The hook grip has been around for years in weight training. While the exact creator and originator of this grip is still unknown, there are records of athletes using hook grips in the 1940’s. To perform a hook grip, grab a barbell with both palms facing down in a double overhand style. You’ll then wrap your pointer and middle around the thumb creating the “hook.” This grip style generally doesn’t limit mobility and allows for optimal mechanical advantage — and hold on the barbell.
It’s important to understand that grip strength is often a limiting factor in strength training. A limiting factor is a variable that can cause other variables to fail. For example, in a deadlift, if your back is strong enough to lift the weight, but your grip is weak, there are two typical outcomes. One, you’re going to fail or miss the lift. Two, you’re putting yourself at an increased risk of injury. The hook grip is an essential tool every lifter should have in their repertoire, no matter the lifting style. To help provide you with valuable insight and knowledge I created a roundtable of coaches and asked them for tips and normal cues they use when teaching the hook grip.
Photo courtesy of @lisahaefnerphoto
Our Panel of Coaches
Adam Kant: Certified Personal Trainer, USAW Sports Performance Coach, and owner of Intrepid Gym in Hoboken, New Jersey
1. When you teach the hook grip, how do you coach someone through the uncomfortable feeling that usually follows? What are a few cues or goals you ask them to work towards?
Kant: With any exercise, no one should be doing something that hurts their body. I always suggest people work with lighter loads when using hook grip and switch to a regular grip when it gets uncomfortable. Over time you’ll quickly work up to heavier loads. Another trick is smaller rep schemes, let adrenaline be your friend. Push past the pain, the reward is always worth it.
Novak: When I teach the hook grip I tell athletes who are experiencing pain or discomfort that yes, the first time you do it, it hurts. The second time it hurts a little less. By the third time it doesn’t hurt at all. I encourage athletes to hook grip everything they can to help themselves acclimate; steering wheels, subway hand rails, toothbrushes, deadlifts, everything. Eventually it will become second nature.
Crews: I try to put things into perspective of a workout when coaching members or clients. If you’re doing a metcon with 15 hang power cleans, 15 pull-ups, and 15 kettlebell swings for 5 rounds, wouldn’t you want to save your grip as much as possible? Hook gripping saves your forearms from getting completely blown up while barbell cycling!
2. How long have you noticed that it usually takes somone to get used to hook gripping?
Kant: If someone uses hook grip regularly, it should take 2-4 weeks for your thumbs to adjust. Tape is also your friend, tape around the joints in your thumb, leaving the tip exposed if possible to build up your threshold. A little discoloring may happen in your thumb, its completely normal.
Crews: About a month if they consistently practice (3-5x per week).
Novak: It usually takes a new weightlifter 3 weeks to adapt to the hook grip, more or less depending on how often you do it. Hook grip every lift, every rep, every day, less. Hook grip snatches 1x per week, more.
3. Do you have any tips or tricks to ease the pain of hook gripping?
Kant: Tape is a great way to alleviate pain. Just work into hook gripping, once you are use to it, there will be n0 pain, so just like fitness, patience is key. Also, don’t bite your finger nails, short nails will rip away from the thumb, which is super painful.
Novak: To ease the pain of hook gripping focus only on the middle finger and thumb and don’t squeeze the bar so tight. Firm, but not like white knuckle firm. Like you’re holding a dog or a child that wants to scamper all over the place. Use the middle finger to pull the thumb closer to the palm, instead of squeezing. Not only will this lessen the pressure on your thumb but it will usually give you a sharper turnover and stronger catch, much like using lifting straps. Win/win. Using a flexible tape (such as jaybird and mais 4500 and 4600 lightweight stretch athletic tape) around the entire thumb from joint to nail helps with the pain. Sturdier tape like GOAT can be used but can impair the ability of the thumb to bend. Cutting it into two thinner strips or making a gap for the knuckle can help.
4. Do you have any tips for coaching hook grip to athletes with smaller hands who may find it off putting due to the pain or their hand size?
Novak: Women especially, once I acknowledge that it is uncomfortable and that the discomfort will ease with time and familiarity, they get it. Pretending that it isn’t initially uncomfortable or painful doesn’t work well in my experience. I have not as of yet had a woman who physically could not hook grip a bar and I have had some small palmed and short fingered ladies. Commit to it and give it time.