Home Baseball The Baseball Rice Bucket: A Waste of Time

The Baseball Rice Bucket: A Waste of Time

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I’m occasionally asked Is the Rice Bucket good for strengthening the hands?” I reply:

No. They are a waste of time.

The Rice Bucket has been around a long time – it was recommended to me when I was 10 years old. I did them, but even at a young age didn’t find them effective. For rehab it can be an effective tool, but as a recommendation for athletes to build grip strength…I stand by my answer.

No – the rice bucket isn’t a good tool to build grip strength. Here’s why:

1. “Strength” is a Specific Term

Note: This Article contains affiliate links, which means I may earn a commission on products purchased through them at no additional cost to you. I only endorse products that I personally use and trust. 

Nothing that you can do for dozens of reps or for countless minutes can be deemed a strength exercise. If we’re really being specific, anything you can do for more than 5 reps or a handful of seconds isn’t really developing strength, either.

Distance running? Not strength. 100 ab crunches? Not strength. Sets of 20 front squats? Not strength.

Rice Bucket for 5 minutes, resulting in a moderate “burn” of the forearms – NOT strength.

deadlift rack hold

2. Your Grandma Could Do Them

Watch the following video. Your grandma could do this. Don’t tell me she couldn’t. Do you want real strength, or grandma strength? Again – for rehab, the rice bucket can be a good tool. But for building forearms that will improve athletic performance? Not so much.

3. Strong People Didn’t Get Strong Doing Them

When’s the last time you saw a 250lb guy with a 600 pound deadlift telling you to build your forearms this way? Do you think he got to be able to hold such massive amounts of weight in his hands by flicking rice around? No.

Rather, he got there by moving heavy weights with his hands.

Many of the people who will recommend these are old and/or scrawny – do you really want their advice about how to get strong hands and forearms? The actually strong people are carrying heavy things around or pulling their bodyweight up with their fingers (climbers).

Would 5 minutes of Rice bucket or 5 minutes of the following farmers walks increase grip strength more? Do you really have to think about it?

4. There Are Lots of Better Exercises Grip Exercises.

If you want to build a stronger grip and bigger forearms, there are countless exercises that would be more beneficial in the same amount of time you would spend doing rice flicks.

The Tommy John rehab circuit is one of them, and it covers all 6 motions of the forearm. This is a great circuit for baseball and softball players. Plus, you can do these exercises with legitimate weight and progressively load over time, which is essential for longterm strength gains.

Flicking and crunching rice in a bucket has very little resistance. Just because it gives you a burn after 5 minutes doesn’t make it useful. Many people believe that feeling a burn means its working for them, but feeling a burn isn’t always a good indicator that a performance goal is being met.

5. They’re Rehab-Level Resistance

Again – the level of resistance the rice is going to provide is negligible.

As of this article, my best rack hold is 585lbs for 15 seconds. How is crunching my hands into a bucket of rice going to improve on my already high level of grip strength? They may help keep my forearms healthy – which is definitely beneficial – but they won’t make them stronger.

plate pinch

6. They’re Not Progressive

How do you get better at rice bucket drills? Do them longer, I assume.

If doing them longer is the answer, then again – not a strength exercise, not something that will set a foundation for an athlete.

Do you get rice-shaped lead? A jacuzzi full of the grain? Go to China and dig your way back home through the center of the earth? There’s really no way to get better at it and prove that you’re continuing to get “stronger.”

Sure, people may just say that rice bucket drills are to be mixed into a regimen and not really progressed, but screw that – I can prescribe dozens of progressive and highly effective grip strength exercises that are proven to create elite grip strength. The bucket can’t deliver on that, and the old guy who’s recommending it to you probably can’t either.

7. They Don’t Create Balanced Musculature

If your grip is strong, performing super-light rehab exercises like the rice bucket isn’t going to balance out your forearm and hand musculature. A sprinter with super strong quads needs super strong hamstrings and glutes to balance his legs – performing heavy strength exercise with one and not the other doesn’t cut it.

