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Many sports have personal equipment that the athletes either wear or carry to help them play the sport.
Gymnastics is no different.
Let’s get into the details of one of our most important pieces of personal equipment, gymnastics hand grips.
- 1 All about different types of gymnastics grips
- 2 When to get grips
- 3 Brands of gymnastics grips
- 4 Sizing of gymnastics grips
- 5 Breaking in new grips quickly
- 6 Get your coach’s recommendation
All about different types of gymnastics grips
Grips are personal equipment made out of leather that are worn on the hands of gymnasts to help them hang on to the event that they are performing on. Female gymnasts wear gymnastics grips on uneven bars and male gymnasts wear grips on high bar and still rings.
While the main purpose of gymnastics grip is to help the athlete hang on, grips typically help reduce rips (painful popped blisters).
Even though they are not required, almost all modern upper level gymnasts both male and female wear them. Let’s learn a bit more about the different types of grips.
Dowel grips vs. palm guards
When you are looking into purchasing gymnastics grips, there are grips with a dowel and grips without a dowel.
Dowel grips have a small rod across the inside finger area of the grip that helps the gymnast hang on while using a looser grip. Much of the force is transferred to the wrist so dowel grips provide a great mechanical advantage. Most competitive gymnasts wear dowel grips as they move to high levels in gymnastics.
Grips without dowels are just palm guards in the world of gymnastics. While these grips are widely used in other sports such as crossfit, they are not used much in gymnastics. They may help recreational athletes rip less, but they are often an unnecessary distraction during class. I would only recommend these if your child rips excessively.
Buckle vs hook & loop (Velcro)
Grips come in all sorts of fastener variations. Really it’s just a personal (or coaching) preference. All of the types of fasteners work just fine.
I only allow buckle grips at our club. I have found over the years that the “set it and forget it” approach works much better for our program than the hook & loop wristbands that the athletes undo and redo over and over.
Below are all of the forms of fasteners.
- Single buckle
- Double buckle
- Hook & loop
- Buckle + hook & loop
Again, they all work just fine. Just more of a personal preference of the athlete or coach.
Women’s uneven bar grips
Uneven bar grips have two finger holes and a small dowel. They are worn on the middle and ring fingers just below the first knuckle.
Men’s high bar grips
High bar grips have three finger holes and a small dowel. They are worn on the index, middle, and ring fingers just below the first knuckle.
Men’s ring grips
Ring grips have two finger holes and a large dowel. They are worn on the middle and ring fingers just below the first knuckle.
When to get grips
This section could be an entire article in itself. Long story short, your coach should let know know when to get grips.
Long story long, read on…
Grips at the “right time”
I’m going to gear this section for women’s uneven bar grips as I am a women’s gymnastics coach, however, many men’s coaches have their own ways to do things.
Getting grips at the “right time” is the way that I go about it as a head coach. It may sound funny, but a good uneven bar coach can really tell when an athlete has a good shot of converting into grips very quickly.
Here are a few things that I look for to help me out when sizing women’s uneven bar grips…
- Is the athlete struggling to hang on? If so, maybe they need grips.
- Does their hand measure 5 1/2 inches or more from the base of the palm to the tip of the middle finger? Many times athletes with small hands find it hard to swing with grips.
- Are they training or competing Level 4 or higher in the USA Gymnastics Developmental Program (formerly the Junior Olympic Program)? Our club starts training skills around this time that we would rather have them learn with grips. Most of the time I find it easer to train the skill only once, instead of once with no grips and then later with the grips. And yes, I have plenty of experience with this as my own daughter (a 5th year Level 10) competed all the way through Level 8 without grips.
Grips at a certain level
This is a popular tactic among gymnastics clubs. Basically all of the athletes get grips at the same time as they pass a certain level.
Typically this happens after their championship meet of the season so they can learn to use their grips at the beginning of the off season.
Grips after a certain skill
“You can have your grips as soon as you get your kip!”
This one is not my favorite, but many clubs do it.
Take the tiny 7 year old rock star group. These athletes may all find it very easy to get kips before grips. They are little and their strength to weight ratio is probably quite good.
Now consider an older athlete that is trying to get their kip. It might actually be easier for this athlete to learn the kip by first getting gymnastics grips. The grips might help them get more reps on the skill without ripping so much as well.
Grips before a certain skill
“I want you in grips before you learn a clear hip to handstand!”
I am actually a big fan of this, within reason.
As I stated above my own daughter competed all the way through level 8 without grips. She was tiny so she had no issues hanging on. In hindsight, I should have put here in grips sooner as we then took a whole summer converting (almost re-learning) all of the skills that she already had.
Grips as a super secret surprise gift
Um… no. If it just happens to line up with a birthday or holiday, then they are fine as a gift.
Consider your child waiting 3 weeks to get their grips for their birthday as the whole rest of the team already got their grips and is working new skills with them. Not a cool gym parent move.
Or your professional gymnastics coach would like to put your child in grips right now as they feel it would be very beneficial. Right now means right now, not Christmas!
Brands of gymnastics grips
Just like anything else, there are many brands of gymnastics grips. While all of the brands listed are quality brands, I can give you a bit more detail about some of them.
