Of all the things people consider a sign of good health, grip strength probably lies somewhere at the bottom of the list. Surprisingly, it should rank closer to the top -- a 2011 study by Richard Bohannon of the Department of Kinesiology at Neag School of Education finds that grip strength not only provides insight into a person's overall vitality but also suggests the level of muscle mass and predicts possible future health complications. Thicker barbell grips bolster grip strength by increasing forearm engagement, but specially-made hefty bars can cost hundreds of dollars. Luckily, you have a few alternative -- and cheaper -- options for thickening your bar.
Equip your barbell with a pair of barbell grips. These tube-like accessories, sold by numerous fitness manufacturers, slide right over the bar. Because high-density grips don't get compressed when you're lifting, they make the lift more challenging and encourage greater muscle engagement. These grips sometimes double the thickness of ordinary barbells, which, according to grip manufacturers, helps reduce joint pressure and may enable you to lift more weight.
Take the old-fashioned -- and economical -- route with a towel wrap. Simply wrap a towel or two around the hand-grip area of your barbell to increase its thickness. Like barbell grips, the added thickness means greater challenge for your forearms and wrists. In an article for Bodybuilding.com, champion bodybuilder and Elite Physique Training Studio owner, David Robson, says that a towel grip exercise with a barbell weight plate specifically emphasizes pinching strength.
Slide a barbell pad over your bar if you're doing squats. While barbell grips and towel wraps aim to improve the grip mechanics of exercises such as curls, presses and deadlifts, barbell-thickening pads serve another purpose: They make your lift more comfortable. These tubes, which are often about a foot-and-a-half long and secured with hooks and loops, slide tightly over the center bar. Usually made of nylon-wrapped foam, barbell pads make the bar feel more comfy as it rests on your traps when squatting.
- Use barbell-thickening methods only after you're completely comfortable with a standard-sized bar. Because barbell grips and towel wraps significantly up the challenge of lifts, they cater squarely to experienced weightlifters.
- Always read and follow any instructions provided by the manufacturer before using barbell grips or pads.
Dan Ketchum has been a professional writer since 2003, with work appearing online and offline in Word Riot, Bazooka Magazine, Anemone Sidecar, Trails and more. Dan's diverse professional background spans from costume design and screenwriting to mixology, manual labor and video game industry publicity.