To train your crushing grip to be very strong, then mixing in a low-resistance exercise like rice drills for the rest of the forearm movements (again – there are 6 directions of movement controlled by the forearm that combine to create all the motions we use) is missing the point. If you train for strength in one movement you need to train for strength in the others, lest ye have a big imbalance and predisposition for injury.

Does The Rice Bucket Have a Use?

As a strength builder, no. It’s for this reason that it concerns me when folks recommend the rice bucket to young athletes to build their forearms up.

The rice bucket can have its place – rehab for hand injuries or overuse – folks like climbers swear by them, and people with finger-relate ailments could benefit from the motion.

But, the rice bucket is not a great use of time for developing legitimate grip strength. For any amount of time spent on it, I could do infinitely more productive exercises to build hand and finger strength. Even if it’s only 1 minute per day, I’d rather be doing something else for my hands.

What To Do Instead

#1. Use Thick Grips on Your Barbells and Handles.

By gripping a thicker handle, you force your hand to work harder to maintain a solid grip, especially as it’s going through a range of motion. Fat Grips are cheap and effective, and you can take them with in your gym bag.

Check out Shark Grips here [affiliate link]

#2. Ironmind Captains of Crush Grippers

These are the gold standard of heavy grippers – they make them so tough, that most men can’t even close the easiest versions. Definitely check these out.

Check out Captains of Crush Here [affiliate link]

#3. Metolius Rock Rings

These are great hand grips that you can use in the gym. They’re also very compact, durable, and will challenge your hands in numerous ways. They are a training device for rock climbers.

Check Out Rock Rings Here [affiiate link]

Build Your Grip!

No Matter What You Do, You’re On the Right Track…A Stronger Grip Is CRUCIAL In Almost Any Sport You Play.

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24 COMMENTS

  1. The rice bucket is typically used to treat sore muscles and tendonitis. Climbers use it because when training hard, muscles develop faster than the tendons can, and one runs the risk of serious injury if they continue to push themselves in that way. Should you use it to build forearm muscle? No. Does that mean you shouldn’t use it? No. It’s meant to help people climb farther, faster, and more frequently; baseball has nothing to do with it.
    And if you’re looking for progression, you would move on to mixed beans and rice, then just beans, then mixed beans and pebbles/river stones, then just stones, then stones mixed with shot, then just shot. That’s the true progression of the iron fist/iron palm.
    If you’re just trying to get jacked, go for it. But don’t label a useful technique as a “waste of time” when it has its appropriate place and use.

    • Again, I disagree. To enhance your performance to climb farther, you would need more stamina. This does not provide that in a meaningful way relative to the loads required in climbing. To increase the “pulling one’s bodyweight stamina”, one shouldn’t train at such low resistance. To climb faster, you’re implying that you want to develop more explosive strength. Again, the rice bucket does not provide that – not even close. To climb more frequently? Maybe this has a therapeutic use, so I’ll grant you that maybe this could help aid in recovery. The “farther and faster”? No. The rice bucket does not well mirror the demands of climbing to provide useful gains in performance. The placebo effect does, however, provide some benefits.

      • You inferred “stamina” from “farther, faster, and more frequently”. That’s incorrect. Strengthening tendons is key to climbing often, meaning farther and frequently. The rice bucket does that, *and* helps reduce recovery time of both tendons and muscles. Don’t believe me? Go climb for three hours, then eat, then use the rice bucket (properly). Ignore the climb faster part, that was a mistake in wording. It’s about climbing *well*. A bucket of rice has helped a lot of people develop into strong climbers, so much so that the number of people that have used it consistently, and with success, is far greater than the voice(s) of dissent. Majority opinion does not make “right”, I know. But majority experience -with results that consistently corroborate- does. Does the rice bucket increase grip strength? Not really. But does that make it useless and a waste of time? No.
        I don’t know, maybe it’s because I don’t peddle my opinion for profit, but it seems like you sir, have a different reason for telling people that a cheap, effective training tool is “a waste of time”. I mean, you *did* say “I’ll grant you that maybe this could help aid in recovery”, and a lot of therapists would replace that “maybe” with a prescribed bucket of rice.

