Deadlift: How to grip the bar
This is an article which will talk about deadlift grip variations for beginners. Advanced lifters should consult their coach or get one in case they did not get around to it yet. At the end of this article, you will find references which are more advanced than me. If you are just starting out, you find everything you need
Common beginner mistakes
I currently deadlift 190kg at a bodyweight of 90kg. This is above average but also not great compared to elite lifters. My goal is to move my deadlift above 200kg before I turn 35. With a 140kg by ten without a belt this week I am on a good track.
Based on these numbers and my training age of 2.5 years in 2018 I am an intermediate lifter. I passed the beginner stage after doing Stronglifts 5x5 for one year.
My three biggest mistakes for the deadlift in this phase were:
- Only pulling with a mixed grip
- Only pulling with a lifting belt
- Only pulling for reps with no resets
The first one is related to grip and I will dive deeper during the course of this article.
Deadlift grip variations
While the grip on a barbell is a simple thing it can become complex once you start analyzing it. In total there are three main grip variations on the deadlift:
The double overhand grip is the most intuitive of the three. Ask any beginner to walk up to the bar and they will instinctively grab it like this. You will also find it described as a pronated grip.
This grip has both palms facing you. You will grip the bar just outside your legs. Put your hands on the knurling. Wrap your thumb around the barbell. Close the rest of your hand around the steel. Squeeze the metal as hard as you can. This is how you set up for the double overhand grip.
The mixed grip is a variation of the deadlift where one palm faces away from you while the other towards you. Again you place your hands just outside the legs on the knurling. Follow the same steps as with the double overhand grip. The mixed grip is also known as the over under grip.
The last grip to discuss is the hook grip. The hook grip utilizes your thumb by keeping it inside your fist. If you think of making a fist with your thumb in the palm while grabbing a barbell you have the idea. Both palms face towards you in this variation of the deadlift grip.
Uses for the grip variations
Use the double overhand grip as much as you possibly can. Beginners have a tendency to want too much too quickly. Good technique takes time. I learned the hard way. The double overhand grip will make your hands strong and is the safest variation of the three. It is also the least technically challenging. If you can pull a weight with the double overhand grip you can be pretty sure you will pull more with the other variations if needed. This does not work the other way around. For the first year of training don’t bother with other variations. Follow the Stronglifts 5x5 or Starting Strength Protocol. When you switch to intermediate programs it is time to use the mixed grip.
The mixed grip is the preferred option of most professional powerlifters. Compared to the double overhand grip it is more stable. One reason is that all your fingers are in one line. The other is that if the bar rolls out of one hand it rolls into the other. While this grip has advantages for the maximum effort it has drawbacks for long-term use. One is that you are more likely to tear your biceps. The hand which palm faces away from you can create a very heavy bicep curl if things go wrong. To minimize this risk you should perfect form on the double overhand grip first. The second risk is that you create muscle imbalances. This can be avoided by switching which hand faces towards and away from you on a regular basis. Another challenge the higher likelihood for the barbell to drift. Drift can lead to injury especially on heavy pulls when the weight gets distributed unequally during the lift. The last disadvantage is that you train your grip less with this variation. Once you go above 1.5 times bodyweight on the deadlift your grip often becomes the limiting factor. This is why beginners should pay special attention to develop grip strength. Move to the mixed grip for the top sets on intermediate programs like the Texas Method, Jim Wendler 531, Juggernaut or The Cube method.
The hook grip is most commonly used among Olympic weightlifters. It is stronger than the double overhand grip and can be used in weightlifting. The mixed grip is not an option for the snatch and clean and jerk. It does not allow to get the barbell overhead. The hook grip is an option to perform the deadlift. Some professional powerlifters prefer it over the mixed grip for their pulls. The big advantage of the hook grip is that it has all the benefits of the mixed and overhand grip combined. The big drawback is that it is painful to perform. The pressure of the weight will be applied to your two thumbs. While I have not read any reports about broken thumbs there are many reports of pain when performing this variation. This makes the hook grip a good variation for intermediate to experienced lifters. They have developed the needed commitment and strength tolerance.
