Fact and Fiction
Captains of Crush ®
Hand Grippers

The straight scoop on the wonder-
ful world of hand grippers in
general—and Captains of Crush
Hand Grippers in particular.

In the more than 15 years of offering our Captains of Crush Grippers, we have heard and addressed many questions and misconcep-
tions about hand grippers in general and IronMind's Captains of Crush Grippers specifically. Many of these are summarized on this website, to save you time and to keep you from getting sidetracked in your grip training. Here's what you'll find on this page:
  • - Gripper Glossary

  • - How It All Began

  • - Inspecting Your

  • . Good numbers,
  •   bad numbers:
  •   measuring the spread
  • . Small differences,
  •   big differences:
  •   comparing hand

  • - Palm Readers

  • - Assessing

  • - Calibration: What It Is
      . . . and Isn't

  • - Myths and
      About Grippers

  • . Dog legs
  • . Seasoning
  • . Double 3s
  • . Phantom 4s
  • . Grippers for lefties
  • . Kinney Training
  • . Deep sets
  • . CoC variability

  • - Elements of Grip

  • - Setting a Gripper: Its

  • - Deep Sets: A Different


Gripper Glossary

IronMind began certifying exemplary feats of grip strength in 1991, and Richard Sorin was the first-ever to be certified for closing a No. 3; if you close the No. 3, No. 3.5, or No. 4 according to our Rules of Closing and Certification, your name will go on our certification roster, the most recognized and prestigious grip accomplishment in the world.

Credit card set
Closing a hand gripper from a starting position with a minimum gap between the insides of the handles that is at least the width of an ATM or credit card (which is 2-1/8").

Deep set or parallel set
Closing a hand gripper from a starting position where the handles are parallel to each other or less; IronMind recommends that this be reserved for specialized training (see Deep Sets: A Different Perspective in right column); and specifically disallows this position for certification on Captains of Crush Grippers.

Dog leg
Defined by some as the straighter leg of the torsion spring (the one with the sharper bend), this points out a difference that makes no difference: whether the dog leg is against the thumb or away from the thumb makes no difference in your gripper strength training; the force is symmetric either way.

Full range of motion
Allowing your hand to move naturally through the full range of motion from open to closed when training with hand grippers is what IronMind recommends: this is the safest, most effective movement for training, and most of your gripper training should be on a gripper where you can do full-range reps.

Hand gripper
Normally a torsion-spring with two handles that are squeezed together to test and increase grip strength; other variations in hand gripper design exist as well.

Joe Kinney brought negatives to the grip world, applying them to both plate-loaded grip machines and to hand grippers: for example, using a hand gripper that you can't yet close, force the gripper closed with two hands, and then remove one hand and try to hold the gripper closed as long as possible; fight letting it open until you can no longer keep from doing so. Doing negatives on a gripper you can't close will help with your progress on not only that gripper, but also the grippers below it, but it is an advanced training technique and should be used prudently.

No-set close
Closing a hand gripper from the fully-open position with one hand, without first partially closing it with the aid of the other hand.

Closing a gripper part way; doing partials is one way to train on a gripper you can't yet close through the full range of motion.

Pounds of resistance
Although potentially abused or misunderstood, poundage is often used to describe the difficulty of closing a particular hand gripper. Since there is no standardized way to measure the poundage of a hand gripper, its absolute importance should be taken with a grain of salt, although these numbers can be useful for understanding how difficult a Captains of Crush No. 1 (ca. 140 lb.) is compared to a Captains of Crush Trainer (ca. 100 lb.), for example.

Because many poundage numbers assigned to hand grippers are quite meaningless, IronMind de-emphasizes poundage numbers and finds it more useful to focus on the CoC Standards of Difficulty: Guide, Sport, Trainer, No. 1, No. 1.5, No. 2, No. 2.5, No. 3, No. 3.5 and No. 4. For example, the difficulty of a Captains of Crush No. 1 or a Captains of Crush No. 3 Hand Gripper is well understood worldwide.

Strap holds
An isometric movement invented by John Brookfield, strap holds entail hanging a weight from a strap (such as a piece of leather or IronMind's Close-the-Gap Straps), placing the ends of the strap in between the handles of your gripper and squeezing hard to keep the weight from falling; the weight or time can be increased or the thickness of the strap decreased as you make progress.

See Pounds of resistance, above.


IronMind® Grip-Tech™ and Captains of Crush Hand Grippers:
How It All Began

IronMind is the most famous name in the hand gripper business—how did we get started?

