By Strength Oldschool
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Brief History of Thick Grip Training
"Fat Grip" (thick grip) training simply refers to using a "Thick handled" grip implement i.e. a barbell, dumbbell or cable handle etc.
Thick Grip training has been around for over 100 years and is mostly associated with the sport of Strongman. French Strongman Louis Uni known as "Apollon the Mighty" (1862 - 1928), produced a famous barbell with two railway car wheels on both sides. The non-revolving bar measured nearly 2" thick in diameter and weighed 166 kg (366 lbs).
British Strongman Thomas Inch (1881 - 1963) developed a massive 172 lbs (78 kg) Dumbbell with a grip handle size of 2 3/8", which many well known strength athletes throughout time struggled to budge the weight from the floor.
Other notable strongmen such as Mark Henry, tried lifting a replica of the Inch Dumbbell back around 2002 I believe. It was also stated on Wikipedia, that Bodybuilding Legend, Reg Park, failed to lift the Thomas Inch Dumbbell, but I'm not sure how accurate that information is to be honest.
So there is history to Fat Grip / Thick Bar training. It's definitely not something that's just been invented in the last few decades.
If anyone reading this has never used a thick bar or thick dumbbell handle before, be prepared to be humbled by thick bar training. Weights which you would normally use on standard bars, will feel extremely heavy using thicker handles. Guaranteed.
What is the Size of Normal Standard Bars?
You will probably find that the Olympic barbells and dumbbells in your gym will be standard size. For example, the bar / handle diameter (where you grip the bar) will be around 28 mm (1.1") thick. This is a very comfortable grip for most people, especially for those with small hands. The loadable dumbbell handle below on the right side shows a standard size grip.
Now, if you look to the left on the photo above, you will see a loadable dumbbell handle with a much, much thicker grip diameter. That is a "Fat Grip" handle that measures 3 inches. If you compare that to the standard grip size opposite, there's a vast difference. Depending on your hand size and grip strength, most normal people will struggle with 3" grip handles.
The photo above shows "custom made" thick grip and standard grip dumbbell handles, produced by Watson Gym Equipment company. Both types of handles measure 12" in length and are pretty costly to buy. I own several different types of thick grip dumbbell handles. I also have a 7ft Olympic "Thick Grip" Barbell and various Cable Machine Bars, which all measure 2 Inches in diameter; all made by Watson.
The Problem with Custom Made Thick Grip Barbells / Dumbbell Handles
In my early phase of wanting to use thick bar equipment, probably around 2015 maybe, I initially resorted to "Fat Gripz" (see photo below) because they were far cheaper to buy and portable to use. "Portable" meaning they were small enough to be thrown in a gym bag and they could also be taken off equipment and placed back on again very easily - So I was able to switch between thick and standard size grips within seconds and this appealed to me.
However, one of the issues I found with using the Fat Gripz was with the "Rubber" material which I found to cause minor friction burns when performing high reps. This wasn't a major problem as it only occurred occasionally, but it was a slight annoyance which made me consider trying out Iron thick grip implements instead. More information on Fat Gripz later...
Two serious issues though for the small home gym user (in my opinion) when using or considering to buy Iron thick grip manufactured bars...
- Buying Iron Fat Grip bars are VERY EXPENSIVE!
- Iron Fat Grip Bars potentially take up a lot of SPACE!
In regards to "Expense", I don't need to go into great detail regarding costs. You can simply research online and check out various gym equipment manufacturers such as "Watson" and you'll quickly get an idea on the price of buying Iron Fat Grip Bars.
But one example would be Watson's 2" Grip "Poliquin Dumbbell Handles", which cost £225 ($240). That price does not include VAT or delivery! Whereas if you simply kept your standard loadable dumbbell handles, or just use your Hex Rubber Dumbbells etc, you could by the "Original" Fat Gripz PRO Series, which are 2.25" in diameter, for £30 ($32). That price possibly includes delivery too. That's a HUGE saving!
You then can attach the Fat Gripz to your dumbbell handles whenever you wish to perform some thick grip training and easily take them off again to switch back to your regular standard grip handle.
In regards to "Storage Space", some of the Iron Thick Grip gym equipment I currently own include the following...
