Thursday, 26 February 2009

Review: Captains of Crush grippers

One of the biggest indicators of strength when you first meet someone is when you shake their hand and feel either a vice like grip or a sweaty, limp hand. The strongest grip that I ever came across still remains in my memory as a humbling experience.

I was working on a building site aged sixteen and the site foreman, Tim was renowned for his grip strength. Not knowing this, upon meeting him I offered my hand (I later found that it was common knowledge on-site never to shake his hand) and immediately felt a crushing force unlike anything I'd encountered before or since. He didn't do so in malice, his grip was apparently so strong that he could not gauge it's affect on "normal" people.

I've always had a good grip but this was something else. Which brings me to my point; we all train in different ways for different activities but one type of strength remains universally important and that is grip strength. Lifting heavy loads every day for forty years, it's not difficult to imagine how Tim developed his amazing grip nor is it hard to see the benefits it no doubt brought him at work.

But what for the rest of us? Climbers such as myself require a strong grip as it is our last point of attachment to the rock, it is also generally accepted to be the weakest and therefore the most important. Gymnasts and acrobats need a firm attachment to what they're holding, be it rings, parallel bars or silks. Finally weightlifters require an increasingly strong grip as they improve and lift heavier and heavier weights. I've heard several power lifters complaining that they'd have made that last lift if only their grip was stronger.

So how do we train our grip? It differs from sport to sport; climbers mainly improve through climbing but lifters and athletes whose sport requires a crushing or pinching type grip can benefit from grip enhancers. These are the sprung "gripper" devices that we've all seen and most of us have tried. I began using them years ago but quickly became frustrated with how easy even the hardest store bought grippers were. Then I discovered the Captains of Crush grippers by Ironmind.

Made from aircraft grade aluminium in the USA, these are the worlds toughest grippers. There isn't a man on earth (not even my old site foreman Tim) who could complain about these being too easy; the number four has only been closed by five men in the entire world! Here is a list of the force required to close each:

Guide: 60lbs (27kg)
Sport: 80lbs (36kg)
: 100lbs (45.5kg)
Number 1: 140lbs (63.6kg)
Number 2: 195lbs (88.6kg)
Number 3: 280lbs (127.2kg)
Number 4: 365lbs (166kg)

There is also a 1.5, 2.5 and 3.5 gripper but the exact force required to crush these is not listed.

I own the "1", "2" and "2.5 "and can close the number 1 for sets of 25-30reps. The number "2" I can close for 5reps and I cannot yet close the 2.5. My target is to close the number "3" and get certified on the Ironmind website. (Only twelve people last year managed to).

As advice on what to go for first; if you consider yourself to have an already very strong grip, start with the "1" or "1.5". I bought the number "1" first and found it to be OK but don't be fooled, most people can't fully close this one. If your grip is average for a guy, get the Trainer and when this becomes easy, you'll be ready for the "1". If you have average strength for a woman, you'll be fine with the Sport or if you're confident, take the Trainer.

At about £22 each, they're not that expensive. Buy them one at a time so that if the one you purchase is too easy/hard, you can get the one above/below and use the original as a warm-up/goal.

As a climber, I didn't feel that training with CoC benefited me at the wall (except on pinch grips on which I now rock!) but it was well worth the investment in training time and money for the simple but satisfying reason that I can now crush an apple into mush!!


  1. Nice write up. I keep forgetting about these until someone brings them along to a training session. Checking out ironmind site now and deciding which one to order.

  2. Thanks man. Which one did you get in the end James?

  3. Thanks for the article.
    Which CoC gripper do you think is the equivalent of the power needed to crush an apple?

  4. Hello IronGymnast, that depends upon a few factors, namely the apple variety, size and ripeness. A cox apple can be crushed quite easily once you're closing the 1.5 CoC for six reps. This is by far the easiest apple though even when unripe due to its small size and soft texture.

    Smaller apples allow you to get your hand right around them to exert a force inwards from all directions. This causes them to split and then explode quite satisfyingly.

    Braeburns are slightly harder followed by the larger varieties. Lastly the greener apples with their more turgid cells take an enormous force to crush. For these -the hardest of which is probably a Bramley apple- must be somewhere between 3 and 3.5 CoC by my estimation.

    I dream of one day crushing a Bramley apple.. Lastly, no thumbs are allowed pushing into the apple as this is cheating! Good luck.

  5. Hi Richard, nice blog, I've really enjoyed it reading and learning a lot. By the way, last post from October...are you going to continue it?

    Regarding the grippers, I remember I've read articles in one of Polish climbing magazine in late '90 about grip trainers based on spring. Author described it as not quite healthy for tendons and overall hand grip system. Once you put the force to squeeze it, it's OK and natural. The problem is that when loosing grip and relaxing muscles there is short moment when the spring gives away a lot of (too much) energy that is put on tendons while they are being relaxed.
    I'm not native English speaker, so it's nto easy for me to describe it, but the effect could be described shortly as the hand-grip system gets confused: it is asked to relax but the spring still puts a lot of force on it.
    The conclusion was that it's better to use something that does not resist with such big force as the steel spring. For example, sqeeze a newspaper making a ball of it, plasticine or similar material.


  6. Hi Richard,

    How are you doing? I hope you enjoy travelling overseas now.

    I have just reminded myself about alternative system that solves the problems I mentioned above. The Metolius GripSaver Plus seems to be much saver and more effective in terms of exercise range than the grippers

    Good luck!

  7. Regarding the half-numbers, I am about to order some grippers from the CoC website and they are shown as:
    1.5: 167.5lbs
    2.5: 237.5 lbs
    3.5: 322.5 lbs