Saturday, January 2, 2016

GRIPPED UP with Grip Pro

When COG’s most elderly correspondent reported being “gripped up,” we thought he was talking about short 5.10s he barely exited in style 40 years ago.
(For the record. Smith Rock’s Karate Crack, 60’, 5.10a and North Wales’ Cenotaph Corner, 120’, 5.10a…both routes feature tidy hand jams to the very top. Here climbers have just enough hand-strength to pass the tricky crux right: either into a pod or out of one.  Film reference: 2001 Space Odyssey, “Open the pod-bay door, Hal…”)

But no. This wasn’t nostalgia for the classic UK test-piece, Cenotaph Corner. Our pal’s orthopedist had diagnosed “trigger finger,” an arthritic condition rendering a finger-joint “permanently” fixed with a right angle bend.

Our guy rejected arthritis.

“I cooked those two knuckles lighting a gas-fired broiler on St. Martin,” averred our crook-fingered friend. He palmed a rubber-ring hand-exerciser at COG headquarters

Flexing the rubber-ring, we could clearly hear his middle-finger knuckle “lock,” slip and slide through its regular range-of-motion: no smooth movement here, just three-distinct, painful indents.

“Each morning, I can’t open this finger; it’s so locked-up. I have to pull it straight and flatten it down [with my chest in bed] for a few minutes before I get up. Otherwise, it stays crooked.”

But a few minutes with COG’s Grip Pro Trainer (we’d bought one at an industry event years ago) revealed that our elderly correspondent had lost grip-strength in his damaged fingers. A right-hander, his left-hand now over-powered his dominant hand. A lot. A rock-climbing gym regular, our guy was appalled.

So we loaned the old fellow our Grip Pro Trainer rubber-ring (www.gripprotrainer.com). Within days (using the rubber-ring for two sets of twenty-reps/day), he reported that his fingers remained flexibile throughout the night. Two weeks later, our friend’s grip-strength was normal. While joint movement wasn’t silky smooth, our correspondent felt comfortable ignoring medical advice to visit t a hand surgeon.

So, COG discovered a medical/orthopedic/age problem and an exercise solution. No surprise here. End of story, right?

Well, as usual with the COG team: not so fast.

You see, the Grip Pro Trainer is manufactured of black rubber. Our friend carried the Grip Pro to his car for exercising (more than patience) while stalled in rush hour traffic. Enter girlfriend. Late night dinner, maybe some dancing. Shuffling around the front seat. Dark. Grip Pro pushed to the car-floor. Hasty exit. Next morning, where’s the Grip Pro Trainer?

Missing daily grip-strength sessions means our guy’s fingers immediately “gripped up.” So, he urgently hustles over to his neighborhood REI, 10am Saturday morning. $7.95 being much cheaper than surgery…but what? No Pro Grip Trainer?

OK. Black Diamond’s Forearm Trainer looks about the same: a squeezable rubber-ring (www.blackdiamondequipment.com), $6.95, in blue. Available everywhere online, including BD. But not stocked at REI?

What if you need a grip strengthener immediately?

Is there anything on REI’s shelf?

The Gripmaster Hand Strengthener, $14.95 (www.rei.com) comes to hand. Cumbersome name for a complicated-looking, spring-loaded device.  Gripped at a “high” angle across the knuckles, the Gripmaster focuses isolated loading of each finger: nice for finger control. But our guy needs a more powerful, rolling action for his whole hand, fingers and forearm in order to arrest arthritic degeneration. BD’s and the Pro Grip’s rubber-rings are perfect, but where to find one, today? Not at Dick’s, not at Sports Authority, not REI, nor our local fitness equipment retailer.

Back at COG headquarters, we hand over a freebie Boreal (climbing shoe maker) had given us many seasons ago.

Now, we happen to like Boreal shoes. However, Boreal’s FS Quattro (at several years’ remove) generated negative reviews on climbing blogs. The promotional grip trainer, branded with the FS Quarttro label, worked about as well as many thought the rubber works.

[COG’s friction-shoe tests favor these resoles: 5.10’s Stealth and Vibram’s newest, XS Grip2.]

So our trigger-finger guy bought a Metolius’ Grip Saver Plus, $17.95  (www.metoliusclimbing.com). The Metolius take on grip-training is injury prevention, an exotic concept for many. The red, palm-sized squeeze-ball is perfect for easy grappling. But the real rave’s for the ball’s finger-extension feature: nothing’s better for warming-up finger-tendon sheaths. And as everyone knows, dynamically balanced, incremental-load training is essential for avoiding repetitive motion and overuse injuries.

For the next three days, our griped-up cousin maintained his hand exercise/recovery regimen using his Metolius Grip Saver Plus (also available at REI stores), while awaiting delivery of his online orders. He judged the Melolius squeeze-extension ball a perfect pre-exercise/climb warm-up routine.

Meanwhile, COG made phone calls. We ordered another Grip Pro Trainer and chatted with Grip Pro’s Erich Esswein. Asked why we couldn’t find his product at REI, Dick’s or even our local fitness equipment retailer (dealing the premium Lifefitness Brand, among others), Esswein replied that “…big-box retailers, and even REI, have squeezed out small manufacturers…” with economies of scale. Better for the retailers, not so good for hand exercisers ready to hand.

Here’s our final tally for Black Diamond’s Forearm Trainer ring and Grip Pro’s ring: Dead-heat for quality resistance and hand-finger position variety. Order online; order early.

The Black Diamond’s Forearm Trainer offers a single resistance increment: 35 lbs.

Grip Pro’s 3-ring set delivers three resistance increments: green, 30 lbs; black, 40 lbs; red, 50 lbs. 

To which our broken-down rock-jock says: “I could stay at 35-pounds (resistance), but I may as well get stronger while I’m at it (using a 3-ring set).”

Grip Pro wins on versatility and progressive strength training.

In the spirit of gender neutrality, we’ll mention: the 30 lbs, green Grip Pro ring is perfect for small, fair hands.

Black Diamond’s Forearm Trainer (COG 5-star rating)
$7.95 each/$19.95, three-pack / gripprotrainer.com
Black Diamond’s Forearm Trainer (rings)
$6.95 / blackdiamondequipment.com
Gripmaster Hand Strengthener (springs)
$14.95 / gripmaster.com.au
Metolius’ Grip Saver Plus (squeeze ball + extension), (most innovative)
$17.95  metoliusclimbing.com

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