The Pros and Cons of Using a Hook Grip (Plus 4 Grip Strengthening Exercises)

I’ve read a lot of comments from those curious about my decision to switch to mixed grip in the middle of the US Open. I missed my first attempt, at 733 pounds, using hook grip, and then made 733 and missed 821 using a mixed grip. I’m not sure why I wasn’t able to use a hook grip, and I am trying to unravel that, but at the same time, I’m pretty shocked that I was able to hold on to 733 – let alone attempt 821 – without it. I haven’t used any grip other than hook in at least a year, probably longer, and I’ve never in my life attempted anything nearly as heavy as 733 with a mixed grip.

In fact, I’ve been trying for years to strengthen my hook grip, since it tends to be unreliable over 95% of my one-rep max (which, for reference, is around 780 pounds, not 733!) and I’ve feared using a mixed grip ever since I tore my bicep training for a strongman competition seven years ago. After the Open, though, I have very high hopes for using and improving my mixed grip and testing it in future competitions.

The Pros and Cons of Hook Grip

The hook grip has rapidly gained in popularity lately, and for good reason: it offers some really significant advantages over a mixed grip. By far, the most important one involves safety. Using a hook grip takes stress off of the biceps tendon and makes the risk of a tear like the one I suffered virtually impossible.

In fact, I started pulling with a hook grip because I tore my biceps trying (stupidly) to flip a 1,000 pound tire, and even after healing up, I just couldn’t find the nerve to risk another tear.

The truth is, though, that the risk of tearing a bicep even with a mixed grip is pretty damn low as long as you use good technique, keep your arms relaxed, and don’t yank the bar off the ground. The guys who pop their bis are usually pulling very heavy weights, and they’re letting their arms take some of the load off the floor. Avoid making the same mistake: think of your arms like ropes attached to the bar, relax your biceps, rely on your lats, quads, and posterior chain off the floor, and you won’t have to worry about that particular injury.

A hook grip does have some other advantages, too. It allows for a more symmetrical pull, which is actually huge if you’re concerned about your physique. Pulling with a mixed grip over long periods of time without alternating which hand you supinate and which you pronate can cause uneven development in the lats, traps, and lower back. But if physique is your primary concern, or if you don’t plan on competing in powerlifting, you should probably pull with straps to avoid grip and symmetry problems entirely.

Is the hook grip more secure than the mixed grip? That one depends. The hook is an extraordinarily secure grip, but using it successfully requires at least average-sized hands and probably above-average thumb and finger mobility. And it’s virtually impossible to strengthen the hook grip using conventional grip exercises. If you’re not able to put your thumbs and first two fingers in the proper position for a strong hook grip, you will likely always struggle using the hook.

That’s the biggest drawback of using a hook grip. It’s also very painful for some people, and it carries a fairly high risk of skin tears. While a skin tear seems like a pretty darn mild injury, if you try to hook with a torn-up thumb, you’ll very quickly realize that it’s impossible. In contrast, you can usually grit though a skin tear using a mixed grip, although it might hurt quite a bit.

4 Methods to Build a Stronger Grip

Having decided to pull mixed, I’ll be incorporating quite a bit of direct grip work to strengthen it. That’s one huge advantage of mixed grip: it’s actually very easy to strengthen with time-tested strategies like the ones below.

1. Warm up for deadlifts using a double-overhand grip.

  • A double overhand grip is very challenging, and you probably won’t be able to use it for your work sets, but it will have huge carryover to your mixed-grip strength. Note that the strength curve on double overhand work is a bit strange  you won’t notice much difference at all between 50% and 75% of your best, but the difference between 95% and 97% can be huge. Progress in small jumps.

2. Hold your last rep at the top.

  • This is an easy way to work in timed holds into your training program without having to spend a lot of time warming up for a grip exercise. Simply hold your last rep of each deadlift set at the top for 5-10 seconds.

3. Perform rack pulls without straps.

  • Rack pulls are often an ego exercise, because the small range of motion allows you to use a huge amount of weight  as long as your grip doesn’t limit you. By avoiding straps, you’ll limit the amount of weight you can use, but you’ll quickly strengthen your grip!

4. Perform high-rep upper back work without straps.

  • This is a bit of a combination of the above two methods. By avoiding straps on your assistance work, you can sneak in extra grip work without adding exercises to your program, and while that can occasionally limit the amount of weight you can use (especially on exercises like dumbbell and barbell rows), it will quickly strengthen your grip for deadlifts.

Keep Holding On

Look, there’s no right or wrong answer here. Those who claim that the hook grip is strictly superior to mixed are overlooking the importance of individual differences  the single most important factor in any training-related decision you make. Try the hook grip, spend some time practicing it, but if it’s not working for you, don’t feel obligated to stick with it. I made that mistake for far too long, and I’d prefer not to see you do the same.

Feature image from @phdeadlift Instagram page. 

Comments