By Nicholas Anderson
Deadlifts are one of the foundational exercises for any athlete and more of a primary training focus for strength athletes. When you are picking up a heavy, spinning barbell, grip strength is often the limiting factor. Learning how to hookgrip can not only save your lift, but it can help fix some technical issues you may be experiencing.
When I began powerlifting, deadlifts were a challenge for me. Although I had a lot to learn, I still felt I could push the intensity and explore the boundaries of my technique safely - more so than bench press and squat. As a full body movement known for developing raw strength and building muscle mass, I reasoned that if my deadlift got stronger, I could build a foundation that would also help my other lifts. Under this pretext, I started deadlifting 3-5 times a week.
Beginning with Alternate Grip
I started deadlifting with the more traditional alternate grip, or mixed grip, which is with one hand over and one hand under. There are two points of contact - each palm to the barbell. The barbell will twist into the two opposing hands locking them into place. - eliminating the spinning part of the barbell by applying force in opposite directions. Naturally, as I progressed I began to see where I was weak. I encountered two substantial problems; a helicopter like twist from my knees to lock out and grip strength. I began researching how to address these issues and discovered how to hookgrip.
How To Hookgrip
Hookgrip is a barbell gripping technique, originally found in Olympic weightlifting, where traction through friction between the thumb and barbell become your anchor points. Here’s how to set up:
- Wrap your thumb around and across the barbell
- Then wrap the rest of the fingers (mainly the pointer and middle) around the thumb and barbell
- Pull the slack out of your hands so the bar is hanging in your fingers (not squeezing)
- Proceed with the rest of your lift (e.g. deadlift, clean, snatch)
Here’s why you should learn how to hookgrip. It provides 4 total points of contact, at two per hand. (Note: that doubles the alternate grip.) The thumb around the bar and the fingers around the thumb and bar. Then, as the slack is drawn out of the bar, it actually just hangs in the hand; it literally torques the thumb and fingers into a locked position through traction.
Hookgrip also requires less grip strength stamina since it isn’t necessary to excessively squeeze the bar. You should actually remain loose and "long armed". Notice this grip also keeps you symmetrical since both shoulders are internally rotated with both hands in the overhand (but hooked) position, eliminating the propensity for that helicopter effect mentioned before.
Sounds pretty killer, right? It is.
What’s the Catch?
Hookgrip hurts. And not just your ego. It hurts to learn and acclimate to.
Initially people squeeze the bar too hard. This, in addition to the weight of the bar, crushes your thumbs. Swelling, bruising, and pain is part of the learning curve. This turns most people off.
For me, being the obsessive-natured weirdo I am, it did not. If it meant a better deadlift pull in the long run, I was game.
Lo' and behold...it worked!
Since I was deadlifting so much, this afforded a lot of hookgrip practice. I also was determined to get used to it as fast as possible.
The three main things I did:
- Practice Often - even if you can't handle hookgrip at your heaviest loads yet, use it to warm up with the lighter weights
- Do your pulling accessory work (like rows) with hookgrip
- Tape your thumbs when necessary
Work on these technique points, and have some grit - you will master it. You'll build up a bit of callus over time and get used to the weight on your thumbs. Yes it hurts at first, but as your technique improves and you build the callus it hurts less. Taping will get you through the tender training days.
Small Hand Problems
The most common objection I've heard to hookgrip is "my hands are too small". I have small hands for a guy, especially one that is 6 foot tall. If I can hookgrip - you can too.
Also, find a deadlift bar to train with. They are a nice 27mm diameter instead of the 29-30mm diameter of most power bars. Yes, this slight change helps a lot.
Part of the hookgrip trick is creating friction with gravity, however, no matter how great your technique is, gravity will win if your hands are as slick as a baby seal. Don’t forget to apply some chalk prior to your lift. Personally, I’ve found that the VIKN Performance Liquid Chalk is "bar" none the best chalk for deadlifts. It covers the most surface area and maintains the thickest chalk density throughout my lifting session.
Thanks for reading, friends. I hope this helps these hookgrip tips help you in your deadlift progress.