Get A Grip

Subject: Dowel grips vs. regular grips

Dear Coach,

My daughter is a level 5 gymnast and may move to level 6 very shortly. She does not currently use grips. However, it appears at level 6, our gym has the girls start wearing grips. Unfortunately, there is no clear method or recommendation on when to start using grips and what kind. There are some level 5 girls using grips, which they obtained on their own, and others do not.

The level 5 girls who are using grips are using dowel grips. The parents e-mailed the coach and asked about having their girls use grips, and the coach said that would be fine and to use dowel grips as these are easier to begin using than others.

My daughter now would like grips and I’m not sure what to purchase. She does have a pair of hand-me-down grips from the neighbor and has taken them to practice several times, but can’t seem to even manage a kip with grips on.

Here’s my question: When and why does a gymnast really need to use grips, what type of grips (is there a progression to dowel grips, or should she start with dowels), and how does a gymnast learn to use grips properly?


There is not universal agreement on the use of grips, although we think there are some dominant views. There are exceptions. For example, there are Russian International competitors who do not use dowel grips (or any grips). They let their hands toughen and callous up as their form of protection. For the most part, though high level gymnasts use dowel grips. High level competitive men always wear grips and use different grips on different events.

Grips are designed to provide some advantages to working without grips. With the leather covering a fair portion of the palm, the potential for rips is reduced in direct relation to their coverage of the hand. The fewer rips a gymnast has, the more, longer and better their bar workouts can potentially be.

Dowel grips can provide an advantage on circling skills (like front and back giants, stalders) on bars, especially for gymnasts whose hands are small and do not go all the way around the bar. The dowel provides a kind of clamp on the bar, which makes it easier for gymnasts to hold on to the bar. Dowel grips are designed with a wooden dowel positioned on the grips to help gymnasts have a better hold on the bar during circling skills and catching release moves.

We believe team and training team gymnasts might as well buy and use dowel grips as soon as their hands are big enough to fit into them so they become very familiar with using them before they really need them.

While your daughter may not need grips for doing simple skills like Level 5 and 6 Compulsory bars, she will most likely want grips for learning and practicing skills like front and back giants and other circling skills on the bars. (Hopefully she is also training those skills already or soon will be).

Grips are useful for extending the amount of time you can work bars. If your daughter wants to be able to learn high level skills, she will have to be able to work bars for long periods of time. She will either have to learn to work through the pain of rips or wear grips in order to be able to spend enough time practicing on bars to learn high level skills.

The few high level gymnasts who do not wear grips often have to go through a period of ripping before their hands callous enough to stop ripping. Also, every time they take a break from gymnastics for any significant period of time, they have to go through the ripping cycle again before their hands toughen back up

All gymnasts get calluses on their hands from doing bars. Gymnasts who wear grips usually only get them around the edges of their grips. Gymnasts who don’t wear grips get calluses all over their hands.

Callused hands or callused areas of the hand often rip bigger than non-callused areas.
Rips often take off the whole callus when the hands rip. The callus comes off in one whole piece. Gymnasts who don’t wear grips can have this happen over their whole hand area, not just around where their grips are. So when they rip, gymnasts who don’t wear grips are likely to rip in more areas and have bigger rips in the sensitive areas of the hands that grips usually cover.

Summer, the off-season, is the ideal time to get used to wearing grips as opposed to switching to grips in the middle of the competition season. The next best time is during the beginning of the season, so the gymnast can get used to them before any important meets are scheduled. Our advice would be to get them immediately and let her get used to them before the competition season really begins.

As gymnasts get older and grow, they tend to switch to wearing grips because their hands rip more when they are taller and weigh more. It is easier to learn to wear grips when you are younger and at a lower level than to switch later. If your daughter thinks it is hard to get used to grips doing kips, she will really have trouble later switching to grips and getting used to them doing skills like giant pirouettes.

