Holding onto the bar is the first step to being a high-performer in the deadlift. Furthermore, your grip style can also help you achieve many of your other goals. Although it may seem simple, things as simple as grip width, the type of bar, or orientation of your hands can have a huge ripple effect on the type of gains you’ll be making.
With barbell training exploding in popularity over the past few decades, it’s worth knowing what type of grip is best for your goals. From sport-specific performance to overall health, here are the most common styles of grip and how they affect your training.
Deadlift Grip Variations
Overhand grip is one of the most common grips for deadlifting of all varieties. While a very straightforward technique, it is also one of the weaker grips to assume when trying to lift maximal loads. The best way to utilize the overhand grip is to make your hands and forearms stronger — use it for as long as possible during warm-ups or high-rep deadlift sessions.
Benefits of the Overhand Grip
- Promotes symmetrical development of grip strength.
- Avoids muscular imbalances from long-term mixed grip.
- Has the highest degree of raw muscle strength required, making it invaluable at improving grip.
How to Do the Overhand Grip
Approach the bar and set your foot stance perfectly centered between the plates. Grip the bar using a comfortable distance between each hand, typically shoulder-width apart or slightly wider. Grip the bar in each hand flush where the fingers meet your palm.
You want to press your hand against the bar in the highest part of the palm to avoid pinching your flesh as you wrap your fingers around the bar. With both palms facing down, close your hand around the bar to secure your grip.
A hook grip is a modification to the standard overhand grip. Overhand grip often fails because the barbell rolls within the palms as the fingers become fatigued. When this happens, the weakest part of the hand (usually the pinky and ring finger) comes loose until the grip completely fails. Placing your thumb under your fingers keeps your hand securely fixed around the barbell.
Benefits of the Hook Grip
How to Do the Hook Grip
Approach the bar in the same way as you would for an overhand grip. Instead of grasping the bar with the thumb on the outside of the palm, instead, it should be placed between the bar and your fingertips. The thumb should be acting as a “door jam” to wedge the bar in place.
While the bar shouldn’t be able to roll anymore, this is a grip that requires a certain degree of pain tolerance as it may cause discomfort at first. Over time, your thumb should desensitize, and hook grip should become more tolerable.
A mixed grip is a natural progression from the overhand grip for most lifters. Once your standard grip has run its course, converting to a mixed grip can be a quick and dirty way to hold onto your barbell. The mixed grip prevents the bar from rolling around within your hand or drifting from side to side.
Benefits of the Mixed Grip
- Painless when compared to the hook grip.
- Greatly improves grip strength.
- Low skill requirement.
How to Do the Mixed Grip
Approach the bar as you normally would. Your dominant hand should start as your over-hand grip. Take your other hand and wrap it the opposite way around the barbell, palm facing forward. If your under-hand arm or shoulder is uncomfortable, it’s okay to adjust that grip position slightly outward to accommodate any mobility issues.
The snatch grip is a specialized variation of training the deadlift. It emulates the positioning required for the Olympic lift of the same name. While difficult, the snatch grip adds valuable benefits to upper back strength by widening the hand position significantly relative to the overhand position.
Benefits of the Snatch Grip
- Can be applied to an overhand or hook grip.
- Strengthens the snatch technique.
- Helps build a strong upper back.
How to Do the Snatch Grip
As a general rule, the snatch grip is going to be much wider than the overhand, hook, or mixed grips. While arm length will make the exact hand placement unique to each person, a good landmark is to widen the grip such that the bar rests in the crease of the hips when standing tall with your arms fully extended.
The axle grip is less of a specialized technique and more of a necessity. Axle bars, common in strongman training, are much thicker than your average barbell. As such, your hand is placed in a less-advantageous position than other grip techniques. Using an axle bar is a simple but brutal way to train your hand and forearm.
Benefits of the Axle Grip
- Minimal load is required relative to other grip styles.
- Greatly challenges hand strength.
How to Do the Axle Grip
Set up for the axle grip the exact same way as you would for a standard overhand deadlift. The only difference is that, due to the diameter of the barbell, you’ll struggle to close your hand fully. As such, squeeze your hand as hard as you can through all four fingers and try to pinch the barbell as best you can.