        • “Farther”: a relatively longer distance. To cover a longer distance, one would require more stamina. I think my inference was correct.

          Ultimately, I don’t care to argue that this works for you. If it does – great; continue using it. You can read my website and dismiss it if you choose to. Everything has value in some way or another; clearly this has value to you. I, however, very much view this is as a waste of time because it is typically prescribed for strength gains, not recovery or rehab as you use it. From that standpoint, developing starting strength, I, for the reasons covered in the article, declare this largely useless. Good luck.

          • I’ve been experiencing elbow pain from climbing and stumbled upon this thread. I see some merit to both sides of this argument but one thing that I think is important that has not been discussed is that the rice bucket works extension (spreading of the fingers away from a fist). I’m sympathetic to the argument that the loads for flexion are absolutely trivial compared to all sorts of other exercises/activities (making it worthless for “strength” there, and probably worthless for anything but “rehab”) but it seems to me that the loads for extension are potentially large compared to “natural” activities (if there are any truly natural activities involving finger extension?). As an aside, I once broke my hand (MC4 fracture) and had to do hand/wrist PT. I worked the extension there but never got back to 100% and the surgeon pointed out that there was virtually no activity that it would ever affect that I couldn’t completely straighten that finger.

            So it seems plausible that this modality has therapeutic value by strengthening the extensor muscules/tendons in a way that creates better “balance” in the forearm/elbow compared to only working the flexors (climbing, lifting, throwing, etc). Please let me know if you disagree, I just figured I’d add my $0.02.

          • Your argument is perfectly reasonable. There are a handful of exercises I like for the finger extensors and you’re right – I did not mention them in this article

  2. Lifter & Climber here. Struggled with right wrist pain for nearly 2.5 years.

    Rice bucket was the definitive method that helped me. I did not do it like the guy in the video did.

    Fill bucket up entirely, bury hand to the bottom. 10 back and forth, 10 side to side, 10 twist each direction.

    Open hand in to claw, twist 10 each direction, deep in a bucket this will be the first one most people are unsuccessful at. Even getting 10, noticeably tired.

    Open hand entirely and close, dig back to bottom, open entirely and close. Never seen anyone rehabbing do this 10 times on their first attempt.

    Finally, my wrist was finally able to go without pain for the first time in nearly three years. You picked a video of a guy doing it in the most pussy way ever. I could show you a video of a guy benching 45 lbs and say bench press is useless and nobody will ever make progress doing that because my grandma could probably bench 45 lbs.

    It works. Do more research than a 15 sec youtube clip.

    • No, in fairness to myself I didnt base my opinion off the video I shared, but it was one example. I’ve done this exercise many different ways and witnessed many more; I don’t like it.

      Yet, as rehab it’s clearly worked for you, and works for some. Keep doing it if it works for you, but it doesn’t have a place in a training program for most non-rehab patients.

  3. As a current college baseball player I am always looking for ways to increase my forearm strength. However, I’m currently in a predicament. I am in China for the rest of the summer and have no where to lift weights (I’m making good use of what I have in my apartment). I remembered doing rice bucket drills in high school so went out and bought a bunch of rice (it’s cheap in China) and figured that was my best bet to at least not lose any of my built up forearm strength. From reading your post and comments I see your point of view and can see how you would be right. I don’t know if you are or not because I’ve never tested it or looked into it enough, but I can at least tell you know how to build strength. My question for you then is what can I do, without any sort of weights or dumbbells, to continue to get stronger for the fall? I basically have a duffle bag and suitcase with a bunch of stuff to load it up and use as weights, as well as a table/chairs and my bed if that makes any difference. Thanks.

  4. You site climbers as a reference. I don’t think you climb. Most climbers definitely won’t down on a rice bucket. It won’t make you jacked or huge; but definitely not a waste of time. I have seen huge guys do a 5min bucket routine that makes the bellow.

    • Not concerned about the culture of climbers and how the masses feels about it – thanks. This isn’t a website about groupthink.