- 7ft Olympic (Not thick grip but standard size) Barbell
- 7ft rotating 2" Thick Animal Barbell
- 7ft Thick 60mm Axle Bar - * I'll link to the 50mm (2") Axle Bar
- Heavy Duty Dumbbell Handles (standard size)
- Thick Grip (3") Dumbbell Handles
- Poliquin 2" Grip Revolving Dumbbell Handles
- Thick Grip Attachment Package i.e. 2" Thick Grip Lat Pulldown and Cable Attachment Bars
To all serious grip training enthusiasts out there, you may read my list above and check out the links and think WOW! Amazing! However, as I stated previously, for someone like myself with a small home gym, storage space has become a problem. The list of equipment doesn't end there. I further went on to buy more thick grip training tools such as the "3 Inch Monster Crush" and "4 Inch Colossal Crush Handles" by Country Crush.
* Photo above comparison: 2" Watson thick grip handle vs 4" Colossal Crush handle
In case you aren't familiar with the company "Country Crush". They are a well known company founded in late 2014 by Raymond “Big Country” Cote who developed the "Country Crush Handle" you see above. Back in 2021, the company went through some bad times during covid, so being a grip strength fan and given the strong reputation the company had for producing high quality equipment, I thought I'd support Country Crush by purchasing a couple of their well known thick grip handles.
The 4" Colossal handle by Country Crush proved too beastly for me I'm afraid. Photos don't do it justice. It's alarmingly HUGE and too large for my mitts.
A quick review of the Country Crush handle design...
One negative is in regards to the safety pins you can see, which attach to both ends of the handles, keeping the thick grip handles locked in. These safety pins, I found, to be extremely difficult to take off and on again. I would suggest a better design is required, but then again, that's just me, maybe my fingers aren't strong enough ha ha!
The main Country Crush frame is solid and well built, but what I like most is that it's a compact sized handle, not overly big which is great. The height difference in the handles between the 'Watson' and the 'Country Crush' is significant enough, that I'll be switching solely to using Country Crush's handle for Lat Machine Pulldowns, as it allows me a better stretch at the top of the movement.
You can buy different handles from Country Crush which come in various thickness's such as 2", 2.5", 3" etc and all you need to do is take off the safety pins and slide the different attachments onto the metal support pins. But as I stated before, removing and adding the safety pins is difficult I feel and it's much, much easier to simply add Fat Grips.
I'm not an experienced grip trainer by any means, I have no interest in actually competing in grip strength sports, I simply enjoy taxing my grip during training sessions every so often, and take pleasure in comparing myself (for motivational purposes) to strength records online.
However, in the last while, I feel more like a collector or should I say, hoarder, of grip training implements and my life just now needs more balance and minimalism, meaning I like to keep life in general as simple as possible and that also includes my training and the equipment I use. I don't want to be keeping stuff which I don't necessarily need.
So I've now got to the stage where I'm thinking...
"Do I really need all this equipment?....Why am I buying so many different thick grip barbells and dumbbell handles when I can easily stick with standard bars and simply use adjustable Fat Grip attachments that give the same effect?"
To make up my mind and to answer the questions above, I decided to experiment during a workout to find out if there was a difference between using Fat Grip attachments vs proper Iron Thick Grip bars. Before I explain what happened, let me first detail some more information on "Fat Gripz".
What are Fat Gripz?
Fat Grips are thick, rubber material attachments which are pliable enough to wrap around most standard sized barbells, dumbbell handles, cable handles etc. Once the Fat Grip is attached, it stays on and becomes solid enough to use. It's a genius product design as it turns a regular bar into a much thicker one.
This basically means more challenging workouts as performing reps on a much thicker diameter barbell for example, will make the exercise tougher to do. So don't expect to use the same amount of weight on the bar if you switch to using a thicker handle.
Fat Gripz currently come in three different sizes...
- One: 1.75" (4.5 cm)
- Original: 2.25" (5.7 cm)
- Extreme: 2.75" (7 cm)
I personally own two, the "Original" and "Extreme" version.
What's the Benefits of Thick Bar Training?
According to the Fat Gripz website...
