, one day your life could well depend on the strength of your grip. Besides all that, it's useful to still be able to open that jar of pickles once old age sets in.


1Squeezed the hand gripper so that the ends of the handles touch each other.2IronMind are a company that specialise in equipment for strength athletes.

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