By: Cody Annino, SSC
As coaches we are often asked which grip to use in the deadlift. There seems to be a good deal of misunderstanding about when and why to use the various deadlift grips. In this article I am going to discuss the different grip options for the deadlift and when and why you might want to implement them into your training.
The Double Overhand Grip
When a novice is first introduced to barbell training, she learns to take a basic double overhand grip on the barbell when performing the deadlift. The double overhand grip is exactly what it sounds like: both hands are pronated (palms down) with the thumbs and fingers wrapped around the barbell. For a completely new lifter, the double overhand grip is perfectly adequate. The double overhand grip allows the new lifter to lift enough weight to sufficiently tax the musculature of the back, legs and hips during a heavy set of five deadlifts. During this early stage in a lifters training career, grip strength will keep pace with the linear increases in weight from session to session.
However, anyone who has been training for longer than a month or so knows that the double overhand grip will not work forever and, ultimately, a modification to the grip will be required. I am of the opinion that the deadlift grip should be altered as soon as the weight on the bar becomes heavy enough that it starts to slip out of the lifter’s hands during the set. This will typically manifest itself as a significantly slowed bar speed and a sudden inability on the lifter’s part to maintain a flat back. At this point the trainee must adopt a more secure grip if she is to continue to make progress and get stronger.
With all of that being said, I believe that the primary drawback of the double overhand grip—being a less secure grip—can in some ways make it a useful asset in the training of intermediate and advanced lifters. This is because the double overhand grip will require more force production from the muscles of the hand than it would in a hook or alternating grip at the same weight. In other words, the double overhand grip can be a very useful tool for increasing a lifter’s grip strength. It is for this reason that I suggest all lifters perform all of their warm-up sets with a double overhand grip, regardless of their training advancement.
Alternating / Mixed Grip
As previously stated, once the double overhand grip becomes the limiting factor in the deadlift, the lifter will need to adopt a more secure grip to continue to make progress. At this point, the lifter may elect to use what is called an alternate or mixed grip to pull their last warm ups and work sets. The mixed grip is probably the most commonly used grip for the deadlift. In the mixed grip, the lifter will have one hand supinated (aka underhand) and one hand pronated (aka overhand). The mixed grip is a very strong grip because as the bar starts to roll out of the fingers of the pronated hand it is at the same time rolling into the fingers of the supinated hand. The primary disadvantage of the mixed grip comes from the shoulders being loaded asymmetrically. This is due to the prone arm being held in internal rotation and the supine side is in external rotation. This grip also has a tendency to cause a “windmilling” effect on the supine hand in which the barbell rotates away from the lifter during the pull.
The Alternate grip has earned a reputation for putting the lifter at a high risk of rupturing the distal biceps tendon on the supinated hand. While it is true that these injuries occur, the fears are likely exaggerated. Most of the time when these injuries happen, they are caused by jerking the barbell off of the floor—a technical error. The alternate grip is not particularly dangerous in and of itself, if the lifter is coached correctly. He or she must be taught how to set up correctly, pull with completely extended elbows, and most importantly not jerk the barbell off of the floor.
The hook grip is commonly used in Olympic Weightlifting. It is a friction grip where the lifter takes a double overhand grip on the bar and creates a “hook” by grasping their thumb with both their index and middle fingers. The hook grip provides the lifter with the same degree of security as the alternate grip while at the same time providing the advantage symmetrically loaded shoulder by allowing both of the shoulders to be held in internal rotation. This advantage is very important when considering the “best” grip for training the deadlift. The possibility of negative effects caused by asymmetrically loaded shoulders and arms makes the hook grip an appealing option when considering training longevity. The hook grip only has one drawback, and that is lifters will typically find it to be very uncomfortable and it will take some getting used to.
To implement the hook grip in your training, I recommend that you start by pulling your last warm-ups and working sets with the hook grip. Often a lifter who has previously been deadlifting with an alternate grip will decide to make the switch to hook grip, and they will find that the hook grip is just too uncomfortable to pull an entire 5 rep set at their current working weight. If this is the case, an effective way to begin the transition is to start by pulling the first rep or two with the hook grip and then finishing out the set of 5 by switching back to the alternate grip mid set. Over time the idea is to perform more and more reps with the hook grip and less with the alternate grip. Eventually the lifter will be able to perform an entire set of 5 heavy deadlifts with the hook grip.
Lifting straps are usually made of nylon, leather, or canvas. They wrap around your wrist and around the barbell to ensure a secure grip. The benefits of using straps are that they essentially hold the weight of the barbell for you by transferring most of the weight into the wrists and arms. Also, since straps are used with the double overhand grip, the shoulders are loaded symmetrically. Lifting straps do not allow the lifter to effectively train her grip strength, however, and therefore should be used sparingly.
Lifting straps are useful when working with older clients, trainees with hand injuries, or lifters with no desire to compete in a powerlifting or weightlifting competition (which do not allow straps). Furthermore, lifting straps are very useful for intermediate and advanced trainees. For these lifters, straps can be used for assistance exercises such as: RDLs, halting deadlifts, and barbell rows. Since straps allow a lifter to pull a weight that otherwise could not be held in the hands, they are ideal for training heavy partials, like rack pulls, which are commonly done with loads equal to or in excess of the lifters 1 rep max. Lastly, more advanced trainees will typically perform higher volume deadlift workouts. For these individuals I often recommend performing the first work set with either a hook or mixed grip and finishing out the remaining sets with straps.