5 Death Grips & Wrist Lock Defenses

5 Death Grips & Wrist Lock Defenses

One of the first remarks I often hear whenever I roll with someone new is “Wow, you have such strong grips.” While I do have that annoying safety blanket habit of holding on to my grips for dear life, my grip strength is more than just sheer stubbornness.

Thanks to years of working on arm balances and inversions in yoga, my forearm strength and wrist flexibility has become a huge advantage in my jiu-jitsu game. Don’t worry though. You don’t need years of yoga for great grips. You just need to know the right tricks.

The same techniques used to prepare for handstands can be used to help with grip strength and wrist flexibility. Here are some of my favorites*:

1. Bear Claws

Nope, not bear crawls – bear claws. This movement may look deceivingly simple, but you’ll be surprised to find yourself checking the clock.

This takes the same basic concept used in egg beaters and uses deliberate rotation to strengthen the wrists and forearms.

  • Begin by making a claw with your hand as if you’re grabbing a grapefruit. 
  • Make sure you’re keeping your fingers engaged and not being lazy with your grasp.
  • Keeping your arms up and parallel to the ground, begin to rotate outwards, making sure to be moving from the wrist, keeping your arms as straight as possible. 
  • Continue for 1 full minute (or as long as you can go to start).
  • Switch the rotation direction and continue for another 1 minute or more.

2. Flash Fingers

So, think spirit fingers… just kidding.

Flash fingers look even easier than bear claws, but you’ll be wanting to tap out in less than a minute if you do them properly.

I have such a love/hate relationship with this exercise. It’s a killer, but it is one of most effective ways to build stamina and strength for great grips.

  • Begin with arms out straight, parallel to the ground, with your fists tightly clenched.
  • Energetically open your hands as wide as possible, as if you’re flicking water off your hands. 
  • Quickly re-clench your fist, doing so tightly as if you’re squeezing. 
  • Repeat this motion for 1-3 minutes (or as long as possible). 
  • Don’t be lazy! This movement can get really hard, really fast, but don’t give up. Push yourself to make at least a full minute.

*This pose can make your forearms feel very tight. I suggest following up with the self-forearm massage described below.

3. Palm Down Wrist Stretches

  • Begin on your hands and knees, table top pose/turtle position, with knees hip distance apart and shoulders stacked over the wrists to make sure the pressure is even.
  • Start with palms down and flat, fingertips facing forward. 
  • Slowly begin to rotate your wrists so fingertips are facing out to the sides.
  • Gently sway back and forth, alternating pressure between sides, only going as far as feels comfortable.
  • If this feels okay, you can gradually rotate the wrists fully and bring the fingertips to face the knees. 
  • From here you can slowly begin to sit back, bringing the butt towards the heels, while trying to keep the palms flat. 

4. Palm Up Wrist Stretches

This stretch has two variations depending on which you feel more comfortable trying.

Option 1: (This option is the safest to try if you know you have sensitive wrists as it lets you have full control of the pressure).

  • Begin either standing or seated upright.
  • Bring the tops of your hands to meet the sides of your ribs, below the armpits. Imagine you’re about to do the chicken dance.
  • Palms facing outwards, you can begin to apply pressure by gently pushing in toward your body.
  • You can bring your hands higher or lower, whichever gives you the best stretch through the tops of your hands, without being uncomfortable.

Option 2:

  • Begin once again on your hands and knees, but this time sitting slightly back so your weight is more on your knees than your hands.
  • Flip yours hands so that the tops of your hands are on the mat, and your palms are facing up with fingertips facing your knees.
  • You can slowly begin to sit back, trying to keep the tops of your hands on the mat.
  • Take this one slow, and only go as far as feels comfortable. 
  • Remember to keep your weight back toward your knees as to not put too much pressure on the hands.

5. Self-Forearm Massage

This technique feels great and has a fun little surprise reaction when done correctly.

This method is a great way to release tension in your forearms after trying the strengthening exercises above or after rolling some grip-heavy rounds.

  • Begin in turtle once again on your hands and your knees.
  • Bring one forearm flat to the mat, at a 90-degree angle and parallel to the top of the mat with your palm facing up.
  • Slide your arm back, closer to the knees, but keep that parallel angle. 
  • Keeping your palm-up hand totally relaxed, take either your opposite knee or opposite elbow and begin to apply pressure to the forearm moving laterally. I prefer to use the knee myself, as I feel I’m able to apply more even pressure.
  • If you’re doing this properly, your hand will start to embody Thing from The Adam’s Family and begin to open and close on its own. It’s a little creepy but also awesome. 
  • Continue this movement for as long as feels good, and repeat on both sides as needed.

As you dive deeper into using yoga to improve your jiu-jitsu, you might consider some other yoga poses that help wrist strength & flexibility:

Handstand, Downward Facing Dog, Dolphin Pose, Table Top, Chaturanga, Upward Facing Dog, Plank Pose, Side Plan, Crow Pose, High Cobra, and Low Cobra

For today, however, these exercises are a great place to start. Leave a note in the comments if you have any questions!

*Disclaimer: This instruction is provided for entertainment purposes only and does not represent nor is it meant to substitute for the advice of a medical professional or for the direction of an in-person coaching session. Please talk to a physician before beginning any new exercises.

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