Which grip should you use
Which grip to use depends on your goal set. You usually find these three major goal sets in the weight room:
If you are about health and have the deadlift in your program the overhand grip will suffice. The deadlift is commonly referred to as the king of exercises to build back strength. However, this is most relevant to strength athletes and bodybuilders. If you are not among these groups you might also swap the deadlift for kettlebell swings.
If you are about looks it is also likely that you should work most with the double overhand grip. You can add the mixed grip in for fun. Make it planned fun though, as horseplay in the gym usually spells injury. Heavy pulls to thicken your back can and should be performed with straps. It can also be wise to do these from pins in the rack. For bodybuilders, the starting position and grip strength are of little to no relevance. This is why pin pulls with straps can be used to go heavier in the rep ranges of 8 - 12 repetitions to stimulate muscle growth. This lowers the injury risk for the lower back & biceps while increasing the volume for the targeted muscle group.
Athletes should put a bit more thought into how they choose their grip. Use the double overhand grip wherever you can. For me, this is all volume work and loads in the range of 50 - 80% of maximum depending on the day. Avoid straps. You want to get as many opportunities to train your grip as possible. This minimizes its impact as a bottleneck. Straps distract from this. In the few cases you are allowed to use them in competition, it is not very hard to add them to the basic movement. If you are on a hypertrophy program offseason... well get the straps out then.
The mixed grip should be used in the 80 - 95% percent effort range or on maximum attempts. Same goes for the hook grip once you got used to it with the exception of Olympic weightlifters. They will use the hook grip wherever they can. The mixed grip can also be used on AMRAP sets and top sets depending on your program. If you do not know what AMRAP means, do not use the mixed grip. It stands for as many repetitions as possible.
Crossfitters should use the double overhand grip in training and can use the mixed grip in competition. The nature of many workouts of the day is, that they use many repetitions in an already exhausted state. This leads to your form breaking down. With the mixed grip, you have just increased the risk of a bicep tear.
Tips around gripping the bar for the deadlift
The hand positioning is not everything that matters for a good grip. I focused on it as this is what beginners and early intermediates most likely struggle with. Here are three important tips for gripping the bar which are not related to hand positioning:
White knuckling means that you squeeze the bar as hard as you can until your knuckles turn white. This is an easy hack which boosts grip strength and control over the bar. Make this a habit whenever your hands touch something made of steel.
Protect your armpit means that you squeeze your arms in as if someone wants to tickle you in your armpit. Some coaches also teach this as bending the bar like a horseshoe. This tip makes sure that your triceps are activated during the lift. You should hear a little click when the slack comes out of the bar if you do this correctly. Especially beneficial for the mixed grip as this minimizes drift of the bar.
The last tip is to keep your arms straight. The deadlift is more of a hinge than a pull. Andy Bolton explains this at length in his excellent book Deadlift Dynamite. If you pull the bar as if it was a row or a curl gravity will soon straighten your arms for you. This often means a trip to the hospital as you tore your biceps. Keep your arms straight and hinge the weight from the hips. If you do not know how to do that, pick a kettlebell up from the ground in a sumo stance. A sumo stance means that the kettlebell is between your legs. This teaches the hinge.
Who to take advice from if you pull more than me
Some of you will pull more than me and have found this article. I congratulate you and aspire to surpass you. If that is the case please take advice from these excellent heroes of strength instead of me:
With these athletes, you will be in good hands. All of them hold huge powerlifting totals and know how to pull big weights.
There is a lot more to a good deadlift than just grip. Start with a double overhand grip and gradually move to a mixed grip. Squeeze the bar with your hands and arms into your armpit. Practice and perfect your setup for a solid pull.
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