Anyone who watches late night television or reads bodybuilding, fitness, or health related magazines knows there is a lot of gimmicky crap out there. A lot of exercise equipment and accessories are worthless either because they are meant to be used in ways that are a waste of time at best and harmful at worst, or because they are poorly designed and/or constructed, and often both. So, when a few people asked me about Fat Gripz after I recommended using a thick bar for forearm exercises in How To Build Bigger Arms I was skeptical.
Fat Gripz are high-density rubber sleeves which wrap around a barbell or dumbbell or any type of equipment handle to increase the grip diameter to 2-1/4 inches (standard) or 2-3/4 (Fat Gripz Extreme). Their primary purpose is to challenge the hand and forearm muscles more during pulling and curling movements, but they also improve hand comfort during heavy pushing movements and prevent active and passive insufficiency of the wrist and finger flexors during wrist curls and extensions.
Despite already owning a few pieces of thick-handled equipment for forearm training I decided to order a set of the regular Fat Gripz to try before making a recommendation one way or another. I’m glad I did because they turned out to be a great tool with a variety of uses and after using them on several exercises over the past two weeks I’m impressed.
They are easy to put on and take off of equipment, and once on they are very secure. Moving the Fat Gripz between different bars and handles takes only a few seconds, so if you rush between exercises for metabolic effect they won’t slow you down.
I have average sized hands (the distance from my wrist to the end of my middle finger is about 7-3/4 inches) and the standard Fat Gripz were challenging enough to grip to produce a considerable burn in my forearms without being so hard I had to drop the weight on anything other than shrug bar squats and deadlifts. I probably could have used more weight on dips because I had no hand discomfort when using them, which is normally a problem when dipping on the Nautilus Omni Multi Exercise (OME).
Interestingly, despite being much harder to grip during shrug bar squats and deadlifts, it was also more comfortable. My shrug bar has one inch diameter grips which I have taped up to 1-1/8, which really bothers my hands during the last few reps (I find 1-1/4 to 1-3/8 inch diameter bars and handles much better for pulling movements). Although my hands and forearms felt completely drained by the end of the exercise and I had to set the weight down to re-grip a few times my hands didn’t hurt art all.
After shrug bar deadlifts I could barely hold on for chin ups using the Fat Gripz, mostly due to forearm fatigue but also partly because on the thicker chinning bar on the Nautilus OME (1-1/4 inch diameter) their outside diameter was nearly 2-1/2 inches. The second time I performed that workout I did chin ups first which made gripping easier on them but much harder on deadlifts. This was less of an issue with shrug bar squats and barbell rows in the alternate workout since I use less resistance for those and performed dips between them.
As I mentioned previously the Fat Grips improved hand comfort tremendously during dips on the Nautilus OME. Standing presses felt noticeably easier, and I suspect it might be due to the perception of the weight being lighter because the force is spread over a greater area of the hands. I designed the pushing bars on my UXS bodyweight multi exercise station with a two-inch diameter for this reason. I would be interested to see research comparing the effect of bar or handle diameter on performance during pushing exercises and hypothesize up to a point an increase in bar diameter would enable the use of more resistance.
In How To Build Bigger Arms I wrote,
I recommend using a thick bar or thick handled cable attachment (approx two to two and a half inches diameter) for both wrist curls and extensions because it reduces the degree of finger flexion required to grip the bar. This prevents active insufficiency of the wrist and finger flexors during curls and passive insufficiency during extensions. While a thicker bar or handle is more challenging to grip when pulling it is not much harder to hold when performing wrist curls and extensions with the forearms angled up slightly since the fingers or thumbs are working directly against gravity or the pull of the cable over most of the range of motion.
The Fat Gripz felt perfect during wrist curls and extensions on the Nautilus OME, and I prefer them over the thick bar attachment I normally use (shown above with the Fat Gripz on a normal diameter bar attachment), especially for the extensions. These and curling movements would probably benefit most from their use. During barbell curls and dumbbell hammer curls it felt like my forearms were working much harder but it never felt like it was limiting how hard I was able to work the upper arms.
After trying them out I plan to use them on all pushing, arm, and forearm exercises (except on the UXS which already has thick bars for dipping and push ups) and alternating their use with a normal grip on pulling movements.
The price is great considering the value, especially when compared with what you would have to spend on just one thick bar (a good 2-1/4 inch diameter thick bar can cost upwards of $500), much less an entire set of thick handled dumbbells (which would cost thousands of dollars), or to replace handles on existing equipment (something I was planning to do with the Nautilus OME before designing the UXS).
They’re small enough to easily fit in a gym bag and carry around the gym, and will fit on just about any bar, dumbbell, or cable attachment (shown below on a D-handle cable attachment next to thick revolving deadlift handle). If you want to improve your grip strength and forearm development and get more out of other exercises I recommend them.