By Erik Blekeberg MA, CSCS
When lifting a barbell, one often thinks of the position of their back, their feet or their shoulders. How you grip the bar is equally if not more important to the success of any lift. Whether you use a pronated or supinated grip, a hook grip or false grip, your hand position will determine what muscles it will work and how long you will be able to hold it. There are many styles of grip and one is not better than the other, some are simply better for a specific task. Here's the breakdown of five basic grip variations and when to use them.
Double Overhand (Pronated)
The pronated grip is the easiest for novice lifters to understand. You grip the barbell with a closed grip as you would grab anything else. I recommend starting with this grip for many floor based movements (deadlift, clean, snatch, snatch deadlift) as it tends to be the grip most individuals are comfortable with. It requires less thought and allows you to focus on other mechanics of the lift. The draw back however is that barbells rotate. Because of this, as the weight gets heavier, the barbell will roll out of your hands. This is where a modification needs to be made to the pronated grip.
- Beginners on floor based exercises (deadlift, clean and snatch), training grip strength, floor based lifts with lifting straps
- Heavy floor based exercises when straps are not being used
In the hook grip, the hands are still in the pronated grip position, but the thumb wraps around the bar first and then the fingers wrap around the thumb. This is done to stop the natural rotation of the barbell as you lift it off the ground. Hook grip is typically most useful when performing a snatch or clean exercise, as you need to keep your hands in the pronated grip and this stops excessive movement of the bar. It is also seen in powerlifting, typically more with a sumo deadlift technique. This is because the sumo deadlift has the hands very narrow on the bar and puts more pressure on the pectoral muscles during the pull, so hook grip tends to be more advantageous. The disadvantage is really just thumb pain, but the thumbs get used to the grip after a few weeks of training. Get comfortable being uncomfortable and you'll toughen up.
- Snatches, Cleans and Deadlifts (especially sumo)
Double Underhand (Supinated)
The Supinated grip is the opposite of the Double Overhand (pronated grip), and is usually done for specific exercises (Curls, Bent Over Rows). In this grip, you externally rotate the humerus and shift the position of the scapula to facilitate a more stable shoulder position. You can deadlift with a supinated grip, but it is usually done for a specific reason (i.e., to help teach upper back tightness).
- Training weaknesses in the upper back and biceps, also builds a stronger grip
- Floor based exercises
The alternate grip is a combination grip where one hand is pronated and one is supinated. Lifters will decide which hand they want over and which they want under based on their natural preference. Alternate grip is typically reserved for deadlifts, both conventional and sumo. It stops the rotation of the barbell and allows the lifter to set the bar close to the body. The downside to this is that it puts a lot of stress on the bicep (usually on the supinated arm). It is common to see bicep tears in elite level powerlifters and deadlifters. This is a sport specific grip for powerlifting and not recommended for regular practice in the general population.
- Heavy Deadlifts (Conventional and Sumo), Thick Bar Deadlifts, Continental Cleans
- Pretty much anything that isn’t Deadlifts
The false grip is sometimes called thumbless or suicide grip, because the fingers wrap around the barbell without closing the thumb around them. This is considered a foolish grip for deadlift and dangerous for bench press, however it does have its uses. Performing the false grip takes stress off the wrist for the given exercise, because the thumb doesn’t have to close. If you suffer from wrist pain, you might want to try this grip on pressing movements. It is very commonly seen when lifters perform back squats as it takes stress off the wrist while in the rack position. It is advised to proceed with caution and be very aware of your set up when performing false grip.
- Back Squats, Thick Bar Presses, Grip Strength and used as a modification if you have wrist pain
- Heavy Bench, Deadlift, Snatches and Cleans
As you can see, there are many ways to grip a barbell - and many factors that determine which grip is best. You may find you need to modify the position of your hands or fingers to best facilitate a lift for your body type, flexibility and leverages. Either way, load the bar, chalk up, and lift some weight!
What grip do you use most and why? We'd love to hear. Leave it in the comments below.
Erik Blekeberg is the Sports Performance Coach and a Professor of Anatomy and Physiology for Cal State University San Marcos (NCAA- D2). He is also the Head Coach for the CSUSM Powerlifting Club, a National Coach and Certification Instructor for USA Weightlifting and a National-level strength athlete across multiple strength disciplines.You can contact him or follow his strength programming for free at http://www.squatmore.org.