Since we opened our doors in 1988, IronMind has led the charge in the grip world—developing new products, encouraging and recognizing outstanding performances, and giving importance and visibility to an area that at best had been an afterthought or distant footnote.

As a teenager in the mid-1960s, Randall Strossen bought one of the original Warren Tetting grippers made for Peary Rader's Iron Man Industries. Strossen was hooked and in the late 1980s, when he founded IronMind Enterprises, Strossen contacted Tetting and asked him if he could make some of those long-discontinued grippers for IronMind. One thing led to another, and before too long, IronMind became established as the center of the grip universe, with its specialty products and penchant for boosting all things grip. This evangelical zeal was paired with Strossen's immersion in the highest levels of strength sports around the world and his background as a trained researcher.

The results? IronMind is the field's leading source for the equipment, books, DVDs, and other training materials for grip aficionados, and certification on IronMind’s Captains of Crush Hand Grippers is the most celebrated accomplishment in the grip strength world. IronMind's Grip-Tech comprises this total package: the experience, the knowledge, the products and the passion for all things grip. It's what sets IronMind apart and it's the reason why IronMind delivers unmatched performance . . . for you.

Inspecting Your Gripper Instead of Improving Your Grip

Hand grippers—really very uncomplicated beasts—hold a fascination for some users, who spend hours contemplating this or that aspect of them, attributing much more complexity to them than they deserve, and taking away from precious training time. Suddenly what should be a relatively straightforward tool for developing the grip strength of a gorilla has become the subject of sometimes silly distractions. To make the best gains, we recommend that you put your precious time and energy into training rather than talking, gripping rather than griping.

Good numbers, bad numbers: measuring the spread

Every now and then, we have a customer who measures the spread of his new Captains of Crush Hand Grippers (typically through the plastic packaging) and then panic if they think it is off by .001 inch—something that might make a machinist suggest a better use for dial calipers. This is the type of thing that gives us pause, especially when the same person says that a credit card is less than 2 inches wide or maybe that it's 2-1/4 inches, when it's actually 2-1/8 inches. The point here is to, first, make sure you understand what you are measuring if you feel the need to do so—and second, try not to magnify insignificant differences, making mountains out of molehills.

Small differences, big differences: comparing hand grippers

In the same vein, we sporadically get calls that go something like, "I can't close my Captains of Crush No. 2 Gripper, but I can close my buddy's—I think mine is defective or mismarked." We always begin by asking detailed questions, and we can usually get to the bottom of things without having to physically examine the gripper(s). To date, we have never found a Captains of Crush Hand Gripper to be outside its narrow tolerances, but we have seen cases of misperception that are quite striking.

Whenever you consider apparent differences between two grippers, it's important to ask yourself about the conditions under which you are closing the two hand grippers. Are you closing yours after a hard workout—but your friend's when you are fresh as a daisy? Did you close his first or do quite a few reps—and then try yours after you were tired? When you say "close" vs. "not close," are you touching the handles on one and maybe occasionally or just barely coming within 1 or 2 mm on the other—and then calling these differences "huge?” Or saying that one gripper is much harder than the other one?

Some earnest members of the grip community stumble with this and related concepts not so much because they’re not trained scientists, but because they have limited experience in lifting weights. Thus, they do not have the framework of overall strength training for understanding their results—and that's where the misunderstandings begin. Here's an example.

Let's say that your absolute maximum deadlift is 635 pounds: you can only hit it on your best days, and even one eyelash more will mean no lift; so if you tried, for example, 636 pounds, you'd fail. It's not much of a difference in the weight, but a major difference in the results—it's a lift versus no lift.

The same thing is true with grippers. When you are completely maxed out, the tiniest increment can keep those handles from touching, and also you can’t routinely hit your absolute best performance. That's another reason why you can maybe close your friend's No. 2 Captains of Crush Hand Gripper, but you can't quite do the same with your own.

The important thing is to not get bogged down in micro analyses, but instead, spend your strength, time, and energy training. IronMind advises people to "train rather than talk, grip rather than gripe." Follow our recommendations and you'll soon be hitting personal best performances, with newly gained strength and confidence.

Palm Readers

Ever think someone could pick up a barbell plate and say whether it weighed 43, 44 or 45 pounds? Of course not, so why would anyone think that someone could rate a hand gripper as a 2.07 or a 3.14, for example, just by picking it up and closing it? What is mind-boggling is not only that someone would claim he could do this, but that so many others could be taken in by this sort of misrepresentation. To frost the cake, once christened with this wholly subjective number, the gripper is incorrectly called “calibrated” (see below).

