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Starting Strength in the Real World

The Correct Place for the Bar in Your Hands in the Deadlift

by Mark Rippetoe | September 20, 2018

deadlifting with a hook grip

“JUST PICK IT UP OFF THE FUCKIN' FLOOR!!! GRIP IT AND RIP IT!!!! ARRRGH!!!!!” is the extent to which the deadlift is coached in some high school weight rooms, gyms, and garages around the world. I'm sorry, but this level of simplicity is insufficient, and yelling does not compensate for a lack of detail. Such advice will usually produce every possible incorrect position, including a badly miss-taken grip.

Bending over and just grabbing the bar is fine at 135, since you can lift light weights any way you want to. But at some point, you have to think: what is the best way to hold a bar in a deadlift? Look closely at the palms of your hands. Look at your fingers. Notice that when your arms are hanging at your sides, your fingers are below the palms of your hands. Gravity being what it is and doing what it does, the bar wants to go down. This means that if you pay no attention to your grip, and you try to put the bar in the same place in your hands when you pull that you used in the possibly-more-familiar bench press – on which you're going to push – the bar will not stay there.

position of the bar in the hand during the pull

Water seeks a level, and a heavy barbell seeks to reunite with the planet. It wants to slide down in your hands. And it will, if you're strong enough to lift heavy weights. When you pull a heavy weight, the bar will migrate down from the palms of your hands into your fingers. Doesn't matter how hard you squeeze, the palm of your hand will not remain as the primary contact point of your grip in a deadlift – it's headed down for your fingers whether you want it to or not. So, the smart person will plan for this by starting with a grip that places the bar as low in the fingers as you can hold it. The double-overhand hook grip facilitates this, as does the all-but-forgotten thumbless “monkey grip.”

It's important to understand that several variables affect the final position of the bar in your fingers. Some people have small hands and short fingers. Sexual dymorphism being what it is and doing what it does, when women's Olympic weightlifting was added to the Games, a 25mm bar was designed to accommodate a generally smaller hand. But relative to the bar diameter, a smaller hand makes it more difficult to take an efficient grip with the bar down in a stable position in the fingers. Thick palms and fat fingers produce the same effect as a small hand, effectively increasing the diameter of the bar and making it difficult to secure sufficient “finger wrap” – enough finger contact with enough of the circumference of the bar – that effective finger flexion mechanics are produced.

No matter what grip you use, be it the traditional alternate deadlift grip or the double-overhand hook grip, if the bar starts too high on your palm – away from the fingers and closer to the wrist – it's going to slide down into your fingers, either at the end of a heavy single or at the end of a set of 5. If you have a heavy line of callus just above your “proximal digital crease” (blue book, page 83), then you are gripping the bar incorrectly. You will eventually pull more weight with the bar in your grip where it wants to be anyway, and your hands will thank you too.

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