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The Grip Mastery Series Part 2: Take Your Thick Bar Lifting Game To The Next Level With Sam Solomi

December 22, 2023

Next we are going to look at how to improve your ability to lift on a thicker bar. You might have an axle clean and press in your next competition, or you might have an axle deadlift as part of a medley and want to ditch the straps to gain valuable time? Or perhaps you have read about the "Thomas Inch Dumbbell" and would aspire to lift a replica yourself. 

Thick barbells or axles kind of accidentally came into circus strongman by way of construction. Around the turn of the last century, huge circus weights required a thicker handle to support the weight. Indeed, this gave rise to another challenge to overcome in lifting the object, the sheer thickness made it a feat of grip strength as well as overall body strength. Apollon’s Wheels weighing a monstrous 166kg/366lb was to focal point to which started the challenge of the axle clean press in strongman. Another interesting fact about a different popular event focuses around the Thomas Inch dumbbell, this particular dumbbell gave rise to the circus or monster dumbbell event we are all too familiar with.

So, how do we get good at Thick bar lifting? Well, the first step is to purchase an axle bar. Most axles that you will typically find on the market are 2" or 50mm. This is the most common size in competition so is the best size to buy for training and I'd look to get one early on in your strength training journey. In the meantime, a pair of "fat gripz" on a barbell is a close enough feeling to get started. Typically people work up to being able to perform about 30% of their work on a thicker bar. This is enough to get the benefits for grip   and practice for contests, but not too much that your training of other muscle groups will be limited by your grip.

If your goal is to lift thick handled dumbbells, you could buy a rolling handle. There are many types on the market, and most are 60mm. This replicates the size of the monstrous Thomas Inch dumbbell which weighs 78kg/172lb and has a 60mm/2.5" handle. That's the size of a can of pop. Performing curls, rows, and deadlifts on a rolling handle is one of the best and most accessible way to train for this. The work will also carry over to your ability to clean an axle efficiently and also translate to other grip events in strongman.

If you are new to thick bar, I would integrate it gradually. Too much too soon and it's possible to get elbow tendinitis. We really want to avoid this and other overuse injuries. Start off very light and if there is any discomfort ease back. Begin with high reps on assistance exercises like rows with thick bar, and do them at the end of your workout. Your forearms will blow up in size from the added work.

As a complete beginner to thick bar work, I would start off with 3 sets of 8 reps of double overhand deadlifts on an axle once a week, alongside 3 sets of 10 thumb less shrugs with it. I'd follow this with 3 sets of 15 rolling handle single arm rows and finish on some reverse curls with the empty axle. The volume and frequency can then be increased rapidly as you progress. Those of you looking for added wrist strength and stability would massively benefit from pressing on an axle, too. Performing light work without wrist wraps will prevent injuries in this area down the line. However, where maxing, my choice would be the Cerberus Rebound wrist wrap, as you need a nice grip for the press but also some wrist movement to efficiently clean the axle, if strongman is your thing anyway.

If you haven’t already I would suggest reading part one of the grip strength series which focuses on pinch strength as the training from that blog will carry over to your lifts on thick bar training too. A quick tip which can also help you improve is to include a towel when you are doing pulldowns and rows, give this a try and see how it works out. You might also want to invest in a pair of thicker handled farmers or whack "fat gripz" on yours to get the benefits of holding onto a thicker bar for time. One thing is for certain, the more your muscles are engaged by using a thicker bar in training, the more it will elevate your overall performance as a strength athlete. 

If you have any more questions about grip don't hesitate to follow me on Instagram my handle is @phatmuscle_coaching and send me a message on there. I post free grip related content most days.

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