Calibration: What It Is . . . and Isn't

In lifting, a calibrated barbell plate must conform to a pre-established standard. Weighing a manhole cover doesn't make it a calibrated plate . . . it's still just a manhole cover that weighs so much. In the gripper world, the concept of calibration is widely misunderstood and contributes to some significant misunderstandings.

What usually happens is that someone squeezes a gripper and pronounces it "calibrated . . . it's a 1.7582." The first point is that the precision of the stated rating is wholly unwarranted given how crude the rating process is.

The second point is that even if a hand gripper were measured very accurately, simply measuring something is not calibrating it: calibration means conforming to a preexisting standard. If you want a brutal but graphic example, consider the mythical Greek bandit Procrustes, who made his unwitting guests fit his bed, whether by stretching them or cutting them down to size. You could say that he was calibrating his guests—much gorier than if he'd merely measured them and kept a nice notebook filled with his findings.

Consider a calibrated 20-kg barbell plate that has been certified by the International Weightlifting Federation. Among other things, this plate must have a diameter of 450 mm, with an allowable tolerance of 1 mm. Its weight can be up 0.1% over the nominal 20 kg or 0.05% under. A barbell plate is calibrated by ensuring that it is within these specifications. Certainly, nobody is foolish enough to believe that some guy could hoist a barbell plate and pronounce it to be 20.12345 kg. But even if it were weighed on an extremely precise scale and actually came out to that weight, it still would not be calibrated—merely weighed, and outside the acceptable range at that.

IronMind is indirectly to blame for this misunderstanding because in 1999, we introduced the analogy of uncalibrated barbell plates to explain the accuracy level of hand grippers. From there, the owner of a company specializing in small plates announced that he was going to make calibrated grippers, with the goal of conquering the gripper market. He meant accurately-rated grippers, and he also began charging to rate grippers that were sent to him for evaluation—once again, this process was mistakenly referred to as calibration. His rating system proved to be neither reliable nor valid, and when his grippers fell short of both his claims and his sales goals, he went on to other pursuits, but a misunderstanding of calibration remains as part of his legacy.

Myths and Misinformation About Hand Grippers

People can repeat over and over again that the earth is flat or that the naked emperor is wearing grand robes, but in the end, the earth remains round and the emperor should run for cover. Here are some gripper myths and misunderstandings that we have heard more than once.

Dog legs

When a torsion spring is manufactured, one of the arms comes out of the coil with a slightly sharper bend than the other, and "dog leg" is what some people call that side of the spring. They go on to recommend that this side of the gripper is the one you should put by your thumb. In fact, dog legs are what allow your best friend to run—and it takes the same force to close a gripper regardless of which handle you plant against the base of your thumb and which one you wrap your other fingers around. Ask Newton . . . or any high school physics student: this is a difference that makes no difference.

Seasoning required?

Another misstatement, from the same source as the dog leg myth, is that grippers need to be "seasoned"—not with salt and pepper, but with 50 or 100 reps before optimal use. In fact, under-designed springs, like under-designed lifting bars, will bend if overloaded, which could occur on the very first rep, and they will keep bending each time they are overloaded, no matter how many, or how few, reps have already been done on them.

Adequately designed grippers (and lifting bars), on the other hand, never bend when performing their tasks . . . not on the first rep and not on the hundred-and-first rep. Incidentally, borrowing this language, this is why low-quality grippers are known to "season" (i.e., bend, get narrower in spread, and weaken as they are used) a lot, while Captains of Crush Grippers keep on chugging along, good from the first to the last rep.

Double 3s: secret code?

At different times, IronMind has marked either both or just one of its gripper handles, indicating the model name (e.g., T, 1, 3). Following one of these switches, some people swore the doubly-stamped grippers were harder, some people swore they were easier, and some people just swore. Regardless, the truth is that that the only thing we changed is how many handles were marked. Still, for collectors, this is an important point and a complete collection would have both styles of grippers.

The phantom 4

In the category of history repeating itself, the same source that promulgated the myth of dog legs and seasoning, told the world that Richard Sorin had a "phantom 4 gripper," a pre—No. 4 CoC Gripper that was tougher than a regular No. 4—and that Richard had closed it. The gripper in question came from IronMind, and we can tell you unequivocally that it certainly was not a No. 4 (phantom or otherwise), but just a little harder than a No. 3 CoC Gripper.