US Glove is the brand of choice for our women’s gymnastics team. We outfit all of our athletes in either RKO double buckle or Hot Shot single or double buckle grips. We have always had a great relationship with US Glove. Their grips are of extreme quality and yet still affordable.
We choose the RKO grip for all of our older and heavier athletes. This grip is a straight side cut that will take more high level skills and weight loads than the Hot Shot grip.
We put our beginners and smaller athletes in the Hot Shot grip as it is a thinner, tapered side cut that allows the smaller athletes to feel the rail better.
Reisport grips are very well know and very well made. These Swiss made grips are some of the most popular grips in the world. The original Swiss style straight grip comes from Reisport. These are the grips that I wore on both high bar and rings as a gymnast back when I was competing.
These German made grips are very popular in men’s gymnastics. These are not beginner grips, they are recommended for the advanced upper level artistic gymnast. My son and all of his teammates wear Reichelsport grips as well as many Olympic champions.
This is a unique brand that uses thicker leather as the size increases. For this reason they are very durable Smaller grips start out with 2.0 mm leather and progress up to 3.0 mm thick in the largest size. If you special order them from their company website out of German, you can special order the size and thickness of your preference.
Other popular grip brands
Sizing of gymnastics grips
Each brand and style of grip will have it’s own sizing chart. Please remember that the sizing charts are a guide. You should still have a professional gymnastics coach double check your grip sizing before using them.
Remember that grips are only made for one event. They are NOT interchangeable between events.
Wearing the wrong or poorly sized grips can extreme injury in the form of grip lock.
Breaking in new grips quickly
Breaking in your new grips is important and it can be done fairly quickly depending on the experience level of the gymnast. Many times a set of grips can be broken in and ready for full routines within one workout. Below are the 7 steps that I use as an experienced coach.
Step #1: Fold the wrist area
The wrist area I fold over back and forth many times both horizontally and vertically as well as forward and backwards (this can all be done diagonally too if needed).
Step #2: Twist the palm area
THIS PART IS NOT RECOMMENDED FROM THE GRIP COMPANIES (DO THIS AT YOUR OWN RISK): The actual leather that goes over the palm, I twist it like I am wringing out a rag. Be very careful doing this as you could tear either the threads or the actual leather of the grip. When you twist them like this you can actually feel the leather stretching. Depending on the stiffness / softness of the grip I either do it only one direction, or I follow up the first twist with a second in the opposite direction.
If you accidentally rip the grip or break the threads… do not use the grips… you must now purchase new grips. This does happen, that is why grip companies do not recommend this method. An alternative method would be to fold the grip just like in step #1, it just takes much longer.
Step #3: Fix the fingers
Now it’s time to put the grips on so the finger holes have to be the correct size. I use an old small bar spin lock from the width adjuster of a AAI Classic Uneven set to grind out the finger holes if they are too small… but a round file works just as well. A piece of sandpaper rolls into a rod (like a pencil) work fine as well. Make sure you do not pull / stretch the finger holes, you can snap the leather in that area very easily. If the finger holes are too large, just wrap some thin strips of athletic tape around the side until your finger stays firmly in the grip.
Step #4: Form the “pocket”
The next thing I do is have the athlete put on the grips. Once the grips are on I physically put their hand over the bar cable exactly like I want it (with the grips grabbing the cable correctly). I have them pull pretty hard several times to get the grip to try to form the “pocket” (where the bar / rail actually sits).
Step #5: Visually inspect the fit
Now I have them grab the bar and I visually inspect the grip as it is grabbing onto the bar. I look at how the grips fit, how the athlete is holding the bar, how they are wearing their wristbands, how tight the grips are, and if they have the grips in the center of their palm.
Step #6: Spotted swings and kips
From their I have them do some spotted swings on the low bar with bent legs if they fit. I spot by holding the wrist area in case they peel off. If that goes well, then we move onto spotted kips. I visually inspect the grips as they are going while being ready to catch them in case they peel.
Step #7: Giants, giants, giants
If everything is going well and the gymnast can do giants, then it’s straight to the pit bar for several turns of giants. If they can’t do giants, then also the pit bar, but tap swings instead.
Typically it takes our athletes about 15 minutes to break in a new pair of grips if they already had grips. About a practice if they have never had grips before and it’s the right time for them to start wearing grips.
Break in problems?
One thing to keep in mind is that if they have never had grips before you may not be dealing with breaking in the grips. You might actually be dealing with an athlete that either doesn’t understand how to use them or they are just not ready for them yet.
If you get a pair of grips that seems really soft or has “fuzzy” leather compared to old grips that you have had, watch them carefully. The grip companies are all really good at this point, but a batch of bad leather still gets through from time to time. Excessive grip stretching very quickly (within the first few workouts) is a sign of bad leather, get yourself a new pair of grips and have your coach contact the manufacturer about the bad pair.
Get your coach’s recommendation
Please be sure to talk to your coach before ordering grips. Grips are not something that you should just go out and buy without advice from a gymnastics coach if you have no experience with them.
Justin is the Head Coach at MWT Gymnastics in Hartland, WI. He has a wife, 2 daughters, and a son. All of them are involved in gymnastics. Justin enjoys family, friends, spending time on the lakes in the ski boat, the Chicago Bears, NASCAR, chicken wings & beer, and good music!