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Brick Lifting: No Grip? No Problem


Wannagrip
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Due to current circumstances I do not have a gym to workout out in and no barbell that can support much more than 100 pounds, but that has not stopped me from lifting heavy. I first got the idea for brick lifting from John Brookfield’s The Gripmaster’s Manual. Brick lifting was under the appropriate heading of “General training for overall functional strength”. My heavy reliance on this type of exercise for my upper body training has given me some new insights and ideas that I hope will help you take your lower arm and upper body strength to new places.

Before I get started I want to first answer the question: Why should I do brick lifting? Here’s the short answer: it develops a type of open hand strength that wide pinching does not. This type of hand strength is used when there is no grip on the object in question. Broad, flat surfaces like big containers and faces of stones; giant, bulky objects that are hard to hold tight to the body such as atlas stones, husafell stones, and even barrels sides, do not have any type of handle to grip onto and require you to exert pressure against them with an open palm. It would look and sound like the hand and grip are not involved but try to lift a heavy box up by the sides with an open palm pressed into two sides and you will find your hands quickly fatigue. Brick lifting also strengthens the fingers, hand, wrist, and lower arm because they must transfer and direct the force of your pectorals onto the bricks.

All right, let’s get started. First you need some bricks; I am lucky to have a stack of them behind our wood pile. We acquired our bricks from the remnants of a chimney that was demolished. I suggest trying to find some bricks that are discarded, chipped up, or just unwanted before you buy any if you do not have some already. Most you would ever need I imagine is 15. Brick lifting does not need to get wider than 15 bricks and if you do not wish to go a brick wider at any point, anything can be placed on top of the bricks to function as more weight. A good width, weight, and amount of bricks to start out with is 6 bricks lined up next to each other, the sides with the most surface area touching each other. Depending upon your strength level and shoulder width, you may find more or less bricks to be more comfortable. Comfortable dimension wise, be sure it takes a hearty effort to hold the bricks together. It is ideal to lift the bricks off of some kind of platform; a brick lift off the ground is not properly gripped as easily due to wrist, finger, and/or body position. I prefer a low platform to pick the bricks up off of so failed attempts do not have far to go and it allows for an easily reached placed to set the bricks down before you collapse. Flat-out dropping the bricks can leave you with anywhere from twice as many bricks as you had before to dust in the air. (I find broken brick pieces to be useful for microloading though.)

Now there are a few of ways to grip the bricks. One way is to flare the fingers out so that only the palm is touching the brick on each end. Another way is to cup the hands so that the fingers and hand come in contact with more than one brick, I feel this grip allows for the heaviest weights to be picked up. The grip I use and feel is best for lower arm strength and training in general with the bricks is a one where the thumb and fingers are opposite each other on the long, skinny side of only one brick with the palm firmly pressed into the larger side. John Brookfield suggest doing curls, bent over rows, and rotations (move the bricks from horizontal _ to vertical | in your hands) with this stack of bricks in your hands. I further suggest doing overhead presses. Not true overhead presses mind you, more like outstretched presses that resemble a standing incline bench so that dropped bricks will not hit you in the face or feet. This lift is very tricky, especially at the lock out where the angle of the arms is changed rather rapidly compared to the rest of the press which can cause a slip and dropped stack. You may not want to lockout the presses. A maximum lift off the platform is also a good lift and the one I usually end a brick lifting session on. These can be a full deadlift, or just barely broken off the ground, either way, it’s the most you can do. Now with the bent over row, and brick lift for max one can choose to hold the bricks with the tall side facing you or the short side facing you. Curls (at the midpoint), the presses, and rotations need the long side to face you. Remember to add to the difficulty of the lift you can add bricks to the width, or place them on top of the stack along with other weights to increase the difficulty. One whole brick may prove quite a jump in either case. In that case a piece of cloth wedged between bricks can add a little extra width and a broken brick on top of the stack can add a little extra weight.

Okay now for some technique. Chest pressure is important and should be kicked into high gear at all times, but in order to exert the most pressure, you need to concentrate on you wrist so that they dig into the brick too. This may be uncomfortable because of the brick edge digging into your fingers, but I have not found it to hinder my ability to lift. Wrist flexion becomes even more important as the bricks start to slip. Suddenly the middle of the stack is half an inch or more lower than the bricks you are holding onto. The wrist need to supinate/turn in (force wise, not motion wise) so that the pressure is being directed properly against the bricks in the middle so that you can hold onto the stack longer. You may want to lift the bricks from a platform on every rep or keep them in your hands through the entirety of the set with certain exercises favoring one way or any other for your training. Switch it up now and then. If you feel this does not stress your lower arms keep at it for a while before writing this off; the static strength of your chest should improve to the point that the lower arms will be forced to work hard. Do not worry about a stack of bricks not being enough weight for you to press, curl, or row heavy, it will be a good upper arm workout as well. Do not try to do too much in one workout. Just because you didn’t hit your biceps with some brick curls doesn’t mean your chest can handle them on top of 10 sets of other brick lifts!

Wait, there’s more. Bricks can be used in a manner similar to the Ironmind Stacker™. The first brick is placed vertically in front of you while successive bricks are stacked horizontally on the end. The bottom brick can be gripped with the thumb pointing forward on top of the first brick while the fingers go underneath the brick from the left or right side, this is much like static leveraging work. Grip the brick in the same manner facing away from the stack and you will be working the opposite side of the wrist. My favorite grip is to keep the thumb up top but slip the fingers underneath the short side of the brick. This is similar to a plate curl, and I highly recommend curls in this manner in addition to lifts off a table.

So take those bricks like anyother grip tool and crush them to dust!

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