"Using a thick bar means MORE MUSCLE AND STRENGTH on your body. Thick bar training produces much bigger strength and muscle gains compared to standard training equipment…. and many people find them much easier on their joints too."
Additional benefits and more in-depth reasons from the Fat Gripz website include...
- Increased muscle activation: Thicker handles stimulate much more muscle activation in the hands and forearms and in the upper arms and whole upper body. More muscle activation means much bigger muscle and strength gains.
- "Unlocking" muscle gains: Thick bars make your hands, fingers and forearms so much stronger that your body can finally stop "holding back" the strength and muscle gains in your uppers arms, back and chest.
- Complete training: Thick bar training automatically trains your hands, fingers and forearms at all angles. If you are bench pressing, the thick bar will train your hands and forearms in a completely different way than if you are doing chin ups on a thick bar.
- Natural movement: Thick bars perfectly replicate the natural function of the human hand - lifting heavy, awkward objects.
- Automatic training: Thick bars means you are training your grip the whole time and you don't even need to do any extra exercises.
- Concentration: Thick bars are harder to handle so you need to concentrate a lot harder to lift the weight. Some credit this alone with making them significantly stronger.
- Less imbalances and injuries: Thick bars shift the stress off the joints and onto the muscles because a thick bar spreads the weight over a larger area.
Now I'm not a science guy and I personally don't feel training needs to be so scientific based. So in my simple terms and in my humble opinion, there is definitely merit in using thicker bars to grip during training. I certainly felt a strong difference in my hands, fingers, wrists and forearms after training with both the Fat Gripz and the thick grip Iron dumbbell handles and barbells. If you are not used to this type of training, you may require extra recovery time to allow your forearms etc to heal. Not joking.
Does using the Fat Grip implements build muscle faster? I honestly do not know. However, after using such equipment in my training for a short period of time, my wrist, forearms and upper arms certainly felt better and in my opinion looked a bit more beefier. The thick bar training definitely stimulated more muscle activation when I trained my arms and I can honestly say I will continue using Fat Grips.
Other Rubber Fat Grips on the Market
If you do a search online there are loads of other Rubber, portable Fat Grips, produced by different companies, but one other brand which I use and like very much are "Alpha Grips" made by Iron Bull Strength.
* If you plan to buy Alpha Grips - Apply "strengtholdschool" at checkout to SAVE 10%
The design of Alpha Grips are slightly different compared to the Fat Gripz brand. The Alpha Grips are designed to be more suited to the natural curves of our hands thus supposedly making them more comfortable to use. In my opinion, both brands feel very similar and are comfortable to use regardless of design shape. The one major difference though, is that Alpha Grips produced a 3" thick grip, whereas Fat Gripz for whatever reason, chose not to.
Iron Bull Strength Grips come in a variety of sizes...2", 2.5" and 3". To be honest, it's worthwhile actually buying both brands instead of sticking with just one, as they both provide a variety of different sized grips, with each brand making a grip size that the other does not. Part of my collection can be seen below.
Another difference in design between Fat Gripz and Alpha Grips is in the length.
The Alpha grips are slightly shorter in length which I find better fits certain gym equipment handles. I own a set of "custom made" dumbbell handles by Watson, which unfortunately the Fat Gripz did not fit. Thankfully the Alpha Grips did. So be careful if you plan to use Fat Grip attachments on dumbbell handles.
Fat Grip attachments makes training much more fun and challenging to do. Fat Grips places extra stress on the fingers, hands, wrists and forearms but in a good way. Does this produce better gains in muscle and strength? I honestly do not know for sure.
Whether you buy Fat Gripz or Alpha Grips, they will last you a life time! They feel virtually indestructible. My advice...Unless you have massive hands, only buy the 2" Alpha Grips first and test them out for a period of time before deciding to go thicker in diameter.
Take your time to ease into thick grip training as I plunged straight into buying the 3" grips which resulted in hand and wrist pains which I assume was due to pushing too much heavy weight too soon with such a large thicker grip. My hands just weren't used to it. As a result, I had to stop training for a period of time to let my hands, fingers, joints etc properly heal and recover. Wasn't a pleasant experience from what I remember.