      I climb recreationally, seasonally. I enjoy it but never claimed to be a hardcore climber.

      You’re also missing the context by which most people in the baseball world refer to the rice bucket. They refer to it as a great way to build grip strength, which it isn’t.

  5. Strength may be a specific term, but it does not have a specific definition. Being a pitching coach, I would expect you to understand this better. Is the goal of a pitcher to throw a single pitch? Five pitches? No, many more, meaning that training for enduring strength should be a priority. Should pitchers be bulking up? No, that would be ridiculous, as it would dramatically slow them down.

    Adding context wouldn’t hurt.

    • I understand language, and the term strength, just fine, thank you. It is you who is confused.

      Strength is absolutely specific. To conflate strength and endurance is wrong. Strength is the capacity to produce a high amount of force. Your definition is so broad that you could say a marathon runner has strength; marathon runners do not.

      Further – there is no evidence that “bulking up” dramatically slows pitchers down. Rather, why do scouts call young pitchers “projectable as he fills out”?
      “Fills out” refers to adding more muscle mass.

      There was plenty of context to this article – you simply ignored it. There were reasons why, given a finite amount of training time and energy, the rice bucket is a poor choice. If you disagree, fine – but don’t tell me its building strength. It’s building endurance, at best.

      Additionally, one builds endurance by throwing. To say everything has to match and be endurance based for a starting pitcher, is ridiculous. The body needs novel training stimuli to improve. The pitcher never gets maximal grip strength work in a game – he only gets endurance – so covering max strength in the gym is a much better idea than giving him more of what he’s getting in games.

  6. So I understand the point you’re trying to make with this article… But i think you’re letting your (uneducated) opinion take over the article. If you’re speaking about heavy lifting, then stick to heavy lifting instead of trying to pretend what other sports need. Speaking as a climber, there are plenty of climbers who support this type of training. Low weight/low resistance are extremely helpful in helping overall forearm/hand strength and preventing the tennis/golf elbow that climbers are prone to. And just because your grandma can do it, doesn’t mean that it’s useless. Your grandma can probably walk and get her heart rate up, which is also good for you for training.

    • Try reading the article next time, that’s what educated people do before posting (worthless) comments…From the final paragraph…”The Rice bucket can have its place – rehab for hand injuries or overuse – folks like climbers swear by them, and people with finger-relate ailments could benefit from the motion. But, the rice bucket is not a great use of time for developing legitimate grip strength.”

  7. I don’t inherently disagree with the article, however being in gripsport and looking to compete in arm wrestling, rice buckets are not as bad as you have portrayed them to be. With that being said, you are totally right, its only going to give you strength if you just started out(98lb weakling?). It would be cool however to mention it as active recovery to be able to train heavier movements more frequently and thus get stronger….Though I highly doubt anyone in baseball needs such a high level of strength in their hands to the point that they need that much active recovery to train their hands more frequently.

    • I agree with you, and my impetus for writing this article was more in response to the old wisdom (which I feel is misguided) that young players should be using the rice bucket to build strength. You’re right – it’s a good recovery tool – but it’s not a good tool for young players who dont have strong hands to begin with – they need heavier training for that. Swinging a bat takes a lot of hand strength, especially going from Jr High to High school, and in using wood bats. Rice just cant get a kid there.

  8. For everyone that read the article and misunderstood what the author is trying to say let me explain. My best competition deadlift is 660lbs using a mixed grip, I can double overhand 400lbs for holds. If I want to increase my GRIP STRENGTH for holding more weight the rice bucket won’t work. He refrenced this is the article that apparently the majority of readers skimmed over. Everyone seems to be confused about strength compared to endurance and stamina.

  9. You must hate this exercise a lot to write a whole article against it. You claim to know dozens of more effective workouts, list them! How the hell do you think I ended up here in the first place

  10. IronMind Expand-Your-Hand Bands is way better than rice bucket and they also come in like 5 different levels which means you can progress, they are made by the same company that makes the captain crush gripper. I usually train my hands, fingers and wrist with the grippers first for some sets then move on to the bands, works great.

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