Why set a gripper?

Why set a gripper?

Covered in this article:

  • What is a “set”?
  • Setting a gripper for certification
  • Setting a gripper for training
  • Setting a gripper because of how they are made

Once you start training with grippers and working towards goals to close heavier and heavier grippers, inevitably you may come to consider if and why you should set a gripper. Here we explain what is a "set" and the reasons why to set a gripper.


What is a “set”?

Setting a gripper refers to the actions involved in positioning the gripper in your gripping hand, usually accomplished with help from the other hand. Setting can be anything from a near-two-handed close to a close from a specific width for certification. All types of sets have training benefits and none would be considered “cheating.” Setting a gripper is as much a training tool as it is a personal preference.


Setting a gripper for certification

Oftentimes, the reason to set a gripper is to get certified in closing that gripper. IronMind is well-known for using the short length of a credit card as their minimum set width (2-1/8” or 54 mm). The credit card must be passed between the handles to the judge’s satisfaction prior to closing the gripper. Many grip athletes find this wide starting point to be cumbersome or unapproachable based on hand size. GHP uses a 30 mm set for their certification and, similarly, their setting block must pass between the handles.

The GripBoard’s Mash Monster certification allows a “parallel” set, meaning it must be visibly clear to the judges that the handles were parallel or wider before closing the gripper. No setting block is required but “parallel” is generally about 20 mm. None of these methods is better than the others. They are simply the rules required to maintain a level playing field and preserve the integrity of each respective certification. 


Setting a gripper for training

Outside of certification standards, the main reason to set a gripper in training is the same reason you adjust the driver’s seat of a car. First and foremost, you want to be personally comfortable. If your taller brother last drove the car, then you may not be able to safely reach the steering wheel and brakes. This leads directly to the second reason to set a gripper, which is safety.

Personal preference and safety are more interconnected than you might think. Many personal preferences for seat position will be based on what the driver feels puts them comfortably in command of the vehicle.

Finally, there is the issue of style. Maybe technically it would be safer to have your seat more vertical, but you personally enjoy the style of a relaxed sitting position. Nobody is choosing a seat position in order to pass some DMV inspection and, likewise with grippers, it’s key to set them in a position that maximizes personal comfort, safety and style.

What this means in practice is that most people naturally choose a set width that is comfortable for their hand size. Some joke that they started setting grippers and instantly got stronger, but all they really did was optimize their leverages, which is a safe way to train.

Some argue that setting a gripper results in a partial movement is being performed. In practice, that doesn’t matter for grip strength training unless you’re specifically training for a certification that requires their setting rules be followed. And when it comes to style, we have heard many grip athletes declare that they only close grippers with no set at all. This is admirable, but it’s more of a personal style choice than a badge of honor (and dollars to donuts they have a big hand).


Setting a gripper because of how they are made

This does not come up often, but there is a “need” to set grippers that stems from how they are manufactured. The manufacturing process all but ensures the end result is a gripper that is arbitrarily too wide for most hands.

There are only a few elements that affect the difficulty of a gripper:

  • Wire size: Thicker wire makes a harder gripper
  • Coil diameter: Smaller coil diameters make a harder gripper that feels “stiff” throughout the range of motion
  • Handle mounting depth: The closer the handle is to the spring, the shorter the lever and the harder the gripper will become
  • Handle spread: Wider handle spreads are harder because the range of motion takes the spring farther into its strength curve

So, what does this have to do with setting? Let’s talk about the strength curve for a torsion spring. When graphed, the curve will look like this:


Deflection angle in a torsion spring is how much angular deflection the spring can withstand before being overly stressed. As shown in the graph, the more the spring deflects, the load required to move it farther also increases sharply. The green lines block out the halfway point, where you can see the load to get half way is very low compared to what comes after. Then, a substantially larger amount of force is required to finish the job. If you have ever picked up a hard gripper and felt like, “Well, at least I can move the handles,” this is why. 

If manufacturers are going to have consistency in their gripper product line, then they need to pick an angle for the spring that sets the handle spread. Most have chosen an angle that yields about 2.5” to 3” between the handles. Combined with the other specifications, the handle spread serves to place the gripper at the desired strength level. If the handle spread was narrow enough that anyone could comfortably wrap their fingers around the handles, the gripper difficulty would decrease dramatically across the board. 

Also, consider that while a gripper is shaped like the letter “A,” your hand is not. Previously, we mentioned the desire to have a mechanical advantage over the gripper. Let’s say you are using pliers to really get a grip on a rusted part. This part is not coming loose unless you use everything to your advantage. How are you going to use the pliers? Obviously when the handles have a wide spread, you can’t effectively grab them and squeeze. You might even need to use two hands. But, with parallel handles, the pliers are in the sweet spot for your hand to really bear down. This is why you set the gripper: to exploit the narrow range where a human hand can apply the most pressure. And remember we are not talking about any ole human hand. It’s your own human hand.

In the next article, we discuss an important related topic and that is "How set a gripper."