How To Deadlift
Deadlift grips are all well and good on their own, but you need to know how to pull in the first place. In order to implement any of these grip choices, a brief tutorial of how to perform the deadlift is as follows:
Step 1 – Take Your Stance
Approach the bar with your feet approximately hip-to-shoulder width apart. The exact stance will be variable between individuals, but it should feel comfortable and strong. Your shins should be about an inch away from the bar in the standing position.
Step 2 – Grip the Bar
Bend over to grasp the bar using any of the grip styles most suited for your goals. The bar should not be moved once you have selected your foot stance, so be diligent not to move the bar around once you grasp it in your hands.
Step 3 – Set Your Hips
Bend your knees slightly and shift your body weight backward to feel a slight stretch in the hamstrings. This should drop your hips and align your spine. Your shins should be in light contact with the bar.
Step 4 – Brace
Squeeze your shoulder blades together and raise your chest to pull the slack out of the bar. Squeeze your core and take a light breath of air in before locking in your brace. Your torso should be completely rigid from your neck to your hips.
Step 5 – Pull
With the position set, establish a rigid torso one last time by powerfully contracting your body similar to a maximum tension plank. From here, stand up by pushing the ground away with your legs. Once the bar clears the knees, drive the hips through and stand tall.
Common Grip Issues
Sweaty palms, smaller hand sizes, and calluses are all common problems that may affect the grip security of frequent deadlifters. There are numerous ways to address grip-related issues and help you hang on to your barbell a bit better.
Sweaty palms can occur either from warmer temperatures, high-intensity training, or even hyperhidrosis. Simply put, the added fluid makes the hands slippery and no amount of squeezing will offset a loss of grip for long.
While weightlifting straps may help, the best possible solution is to dry out the palms between each set. A liberal dosing of chalk prior to each deadlift is a great solution. Not only should this secure your grip, chalk still allows you to train your grip strength whereas a tool like straps can sometimes be a crutch.
Unfortunately, having smaller hands may be an unavoidable disadvantage for deadlifting. While you can’t change the size of your hands, you can get brutally strong. Working with an overhand grip or using an axle bar to over-stimulate your forearms can help you get a grasp on a standard barbell when you need it.
The development of harsh calluses can often be attributed to subtle hand placement errors on the bar during deadlift training. Specifically, gripping the bar deep in the palm leads to a pinching of the upper hand flesh between the fingers and the barbell. This can be avoided by more strategic hand placement.
Avoid placing the bar deep into your palm by the thumb. The barbell should make contact right below the base of your fingertips, such that the skin where calluses tend to develop is pressed snugly against the bar itself.
Managing calluses by filing or periodically removing them prior to having them tear during training is another excellent strategy.
Choosing a Grip
Each grip has benefits and drawbacks that can be implemented into training to better optimize performance for any deadlifting goal. For example, some grips are required for certain strength sports whereas others are fantastic for improving general strength or longevity of lifting.
Without question, the hook grip and snatch grip are going to have the greatest carryover to Olympic lifting performance. If you practice weightlifting, you’ll work with both almost constantly. A hook grip is essential to weightlifting performance as the barbell spins in your palm during the snatch or clean.
Your powerlifting game can benefit from a multitude of different grips. Overhand and axle work will help develop raw strength, while mixed or hook grips can be great for ensuring you pull the heaviest weight possible on meet day.
Make sure that whaRtever grip style you choose for competition is also the technique you incorporate most often in your regular training.
General strength training for the deadlift has the greatest freedom of grip choice. In many instances, using an overhand grip for as long as possible has the longest runway of progression. That said, work with what’s sustainable and enjoyable for you. The only thing you should be mindful of is not skipping around from style to style too often. Pick a grip and stick with it awhile.
While it’s fun to simply grip-n-rip, you should put thought and practice into your deadlift grip. It can pay dividends in your pulling power. Beyond implying allowing you to deadlift, a good grip spills over into other aspects of training.
Letting your grip be the limiting factor in the weights you use is a great way to moderate your training intensity over time. Further, certain deadlift grips also help you train your upper back in a big way. Pick your poison and get to work.
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