Grip Training for Handgunners

One of the contributing factors of successful high-performance shooting lies in your ability and skill in controlling the handgun during the recoil cycle. While there are myriad bio-mechanical and neural processes involved in precisely how we create that control, none is more fundamental than strength in the hands, wrists, and forearms.

Strength is a commodity that we tend to take for granted . . . unless we don’t have it.

A weak grip and wimpy wrists are a sure-fire way to miss your mark. Targeted training will give you improved recoil control as well as the strength and endurance to squeeze off round after round—you’ll become a better shot and get more mileage from the time you spend at the range and the money you spend on ammunition.

A strong lower arm provides a stable platform for handgun shooting, and stronger fingers and overall grip will make squeezing the trigger easier—resulting in more accurate shooting, round after round. And if part of your challenge is weapons retention, your grip strength will determine whose hands your gun ends up in.

Ron Avery


by Ron Avery

Program design goals 

The key to shooting grip strength is to build your strength to a level where you can control the gun while still keeping a sizable reserve of strength. This reserve is critical to fine motor skills and shooting performance. If you have to use all your strength to hold onto the gun and try to control recoil, you will not be able to move the trigger finger with the finesse and speed required to shoot precisely at that speed.

You do not need massive levels of strength to shoot well. What you do need is to have enough strength to set the grip firmly without straining and then isolate the trigger finger without releasing your grip. The two middle fingers of the shooting hand do roughly
90 percent of the gripping action of that hand. Don’t neglect the pinkie finger though.

You are conditioning not only the muscles, but also the tendons and soft tissue of the hand and arm. This takes quite a bit longer to do. Over time, both muscles and tendons will grow in strength and resistance to injury. You will not get “Popeye” forearms. You will get pure, functional strength and conditioning from a proper shooting grip strength program.

Using the tools

The key to developing a high level of grip strength is to use more resistance for fewer reps. Tennis balls, conventional grip devices, and other low-resistance exercises done for a lot of reps are not going to take you where you want to go. Remember, if you are already dry firing and live firing, you are getting a lot of gripping reps already.

Captains of Crush grippers – training program

These grippers come in varying resistance levels that go far beyond conventional grip tools. These are at the core of my shooting hand strength program.

Make sure you seat the grippers correctly in your hand. Use particular care not to let the coil sit down in your hand in the event the spring should break. One rep means going from a fully-open to a fully-closed position with the gripper. If you can’t close it, you didn’t do it.

Ironmind EGG

Warm-ups, active rest and recovery, stress-relief, repping out, or max efforts, the IronMind EGG can be squeezed as gently or as ferociously as you’d like.

Egg-shaped, made of a 21st-century polymer that is easy on the soft tissue of your hand and retains its shape. 4″ long and 7-1/4″ around the widest part, the IronMind EGG comes in two densities:

Green EGG is softer, with a greater dynamic range when squeezed; perfect for rehab
Blue EGG has a firmer, stiffer feel, with a useful amount of give

Break-in program 

For new to intermediate trainees – first 2 to 3 weeks:

Use the IronMind EGG to warm up your hand.  Squeeze it 20–30 times with each hand.

Take two grippers, your choice.

Day 1

1st gripper         2 sets x 15 reps each hand (last few reps should just start to tire your hands)

2nd gripper       2 sets x 8–10 reps each hand (last 3 reps are hard)

Now use the Expand-Your-Hand Bands. Don’t get crazy on trying to force reps and sets. Just take progressive bands and start with 15–20 reps, and then go slightly heavier for 10–15 reps. Two to 3 sets is plenty.

Evaluate how your hands feel for the next two days.

Day 2

If your hands feel good, repeat Day 1. If not, back off the heavy resistance and keep to a lighter program for more reps.
Do this program for 2 to 3 weeks and then you can launch into the following

Main workout – sample program 

This program should be done twice a week.
Allow two days for recovery after the training day.

Use the Expand-Your-Hand Bands at the end of the workout to train the extensors as you did in the break-in program. Use the IronMind EGG to keep your hands supple on the off days.

Expand-Your-Hand Bands

Note: Try to do weight training after skills training. Your hands will thank you when you are shooting.

Use the appropriate level of resistance that is right for you. The models in parentheses are just examples, not absolutes. You are in charge of what feels right for you.

Warm-up (each hand)

Workout (each hand) – rest as needed but not longer than 2 minutes between sets

    • 1 set x 8–12 reps with moderate resistance (Sport)
    • 1 set x 6–8 reps with moderately heavy resistance (Trainer)
    • 1–2 sets x 4–5 reps with next level up (Trainer or No. 1)
    • 1–3 sets x 1–3 reps with next level up (No. 1 or No. 1.5)
    • 3 sets x 1 rep with heaviest one you can do

Rest 3 to 5 minutes.

Take an IMTUG™ and hold it closed for 15–20 seconds while you manipulate your trigger finger as if you are shooting. Use the two middle fingers and brush the bottom with your little finger to hold it closed. Repeat with the other hand. Do it two more times for 60 seconds total.

For additional strength training on the main training days, you can use the IMTUGs to work the pinky and ring fingers at the end of your main workout. Turn it upside down for this exercise. Don’t go crazy; just do 2–3 sets in the 5–8 rep range. You can also work some sets for your trigger finger individually with a lighter IMTUG.

Note: You may want to do more training than twice a week. If you do, we would caution you to use care if you are already shooting and dry firing. You can easily go into over-training mode and your hands will stage a revolt shortly. More is definitely not better if you are training with proper intensity on training days.

IMTUG™ two-finger grippers

The IMTUGs are designed to build shooting-specific finger and hand strength as well as strengthen individual fingers to allow you to increase overall hand strength. When doing exercises with the IMTUG, keep the trigger finger isolated unless you are specifically working it.

You can use the IMTUGs as a substitute for the Captains of Crush grippers, doing the same series you did on Day 1, or you can use them at the end of the workout for individual finger training and the isometric shooting exercise.

Additional exercise

For rotational arm strength, which we think helps with controlling recoil torque, the Wrist Reinforcer™ leverage device is perfect.

Starting out with light resistance, sit down and place your forearm flat on your thigh. Rotate the Wrist Reinforcer from side to side, slowly. Use your other hand as a catch in case it gets too heavy. Work a 180-degree arc of motion. Make sure you maintain control of the motion, particularly at the extreme ends.

As you gain strength in these exercises, you are going to notice that recoil feels “lighter” when you shoot. You will see a definite increase in the precision with which you are able to shoot at the same speed you were shooting before. This is good.


Remember, train lower reps, higher resistance and only twice a week, with two days off after a training day. Use the Expand-Your-Hand Bands at the end of each workout and the Green IronMind EGG on the off days to recover.

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