When you’re Olympic lifting, one of the last things you want to worry about is the security of your grip. There are several different types of grips, like the overhand, underhand, and mixed. A style that’s increasingly more popular in the fitness community is the hook grip, which has the lifter wrap their thumb around the barbell and tuck it inside their fingers.
Lifters may often think of the hook grip as more of a weightlifting style grip. But more athletes than ever are now utilizing this grip to pull new PRs. This grip style can be a useful skill for every strength athlete to practice — regardless of whether weightlifting is part of your repertoire.
This article will explore five benefits of the hook grip. You’ll also learn how to use the hook grip, potential drawbacks of this grip style, and other grip options.
Benefits of the Hook Grip
- Provides Security for Competition Lifts
- Jack of All Trades
- Upper Body Symmetry
- Decrease Chances of Bicep Tear
- Less Forearm Fatigue
Provides Security for Competition Lifts
The first and potentially largest benefit that comes with using the hook grip is how secure it is. After you acclimate to using this style, the hook grip can be just as secure — if not more so — than the mixed grip.
This grip provides bar security that can be useful in both heavy working sets and competition. Studies suggest that the hook grip may help increase one-rep max load and allow for greater levels of force. (1) The hook grip’s security can be comparable to that of a lifting strap. For this reason, powerlifters, weightlifters, and strongman athletes can compete with the hook grip due to its security.
Jack of All Trades
This grip style can be used with success in every lifting style, which makes it universally useful. So if your workout calls for heavy lifts like cleans, deadlifts, and rows, you can use the hook grip for all of those exercises. Studies suggest that athletes should consider using the hook grip whenever possible due to the potential for increased power and force. (2)
Upper Body Symmetry
The mixed grip helps keep the bar secure during heavy deadlifts. But there’s a potential drawback to using this grip over a long period of time — upper body symmetry. Studies suggest that lifters who commonly use the mixed grip — which has the lifter grasp the bar with one hand facing away from the body and the other facing toward the body — may develop upper body asymmetries since one side tends to be more loaded than the other.
These asymmetries can affect physical performance and can increase the risk of injury. (3) The hook grip is great because it helps reduce the chances of upper body asymmetries, as both sides of the body will have the ability to pack evenly.
Decrease Chances of Biceps Tears
Biceps tears can be more common when you’re using a mixed grip. The mixed grip utilizes an open palm, which can put your biceps at risk of injury because it increases the amount of stress on the biceps tendon. Studies suggest that lifters can be more susceptible to injuries by deadlifting when one of the forearms are supinated, such as in a mixed grip. The studied injuries occurred on the supinated side, with none documented on the pronated (palms down) side. (4)
Although the hook grip does not completely prevent the risk of injury, it can put your forearms in a less vulnerable position. Therefore, it can be a useful grip style to help limit your risk of a potential biceps tear when pulling heavy.
Less Forearm Fatigue
Since the hook grip doesn’t require as much force to actually hold onto the barbell, it can help save your forearms from getting too fatigued. When lifting heavy weight, you may experience your grip giving out before your other muscles do, but by using the hook grip, you can help decrease the chance of the barbell slipping from your hands.
How to Use the Hook Grip
As the name suggests, the hook grip creates a natural hook out of your hand for lifting purposes. Your thumb, index, and middle fingers all work together to create what feels like a natural lifting strap. Check out the step-by-step guide to master this secure grip.
- Press the area between your thumb and index finger into the barbell.
- Wrap your thumb fully around the barbell.
- Wrap your index and middle fingers over your thumb.
- Pull your lats back and take the slack out of the bar to maximize surface area for finger and thumb contact.
Note: The hook grip is not comfortable (see below). You will probably get used to the feeling over time, but it will never feel great. However, many lifters opine that the security and efficacy of the hook grip far outweigh the slight discomfort you may feel while using it.
Exercises to Use with the Hook Grip
The hook grip is best utilized with heavy lifts. It’s beneficial in weightlifting and powerlifting due to the greater grip security and force production. Below are just some of the exercises that can be made easier with a hook grip.
One of the more popular exercises that benefit from a hook grip is the deadlift. This is the exercise that you’re typically pulling the heaviest weight, which requires a more secure grip. The positioning of your thumb under your palm helps the bar from slipping and rotating. Since lifting straps are illegal in powerlifting competitions, the hook grip can help create a stronger, competition-ready grip.
The clean or power clean is a popular Olympic lift often seen in CrossFit and weightlifting competitions. A secure grip can make or break a lift.
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Research suggests that when using the hook grip, the power clean one-rep max was 6.8 kilograms heavier. (5) Just that small increment could be the difference between winning or losing a competition.
The snatch is one of those exercises that takes years to master. But once you do, you can throw some pretty heavy weight overhead. The heavier the weight, the harder the bar is to hold on. Because of this, using a hook grip for this Olympic lift can help not only secure the bar in your hands but control it through explosive movement.
