Training Log

Starting Strength in the Real World

Weak Grip and Its Effects on the Deadlift

by Andrew Lewis, SSC | February 07, 2023

lifter working to lockout a deadlift

Your deadlift may be failing because of your grip. An obvious indicator is that you can feel the bar slipping out of your hands. However, there are two more subtle indicators to be aware of, because it’s not obvious they’re caused by grip loss: back rounding and an incomplete lockout at the top. Both are obviously grip issues if you look closely at the videos – they will show the fingers in incomplete closure around the bar.

Incomplete Lockout

The deadlift finishes with shoulders behind the bar and hips and knees in full extension. The forearms move to a poorer mechanical position during the last few inches of the deadlift as the shoulders move from in front of the bar to behind the bar, causing the bar to drag against the thighs. Therefore, grip strength that might have been good enough for the first 18 inches of the deadlift may be insufficient to hold the bar for final two inches at the top.

This results in the sensation of not being able to stand up entirely. The pull off the floor will be fine, but near the top, there will be an abrupt stopping point. The lifter will get stuck and not be able to lock out. Few lifters who experience this will think it’s a hip, back, or knee problem, but the actual cause can be confusing. Fix the grip, and the bar will lock out fast and completely.

Rounding the Back

Lifters sometimes recognize that a loss of grip causes an incomplete lockout, but the back rounding is even less intuitive. The most common experience from the lifter’s perspective will be that he’ll try to set his back hard and start to pull the bar off the ground. He’ll push harder and harder against the ground, and before the plates break off the ground, his flat back will start to unlock. He’ll push through anyway but get stuck before he locks it out at the top. Near the top, his rounded back has to be extended – which he can’t do.

The other common experience is that the lifter will feel his back round and decide not to continue. He’ll misunderstand what is happening and think he has a weak back. He’ll do some extra work over the next week – halting deadlifts or deficit deadlifts or back extensions – but none of it will help. He’ll have the same problem the next time he deadlifts heavy.

In reality, the weak grip is the problem – not the back. The back will not support what the hands cannot hold. This is a common observation that currently lacks a full mechanistic explanation. The hypothesis is that there is some signaling connection between the hands, brain, and back where the brain senses the inability to hold the object and then tells the back muscles to stop pulling. Pulling on the bar at 1RM-force would be a problem if the grip failed, with a resulting instantaneous transfer of that force from the bar to the body, and a big wreck on the platform.

Understanding when there are grip issues might be challenging, but fixing them is not difficult, and many articles and videos have covered it. Chalk is not optional, and when the time comes, you have to change from a double overhand grip to a hook grip, a mixed grip, or straps. Look out for a rounding back and an incomplete lockout – they may be happening because of your grip. Fix the grip, and these other problems will resolve.

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