Aug 25th, 2012
The double overhand grip
When pulling a weight off of the floor, there are a few options with respect to gripping the bar. What a trainee uses will be dependent upon the size of their hand, grip strength, and tolerance for discomfort. The first and most obvious way to hold the bar is using the double overhand style. Both of the palms face the lifter’s legs and the thumbs are wrapped around the bar on top of the fingers. Holding the bar like this evenly distributes the load across both shoulders, allows the bar to move in a nice straight line off the floor, and provides plenty of grip work during the lift. If you can use this grip for all of your deadlift attempts, by all means do so.
For many trainees, however, the grip will begin to give way using the double overhand style as the weight gets heavier. Once the bar starts slipping out of the hand, the deadlift comes to a screeching halt. No amount of cursing or prayer will rectify the situation until the grip is changed to something more secure. Once the double overhand fails, the following options are available: the hook grip, the reverse grip, or straps.
The Hook Grip
The hook grip looks identical to the double overhand grip when viewed from the front. When viewed from the rear, you can see that you grab on to the thumb with the first two fingers. This relaxes the hand somewhat and allows for a strong, secure hold on the bar. Since you are both mashing your thumb into the bar while simultaneously pulling on the thumb with the tip of your middle finger while using a hook grip, it can also be very uncomfortable. This discomfort becomes much less troublesome as the hands adapt to the stress. The hook grip shares the same benefits to the shoulders and bar path as the double overhand grip. It is the preferred grip for the Olympic lifts and is my personal favorite for the deadlift.
Longer fingers and bigger hands are an advantage when pulling a barbell off the floor
If a trainee has small hands, the hook grip may not be of great use during limit deadlift attempts, unfortunately. Longer fingers are required to get a good purchase on the thumb. For trainees with shorter digits, the reverse grip may provide a stronger hold than the hook.
Note that the trainee on the right is able to grab a lot more of her thumb
while using the hook grip. Longer fingers strike again. Sorry, Kelly.
The reverse grip involves supinating (turning) one of the hands so that one palm faces in front of the lifter, while one is left facing the legs. This grip also allows for heavier weights to be handled without fear of the bar slipping out of the hand on the way up. It is probably the most popular choice for deadlifts. The supinated grip asymmetrically loads the shoulders and the supine hand tends to slightly push the bar away from the lifter as the pull comes off the floor. It can, in rare cases, irritate or injure the biceps tendon of the supine hand, although such injuries are normally reserved for fairly advanced powerlifters who are handling large poundages.
The mighty reverse grip
Because of the uneven loading of the hands and shoulders using the reverse grip, it is a good idea to switch the supine hand regularly to evenly stress both sides. This can be done from workout to workout, or if the trainee prefers, can be switched between repetitions. The reverse grip and the hook grip can be combined, although this is not used as commonly, probably because it is somewhat difficult to supinate the hand and hold on to the thumb at the same time.
Lastly, if none of the options above work, the trainee can use purpose-built straps to aid with grip. How and when to use straps is beyond the scope of this article, but they are useful tools on many occasions. Most competitions do not allow the use of straps, so this should be kept in mind when employing them.
Big hands and longer fingers are a distinct advantage on pulls. My apologies to those with shorter fingers. Life isn’t always fair and this is one of those times. Here are my recommendations for deadlifts:
- Use chalk. It helps to dry the hands and keeps the bar from slipping.
- Use the double overhand whenever possible. Use it on warmup sets until you cannot do so any longer.
- When the double overhand fails, move to the hook grip.
- If you cannot hold on using the hook grip, go to the reverse grip.
- If none of that worked, use straps.
There is more to say on this topic, but that will suffice for now. If you haven’t tried the hook grip on the deadlift, consider it. You may prefer it, despite the discomfort.
Special thanks to the CrossFit Oakland Hand Modeling Corps for their assistance with this article. Your checks are in the mail.