Grippers for lefties

Forces on grippers are symmetric (see Dog legs, above), and the same is true whether the coil is wound as what is called a right-hand (counterclockwise) or left-hand (clockwise) spring. These are descriptions that have nothing whatsoever to do with the person crushing the gripper being left-handed or right-handed: regardless of the way the coil is wound, the forces are still symmetric, whether held in a left or right hand. At IronMind, we sometimes get requests to "make grippers for left-handed people," so we explain this situation, mentioning, incidentally, that Captains of Crush Grippers use use left-hand (clockwise) wound springs.

Kinney Training Adapted

This is the unabbreviated title of an e-book purportedly based on Joe Kinney's training. In fact, Joe Kinney had no role in this book and has a rather low opinion of both its author and the advice in it. While the book may have distinguished itself most in terms of producing injuries, it's also true that its ability to help people close tougher grippers comes not so much from increasing their strength as from shortening their stroke. For the real deal on what Joe actually has to say about grip training, in his own words, grab a copy of Captains of Crush Grippers: What They Are and How to Close Them, Second Edition.

Deep sets

Starting with a gap of less than one inch or so between the handles of the grippers is called a deep set and is variously defended as essential due to hand size or in the interest in "closing" grippers beyond one's actual strength level. IronMind thinks the hand size question is easily answered, and you can test it on yourself: if you can close a Captains of Crush Trainer with a legitimate starting position, but not a Captains of Crush No. 2, for example, it has nothing to do with hand size—and everything to do with strength.

As for the partial movements, we like quarter squats as much as the next guy, but we don't confuse them with full squats. IronMind's feeling is that deep sets can be a useful training technique, but if you would like to set yourself up for injury, develop grip strength with little transfer value to other activities, and pretend that you are stronger than you really are, you should make deep sets the standard way you train on and close grippers.

CoC variability

The biggest critic of Captains of Crush Hand Grippers was a fellow who consistently used his friend’s grip board to trash IronMind, most commonly exaggerating the variability of Captains of Crush Hand Grippers. This fellow planned to “test” CoC grippers, with the intention of revealing their weaknesses, but as things turned out, when he reviewed a sample of grippers for accuracy, he unwittingly demonstrated the superiority of Captains of Crush Grippers and documented at least some of their evolutionary progress—so the story had a happy ending. For more on this and other gripper-related topics, please be sure to check the book Captains of Crush Grippers: What They Are and How To Close Them, Second Edition.

For more grip strength training information and articles, visit our Read-All-About-It Resource Pages on Grip Training, Hand Grippers, and Hand Strength.

Your guidebook to the Captains of Crush Grippers, their fascinating story and how to train with them: Captains of Crush Grippers: What They Are and How to Close Them, Second Edition.

You'll find Captains of Crush Hand Grippers in our on-line store.

Meet IronMind's Captains of Crush Grippers.

Training and FAQ About Captains of Crush Grippers.

IronMind Highlights — Captains of Crush Grippers and Other Grip Milestones.

Elements of Grip Strength

Cruise the information highway and you'll see all sorts of references to crushing grip, pinching grip, supporting grip, and the like, and by now, everyone takes these distinctions as a given. Overall, grip strength had been considered a unitary concept until 1991, when IronMind promoted the idea that grip strength had three elements: crushing, pinching, and supporting (open hand). We've since gone on to highlight extensor, and wrist strength as important factors as well. For each of these aspects of grip strength, you can think in terms of one-rep maxes and sustained efforts.

Crushing grip
Think of shaking hands; this is the most familiar element of grip.

Pinching grip
How strong is your thumb? If you have to pinch grip something, whether it's an arm or a heavy weight, the strength of your thumb is what determines your success or failure.

Supporting (open hand) grip
The hand is opened so that the fingers are not clenched and maybe only the tips of the fingers are bent.

The opposite of crushing (squeezing), working your extensors creates muscle balance, which promotes strength and health and reduces pain.

Wrist strength
Lower-arm strength stabilizes the fingers so that maximum effort can be exerted; and it helps prevent injuries as well.

Setting a Gripper: Its Evolution

The concept of setting a gripper can be traced to IronMind's earliest days when we sold our Silver Crush™ Grippers, the precursors to our Captains of Crush line. Although the variability of these grippers has sometimes been exaggerated, it is true that they did not have the precision of today's Captains of Crush Grippers. As a result, some were too wide to fit in anything but a giant's hand unless you positioned them first so that you could wrap your fingers around the handles. Recognizing that grippers are for everyone, IronMind encouraged people to position the gripper as they would like, looking for the "sweet spot."

