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Starting Strength in the Real World


Deadlift Grip Adjustments

by Nick Delgadillo, SSC | July 20, 2017

The question of which grip to use and when for the deadlift is a common one, and there’s quite a bit of misunderstanding about what it is we’re trying to accomplish with the grip in relation to the deadlift. I often have clients tell me that they don’t want to use a hook or mixed grip “until they really have to,” while in the same breath asking why their deadlift is slowing down so soon in the process of getting strong. The deadlift is certainly a grip exercise, but taxing the grip is not the point of the exercise. Deadlifts are used because they’re heavy pulls, and allowing the grip to become the limiting factor in your pulls will cause you to lose the beneficial training effect of the heavy pull on your hips and back. 

When you start training, your grip strength will be sufficient to pull your deadlift work set. In the early stages, grip strength improves along with the increase in the weight on the bar. If you’ve done the program correctly, the grip will not be a problem until after the first couple of months. A modification to the grip should be made as soon as it starts to feel like the bar is slipping out of your hands. If you’re a particularly unaware trainee, this will manifest as a significant slowing of the bar through your work set or a sudden inability to maintain a flat back. 

In most cases, you will be able to pull all of your warm up sets and the first couple of reps on your work set with a double overhand grip. It’s important to understand that it’s okay to switch the grip during a work set, but it’s also important that the double overhand grip is used when it can be used for the benefit the deadlift imparts on grip strength. 

There are a few options to consider once it becomes time take a more secure grip on the bar. There are benefits and drawbacks to each one.

The Hook Grip

The hook grip is a friction grip in which thumb is compressed between the bar and the fingers. The middle finger grips the thumbnail and is thereby more resistant to slipping and better able to apply force due to the friction across the thumbnail.  

hook grip

By adding the thumb, you may be also placing the fingers at a better angle to maintain the isometric grip that keeps the bar in your hands. In other words, the additional space between your fingers and the bar places the tendons of the finger flexors in a better position to hold the bar longer and tighter than a more closed finger position. 

The advantage of the hook is that your shoulders are loaded symmetrically – both in internal humeral rotation – just like in the double overhand grip. The bar will travel a little bit less to the lockout because this grip sets the bar lower in the fingers. The disadvantage of the hook grip is that it’s uncomfortable and takes some getting used to.  Pulling singles or doubles with a hook grip can be quite manageable, but doing heavy sets of 5 with it is sometimes too much for the average person. Don’t be average and you’ll be good to go.

hook grip on a heavy deadlift

The Mixed Grip 

The alternate or mixed grip is the most common grip used to deadlift. In the mixed grip, one hand (usually the dominant side) is pronated and the other side is supinated. Some trainees will show up having had some experience deadlifting and immediately use a mixed grip on every single rep because “that’s just what you do.” 

alternate grip on a heavy deadlift

The mixed grip is very secure because the tendency of the bar to roll out of the pronated fingers is countered by the tendency of the bar to also roll into the supinated fingers. The disadvantage of the mixed grip is that your shoulders are loaded asymmetrically: the prone arm is in internal rotation and the other is in external rotation. Probably due to the effects of supination on the biceps and the lat, this grip will have a tendency to rotate the bar away from the supine hand during the pull. On heavy deadlifts, this rotation will need to be accounted for and countered by you – not an easy thing to do when 500 pounds is being pulled through the air.

Straps

Straps can be useful in some instances. For example, a lifter with a hand injury, an older client, or an intermediate lifter who never plans on entering a meet can use straps effectively in his training.  

using straps to pull heavy

Straps allow a weight to be pulled that can’t otherwise be held in the hands, as in a rack pull. The straps do the job of holding on to the bar for you and transferring the load directly into the wrists and arms. This is a good thing if you’re doing a set of 5 rack pulls with your 1 RM deadlift weight. For most trainees, straps will be reserved for heavy partials or for higher-volume pulling later in their training careers, but they can certainly be appropriate if the hook or mixed grip are not viable options. The disadvantage of using straps is that once straps are introduced, the stress on the grip is minimal. With the alternating and hook grips, although they offer some assistance, the job of holding the bar still belongs to your hands. That’s why both these grips are allowed in strengthlifting and powerlifting competition while straps are not. 

So, in practical terms, you’ll pull all of your warm-ups with a double overhand grip. When you get to your work set weight, pull a rep or two with your double overhand if you can and then switch to either a hook grip or mixed grip, taking into consideration the advantages and disadvantages for each one. Eventually, you’ll pull all of your work set reps with a hook or mixed grip. The key thing to remember is that you need to switch your grip when things get heavy. Don’t wait for the grip to limit your ability to pull heavy.  


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