You can try all kinds of functional exercises and form hacks to ramp up your lifting capacity, but if your grip strength isn’t up to snuff, you won’t ever be able to move more weight during upper body training.
Even more importantly, grip strength can be a key marker for your overall health. That’s why Men’s Health fitness director Ebenezer Samuel, C.S.C.S. takes every possible opportunity to train using exercises that challenge his grip while also hitting other muscle groups, like this towel-grip dumbbell row.
To perform the exercise, you’ll need a hand towel and dumbbell, along with a bench to lean on for support. If you want a set of weights to try this at home, check out this adjustable set from Bowflex.
Samuel cautions that you don’t overdo it. “Go lighter on these than usual,” he says. “Start about 10 to 20 pounds lighter than your normal dumbbell row.”
Men’s Health/Eric Rosati
- Wrap the towel around the handle of the dumbbell.
- Grab the towel with an overhand grip and position yourself to row, hinged at the waist with your free arm leaning against the top of the bench.
- Squeeze your back to row the dumbbell straight up, keeping a tight grip on the towel to keep the weight parallel to the ground. Avoid recruiting your shoulder or shifting your position to get the load up; if you need to do so drop down to a lighter dumbbell.
- Control the weight back down, maintaining your position.
Adding a towel will create two unique challenges, according to Samuel. The first is on your forearm and grip strength. “If you don’t squeeze the towel and it slips, you lose the dumbbell,” he says. “Your grip needs to be tight during this row, and it also needs to be constant; you’re accumulating forearm-building time-under-tension from the start of each set until the very end.”
The second challenge comes with the dumbbell’s positioning. “Your goal when you row is to keep that dumbbell fully parallel to the ground (and it should be your goal on all dumbbell rows),” he says. “To keep the dumbbell parallel to the ground as you row up, you need to use a patient, controlled row tempo; that’ll light up your rhomboids more than usual and help force you to keep a flat back and active core.”
To add the towel-grip dumbbell row to your back day, try 3 sets of 8 to 10 reps. For more tips and routines from Samuel, check out our full slate of Eb and Swole workouts. If you want to try an even more dedicated routine, consider Eb’s New Rules of Muscle program.
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