The really hard part is getting used to wearing grips. It is easier to learn to wear grips doing simple Compulsory skills than to have to change later when she is already doing difficult skills. It is very likely a wiser choice to get used to grips now rather than later.

Palm grips or any other non-dowel grips, we feel, are basically useless for team gymnasts. Older, bigger non-team gymnasts might benefit from having non-dowel grips for classes as the more you weigh, the more likely you are to rip. They should get velcro grips without dowels.

Dowel grips come in sizes and must be carefully fitted. Many grip companies still use the old practice of having gymnasts send in tracings of their hands. We keep an entire set of all sizes of grips in the gym so gymnasts may try them on. Some gyms just have gymnasts try on other gymnast’s grips to get the correct sizing.

The newest and, we think, best method to get the right size is to trace, measure and make a photocopy of your gymnast’s hands to send along with their order. You should place the palm of the gymnast’s hand on a copy machine with the wrist straight and fingers relaxed, not spread apart. Include at least a full inch of the wrist or more and make sure the copy setting is light enough so that the joints of the fingers can be seen and is not too dark to see the details.

This method works the better than hand tracings, which do not show the joints that are needed to measure. Mail or scan and email the copy. Faxing the picture may distort the true picture.

Grip sizes range from 0000, 000, 00, 0, 1, 2, 3 and 4 with 0000 being the smallest. The grips should fit on the first knuckle and should be long enough for the hand and wrist to almost straighten when the grips are strapped on the wrists.

Measure the Hand Size from the top knuckle of the middle finger to the base of the hand. If the size is:

  • 4 inches = 0000
  • 4 1/4″ = 000
  • 4 1/2″ = 00
  • 4 3/4″ = 0

The following sizes are usually only available for men:

  • 5 ” = 1
  • 5 1/4″ = 2
  • 5 1/2″ = 3
  • 5 3/4″ = 4
  • 6 ” = 5
  • 6 1/4″ = 6

We measure from the top knuckle of the ring and middle finger to where the palm of the hand adjoins the wrist. This is a critical measurement and just ¼ of an inch can change the size.

If you have not ordered grips before, send the grip company everything – a tracing of both hands, a copy of both hands and the size you think they wear from trying on grips. The grip companies are very good at sizing, but will do it best with enough information.

Finger holes that are too small may be filed out larger with a round file. We don’t recommend using grips with finger holes that are too large, but gymnasts often wrap tape through the holes to make them smaller and fit. There are also grips with “finger lock” systems, which is basically a tab in the finger holes which can help the grips stay on the fingers. We like this feature and so do our gymnasts.

There are, not infrequently, problems with Velcro grip straps with them popping loose while the gymnast is working out or competing on bars. Buckles do not have this problem. Gymnasts and coaches have devised a variety of devices to solve this Velcro problem including wrapping rubber bands and/or athletic tape around the Velcro straps.

Gymnasts almost always wear wristbands made from either neoprene or cotton and sometimes both. This helps protect the wrist from chafing while the gymnast is working bars. Wrists can “rip” too. Some grips come with built-in neoprene wristbands.

The thickness of the leather from which grips are made varies. Thicker grips are stiffer and harder to break in, but tend to last longer. Thinner grips feel softer, break in more quickly and wear out more quickly.

In general and on average, it will take about a month to break in a new set of grips and that is about how long it takes gymnasts to initially get used to using grips. During this period of time, there may be a reduction in the level and quality of a gymnast’s bar work while they learn to adapt to the grips. Almost always, once gymnasts use grips, they never want to work bars without them ever again.

We usually recommend high-level gymnasts have a spare set of grips (that are broken in) in case their grips tear, so they can continue to work out and/or compete.

Expect to pay from $38 to over $50 for dowel grips.

Gymnasts should not wear or borrow other gymnast’s grips. Grips eventually form to exactly fit a gymnast’s hand and if other gymnasts wear them, it will affect the fit and feel. The same is true about wearing hand-me-down grips. The will have formed to fit another gymnast and never will fit or feel quite right.

Hope this helps. Good Luck!

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