The bent-over row may not typically be used in competitions, but the strength and muscle built with this exercise can help translate to the pulling power needed for competition lifts. Since the hook grip can help strengthen the grip around the barbell, it can help either pull heavier weight or allow for more repetitions.
Drawbacks to the Hook Grip
Like with anything in the world that’s great, the hook grip can come with a couple of drawbacks.
Using the hook grip can be fairly uncomfortable when first starting out. Your thumb may get mildly painful because of the pressure the barbell places on it. This discomfort can decrease over time with practice. If you’re brand new to using a hook grip, then give yourself two to three months to settle into the new grip style.
For anyone just starting out, there are a couple ways to decrease discomfort on your thumbs and to progressively acclimate to this grip style. The first is to try using thumb tape to limit direct pressure. You can also work with the hook grip on lighter sets to get acclimated to the pressure. Or, you can take an isometric approach and perform holds at the top of lifts using a hook grip.
The best advice for anyone new to the hook grip is to use it knowing that it may be uncomfortable and a little painful. It can get better, and as your lifting experience increases, the discomfort in your thumbs can decrease.
Smaller Hands May Struggle
You may have an easier time using hook grip with larger hands, but that doesn’t mean lifters with smaller hands can’t use it. If you have smaller hands, you may find that a lot of pressure is on your thumbnail, which can cause more pain than for folks with larger hands.
Luckily, there is a way to work around this. When you’re going to grab the barbell, internally rotate the arms slightly and press the barbell as far up into your hands as possible. That can allow for more room for the hand to wrap around the thumb and avoid the nail.
Like the hook grip itself, this may take some time to get used to. Because of this, it’s important to practice and use other options like thumb tape or lighter weight if needed.
Other Grip Techniques
Although the hook grip can provide several benefits, it’s not the only grip style used in the gym and in competitions. Below are other grips to try out with pulling or pushing exercises.
While the hook grip can be great for pulling movements, the bulldog grip can be great for pressing movements, such as the bench press. The position of the bulldog grip can help take the pressure off your wrists and can help give you a little more pressing power.
To set up, grab the barbell like you normally would, but slightly rotate your hands internally. You want your thumbs to tilt down so the barbell rests closer to the end of your palm. Grab the barbell with the pads of your fingers. If done correctly, there should be a small gap between the bar and your fingertips.
Also known as mixed grip, the over/under grip can be beneficial for gripping the barbell as the weight gets heavy enough to challenge your grip. A mixed grip can help to keep the bar from rolling in your hands. It also helps you overcome your grip giving out first, helping your glutes and hamstrings to do more of the work.
To do the over/under grip, grab the bar with one hand pronated — meaning your palm is down — and one hand supinated, meaning your palm is up.
Although the thumbless grip can be beneficial, it’s important to know how to do it properly. When done correctly, it can actually be safer for your shoulders because of the more natural position of your wrists. This grip can also help activate the triceps more in a bench press and the back more in a pull-up.
The thumbless grip is exactly what it sounds like. Grab the barbell like you normally would, but don’t wrap the thumb around the bar. Please be cautious when using this grip, especially when performing movements like heavy bench presses.
In pulling exercises, a strong grip is crucial especially as the weight gets heavier. Using lifting straps can help hold and lift the barbell with heavier loads and more reps. When a lifter starts to get fatigued, form or grip may suffer. But lifting straps can help keep the bar in place and controlled.
To put the lifting strap on, push the strap through the small loop on the other end and pull. Slide your hand in with your palm facing up. The end of the strap should be in line with the direction of your thumbs. When gripping the barbell, tighten the strap around your wrist and wrap the end of the strap around the bar. This is where you’ll be grabbing the bar.
Are You Hooked?
The hook grip can be a phenomenal method for promoting a secure grip on barbells and dumbbells. It’s a grip style that can be used by every type of strength athlete and it can be useful in competition. There may be an uncomfortable acclimation period, but after you conquer this time frame, the sky’s the limit with this grip style.
- Oranchuk, Dustin J, Lindsay, Riki, & Helms, Erik R. Hook-grip improves power clean kinetics and kinematics. International Society of Biomechanics in Sport Conference. 2018.
- Oranchuk, Dustin J, Lindsay, Riki, & Helms, Erik R. Improvement of Kinetic, Kinematic, and Qualitative Performance Variables of the Power Clean With the Hook Grip. International Journal of Sports Physiology and Performance. 2019; 14.
- Whittal, Mitchel C., Zwambag, Derek P., & Vanderheyden, Luke W. High Load With Lower Repetitions vs. Low Load With Higher Repetitions: The Impact on Asymmetry in Weight Distribution During Deadlifting. Frontiers in Sports and Active Living. 2020;2.
- Kapicioglu, Mehmet, Bilgin, Emre, & Guven, Necip. The Role of Deadlifts in Distal Biceps Brachii Tendon Ruptures: An Alternative Mechanism Described With YouTube Videos. Orthopaedic Journal of Sports Medicine. 2021; 9(3).
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