From this innocent beginning, came the "deep set" (later whitewashed as the "parallel set"). In this approach, the squeeze begins with a gap of about 3/4" between the handles, analogous to doing a quarter squat, for example, or a lockout bench press. Needless to say, suddenly guys could "close" grippers that had previously defied them. Although this certainly is a legitimate training technique and guys could also enjoy the challenge of competing on this partial movement, problems arose when some people wanted to use this sort of start for Captains of Crush certifications.

After 12 years of never having to police this, IronMind first tried to keep the deep set trend in check by instituting a rule that required a minimum of a one-inch gap as a legal starting position for certification. After trying this approach for about a year and finding that some interpretations of one inch were surprisingly similar to half that distance, we strove to ensure the integrity of certification on Captains of Crush Grippers by developing what became known as the "credit card rule." Seeking an objective, universal standard that would ensure a legal starting position consistent with the spirit of this highly acclaimed feat of strength, in 2004 IronMind required a minimum legal gap for starting the close of a Captains of Crush Gripper that was the width of a credit/ATM card (2-1/8") between the bottom of the handles.

Interestingly, this rule was highly criticized by the people who knew they were not strong enough to perform legitimately on the No. 3 or the No. 4 Captains of Crush Gripper, but who wanted to claim that they were. Others, however, saw the change for what it was: an opportunity to earn certification on the No. 3, No. 3.5, or No. 4 Captains of Crush Gripper by developing truly star levels of grip strength—and a handful of pioneers did just that.

In 2007, in what was a white-light moment in modern grip history, Richard Sorin, at 57 years of age, the first man to certify on the No. 3 way back when the rules were a blink compared to now, proved once again that there really is a secret to closing these grippers, but it has nothing to do with cheating . . . you just have to be strong enough.

Deep Sets: A Different Perspective

Want to pretend you are stronger than you are, make sure that your training has very little transfer value, and set yourself up for injury—all at the same time? Then focus on deep sets, calling them "parallel sets" or anything else you would like.

Deep sets can be a useful training tool, but primarily training with hand grippers in the deep set position has three major drawbacks:

1. Self-deception:

The first thing to understand about deep sets is that they can foster self-deception, not a likely route of first choice for anyone with championship aspirations. "My hands are too small" is a chronic cry from the deep-set defenders. If your hand is big enough to legitimately close a Trainer, but you can't close a No. 3, the problem has absolutely nothing to do with hand size, but everything to do with hand strength . . . the legal starting position is identical in both cases.

One grip contest promoter rationalizes deep sets on the basis that when grip guys and fans go through the time and expense to travel to contests, etc., they expect and want to see "big grippers" being closed. Should powerlifting federations give a 20-kg bonus to its competitors for each 100 miles they travel to a contest? Or should they pass high squats just to post big numbers? That's the deception part, because the truth about deep sets is that they are often little more than a lie: a weak attempt to make yourself appear stronger than you are. That's why when someone “ closes” a gripper using a deep set in a crowd of lifters, you're likely to hear: "What the h*** is he doing? What’s that garbage?"

2. Minimal transfer value:

Since most applications of grip strength involve more than an eyelash of a movement, the transfer value of deep-set training is nearly nil when it comes to most other feats of grip strength and real-world applications. This point was really driven home to IronMind's Randall Strossen one day when he was talking to professional strongman Odd Haugen. Strossen asked Haugen why he thought some of the guys who focused on a deep set and claimed to be able to close a No. 3 Captains of Crush Gripper were stopped by Girl Scout weights on the Rolling Thunder®. "Why is that?" Strossen asked Haugen. The Norwegian giant roared, "Because they're not strong!" The moral is that if you want to get strong, don't think you get there by just shortening your stroke.

3. Route to injury:

Third, and this is most important, although the young bucks might tend to dismiss it, getting carried away with deep sets is a great way to injure yourself. Skin, muscle, joint and nerve damage are real possibilities, as the pressure and forces exerted by an over-reliance on deep-set training tax your system beyond its normal capacity. And by focusing on such a restricted range of motion, you can even end up limiting your mobility. Sure, you might find three guys in some internet community "attaboy"-ing you to death as you turn your hand into a lifeless claw that isn't even strong in a useful sense, but most people would see the folly of this.

In sharp contrast, emphasizing full range of movement training does wonders for your self-esteem, grip strength, and overall hand health.