Take a typical, pedestrian dumbbell, for example. Two lumps of weights at either side of the bar, held together by a skinny piece of metal. No matter how heavy it is, you don’t really need to work your hand to grab it. Curl your fingers and let the weight rest in the palm and metatarsal.
So far, so good. Eventually your forearms will get hit. However, the muscle and connective tissue in the hands never get hit. Forearms get hit by keeing the fingers locked, but never due to an active contraction of the fingers and thumb.
But what if you want to hit the hands themselves? The grip? The forearms by actively keeping a contraction on all fingers, thumbs included? The answer is in increasing the thickness of the handles, or to increase the difficulty of grabbing the bar.
Before going any further, I have to give credit to the excellent tutorial on grapplearts.com on how to develop combat grip – support, crush and pinch for martial arts and combat sports. The aforementioned tutorial is available here.
The option of increasing the difficulty of grabbing the handles can be achieved by using a rope or towel around the dumbbell handle as shown below. The other option, to increase the tickness of the handle, the easiest thing is to place a pool noodle around it. This option is perhaps better geared for the gym enthusiastic in general.
WARNING: Using a towel and/or rope for lifting can put an enormous amount of stress on the knucles and metacarpal bones of the little and ring fingers.
Now, I really don’t like using foams and/or pool noodles to increase the width of a dumbbell handle. I’d rather have a solid surface that I can grip. Borrowing ideas from here and there, I decided to use regular steel 2″x6″ plumbing nipples.
The first thing is to wrap the regular handles with something; in my case, I used 1/2″ plumbing insulation. On top of that, I used regular tape to keep the insulation thight. Then I apply some lubricant and slide the metal pipe in the handle, and, voila, a 2″ thickbar dumbell. This is what a 25lbs homemade thickbar dumbbell looks like (notice the piece of plumbing insulation I used)
This will instantly make any dumbell curls more difficult… far more difficult. Before trying this idea, I was trying other ways, including chaining the dumbbells to the same 2″x6″ metal pipe (see pic below):
The advantage of this arrangement is that you can still keep the regular handles. You may not want to use a thickbar when doing, say, lunges. The disavantage is that this is clunky and clumsy. In any case, these are two options to play with.