So make sure you gently and slowly ease into thick grip training over a lengthy period of time. The Fat Grip attachments are fun to use, but remember, they are a serious training tool, and like anything, they do have potential to cause serious injury, if they are abused and not used properly.
Is there a Difference between Portable Fat Grips and Thick Bar Iron Dumbbell Handles/Barbells?
Okay, let's get back to the experimentation I mentioned earlier within this article... where I decided to experiment (test my grip strength on a particular lift) during a workout to see what the difference was between using a Fat Grip attachment vs using an "Iron" Thick Grip "custom made" Dumbbell Handle.
This workout was performed on July 17, 2021, using just one exercise: "Single Arm Dumbbell Deadlift".
The dumbbell handles were the exact same length (12" long) and the diameter of the grip was 3". The only difference was the type of thick grip used. One was an expensive "custom made" 3" Thick Grip Dumbbell Handle, the other, a standard handle with a 3" Rubber Alpha Grip attached.
The lifts went as follows (no chalk was used).
- Set 1: 3" Thick Grip Handle + 5 kg (11 lbs) - Success
- Set 2: 3" Thick Grip Handle + 10 kg (22 lbs) - Success
- Set 3: 3" Thick Grip Handle + 15 kg (22 lbs) - Success
- Set 4: 3" Thick Grip Handle + 20 kg (45 lbs) - Success
- Set 5: 3" Thick Grip Handle + 25 kg (55 lbs) - Success
- Set 6: 3" Thick Grip Handle + 30 kg (66 lbs) - Fail with both hands
After resting a short period of time I moved on to repeat the process using the Fat Grip attachment instead. I performed the exact same number of sets using the exact same weight increment on each successive set.
- Set 1: 3" Fat Grip Handle + 5 kg (11 lbs) - Success
- Set 2: 3" Fat Grip Handle + 10 kg (22 lbs) - Success
- Set 3: 3" Fat Grip Handle + 15 kg (22 lbs) - Success
- Set 4: 3" Fat Grip Handle + 20 kg (45 lbs) - Success
- Set 5: 3" Fat Grip Handle + 25 kg (55 lbs) - Success
- Set 6: 3" Fat Grip Handle + 30 kg (66 lbs) - Fail with both hands
The results were the same. The heaviest successful weight lifted (marked in red) was the same, and I failed on the exact same weight.
In my mind, I had proven a point that there's really no difference in using Iron thick grip implements compared to using standard bars and adding Fat Grip attachments.
This for me was pleasing news because now I can seriously consider selling off all my Iron Thick Grip barbells, axles, dumbbell handles, cable machine bars etc. I now see no reason in keeping both. I can just stick with my regular sized standard barbells and dumbbell handles and use my Fat Grips whenever I desire some thick grip training stimulation.
In conclusion, it's much, much CHEAPER and SPACE SAVING to simply stick with regular bars and just use Fat Grip Attachments compared to buying all sorts of thick grip special made barbells in various lengths and thicknesses etc.
It's very easy and addictive to be drawn into the Strongman or serious Grip Training specialist world and spend lot's of money on custom made thick grip bars. But as a small home gym user, I don't need all that equipment if I can replicate exercises by simply adding Rubber Fat Grips to all my bars.
Within seconds, I can go from a standard grip size to a 2" grip, from a 2" grip to a 2.5" grip...to a 3" grip and more! That's the beauty of Fat Grip attachments, there portable, quickly adjustable and can be easily added to most exercises and bars.
* Fat Grips even work on Ironmaster Quick Lock Adjustable Dumbbells!
Unfortunately for me, this long journey of realization has been costly, but hopefully my thoughts within this article will help others save money.
I'll finish off this article with links to two Fat Grip products I highly recommend.
Buy Fat Gripz
Buy Alpha Grips by Iron Bull Strength.
* Apply "strengtholdschool" at checkout to SAVE 10% *
If you wish to make any comments or ask a question please visit the links below:
Please check out Strength Oldschool's other Home Gym Equipment Recommendations (Affiliate links and Discount Codes) such as Ironmaster, BRAINGAIN, Mad Spotter, Gym-Pin, Iron Bull Strength and more!
Keep training hard folks!
All the best,