captains of crush gripper tool on green background with fists

True Story: Captains of Crush Gripper Brought My Deadlift Up 90 Pounds in a Month

Wave weak grip strength goodbye.

Until very recently, I would describe my hands as soft, doughy, and incredibly weak. The living embodiment of the You Got Soft Hands Brother meme. The result of more than a decade of desk jobs, my hands were frequently complimented for their smoothness. But the softness of my hands did more than shake my fragile sense of masculinity; they held me back from my gym goals as well. And even though I often cited that weak grip strength is a tell-tale sign of accelerated aging, the reality was more vain—my hands were weak, and that sucked. That is, until I stumbled into Ironmind’s Captains of Crush gripper, the $26 Amazon buy that created the slightly less childish hands I have today. 

What Are the Captains of Crush Grippers?

Captains of Crush grippers are coil-based grip strengtheners with eleven different resistance levels. They’re made entirely of aluminum and spring steel. You squeeze them shut, release slowly, and squeeze them again. Your hands will become stronger. But they’re more than that, too.

You can tell the company that makes Captains of Crush (Ironmind) is serious by how no-nonsense their website is. It looks straight out of 2006, which signals to me, a full-time and career product reviewer, that they know what they make is so good they don’t even need to bother with a fancy website. It’s the internet equivalent of stumbling into a barbecue joint on the side of the road that uses paper plates and plastic cutlery, and has only a few cracked plastic chairs for seating—all business, no frills. 

Founded in 1988, the company released its famous grip strengtheners (along with a pile of other weightlifting equipment and apparel) in 1991, which immediately became a favorite among a group of people who can only be described as grip strength enthusiasts. The company co-sponsored several peer-reviewed articles on grip strength and power, and published the bible of grip strength, John Brookfield’s Mastery of Hand Strength (for fun, here’s Brookfield talking hand strength for an hour on YouTube). They offered certifications and rewards to anyone who could close the highest resistance Captains of Crush—the No. 3 (280lbs), No. 3.5 (322.5lbs), and the No. 4 (365lbs). Only strength athletes could close them. To date, only a small handful of humans have officially closed the 365-pound Captains of Crush No. 4 gripper.

hand using grip strength exercise tool
A shot of my small, fragile hands squeezing the life out of a Captains of Crush Trainer grip strengthener. I don't know if 100 pounds of pressure sounds like a lot to you, but it feels like a lot to me.

How to Use Captains of Crush Grippers

But you, like me, are likely not a strength athlete. Not that I’m opposed to the idea, I just don’t think my 5’9, 170-pound frame is cut out for it. No, instead, I just like going to the gym and lifting weights from time to time.

After several months of semi-consistent training, I ran into a wall (and not a “noobie gains” wall). I stopped progressing on a number of my lifts, but not due to lack of muscular strength, but lack of grip strength. On the recommendation of exercise scientist Dr. Mike Israetel and fitness mogul—this moment, specifically—I bought a Captains of Crush gripper. 

Israetel outlines its strengths nicely: it’s standardized, well-knurled, affordable, and allows for full range of motion. Israetel says to simply (it’s not simple) squeeze the gripper to the point where the metal on each arm clinks, and slowly release it to its fully opened position. Do sets in the 10-20 and 5-10 rep range, trying to push progression through rep count and, eventually, upgrading your Captains of Crush gripper to the next resistance level. 

Results, Baby!

Earlier, I mentioned running into a progression wall at the gym. Nearly every workout included in this fitness plateau was hindered by my ability to hold onto something as I pulled really hard—AKA my grip failed me. 

The easiest example, and the one I imagine most people can relate to, is the deadlift. If you’ve never done one, the basic idea is you put a bunch of weight on a bar resting on the ground and you pick up said bar. Even with lifting straps, I was struggling to keep my supple fingers tight around the bar when pushing beyond 315 pounds. My quads, core, and back were willing, but my 100-word-per-minute typing hands were not having it. 

After just a month of using the Captains of Crush gripper (I bought the Trainer model, with 100 pounds of resistance, though I wish I started with the 80-pound option) as Israetel suggested, I was able to touch 405—or an additional 45-pound plate on either side of the bar. While still a struggle, it’s relieving to know that, as I target higher weight, rep, and set totals in the future, it will be the muscles that I’m trying to train that limit me, not something as lame as weak-ass hands.