The hook grip is a beneficial deadlift grip but it will hurt for most people. You might be put off by the pain and avoid hook grip; not knowing that you can fix it and benefit from it in the long term.
So why does hook grip hurt and how can you fix it? Using the hook grip for deadlifts can hurt if you press your fingers only on the nail, press your fingers on the knuckles, are new to hook grip, or have calluses on your skin. You can fix the hook grip pain by changing the finger placement, reducing the training weight, or by using thumb tape.
In this article, I will go through exactly why hook grip hurts and what you can do about it so that you can make the most out of hook grip and increase your deadlift potential long term.
4 Reasons Why Hook Grip Hurts and Solutions
There are 4 main reasons why hook grip hurts:
- You are holding onto your thumbnail exclusively
- You are pressing onto your thumb knuckle
- You are unaccustomed to hook grip
- You are putting pressure on a skin callus
The first 2 reasons are due to poor hook grip technique whereas the last 2 reasons are inevitable but temporary challenges. Let’s review each of these in more detail:
1. You Are Holding Onto Your Thumb Nail Exclusively
If you hook grip and you hold onto your thumb exclusively on the nail, you end up putting pressure on the thumb in a way that feels like you are putting your thumbnail out of the thumb.
This is either due to poor technique so there is a misunderstanding of the optimal place to put your first and middle finger, or your digits are not long enough.
As a result, you should adjust your first finger so that your first finger presses onto the skin by the root of the nail. Be careful not to overreach and press onto the knuckle.
If you cannot reach this part of the thumb, then your digits are not long enough and you would benefit from using some form of athletic tape.
Vet tape may be better than zinc oxide tape due to its stretchy nature, but some people prefer how much better zinc oxide stays on the thumb.
Simply wrap the tape 2-3 revolutions around the thumb, and this should reduce the overall levels of pain substantially.
2. You Are Pressing Onto Your Thumb Knuckle
If you press onto the knuckle of the thumb when you hook grip, this may actually cause considerably more pain that lingers and increases the risk of injury.
If this is what’s causing you pain, you should move your first finger down the thumb so that your fingers just misses the knuckle. This will instantly decrease the pain associated with the knuckle of the thumb.
3. You Are Unaccustomed To Hook Grip
Whether you are new or experienced to deadlifts, hook grip will inevitably cause pain. There is a teething period with hook grip where it will not hurt as much anymore after this period.
There are 2 solutions to this problem:
- Adjust the training program – you can either decrease the load, spread the training reps over more sets or you can decrease the total reps completely.
- Involve other grips – hook grip pain may be more unbearable later on in a training session so you can choose an alternative method of gripping the bar in later sets, such as a mixed grip.
- Use athletic tape – you can use some athletic tape around your thumb to reduce the pain slightly. Like I said, Vet Tape and Zinc Oxide Tape are my go-to solutions.
If you find yourself with a weak deadlift grip in general, check out my article on how you can maximize your deadlift grip.
4. You Are Putting Pressure On A Skin Callus
Deadlifting with a hook grip inevitably causes callus of the skin particularly around the inner side of the thumb. Sometimes hook grip may put a lot of pressure against the callus to a point where it will be close to ripping or does rip, which will be painful.
Skin callus is when the region of skin has hardened due to friction caused by gripping onto the barbell knurling.
You do not want to rip the callus as this may take more than a week for it to heal well enough to resume hook gripping.
Two solutions would be to either:
- Temporarily use straps to grip the bar during deadlifts; or,
- Use athletic tape if it can cover the patch of skin where callus has occurred.
We have written an article detailing exactly which are the best lifting straps to get.
Want to improve your deadlift technique?
3 Other Ways To Grip The Barbell In Deadlifts
The 3 other ways to grip the barbell in deadlifts are:
- Mix/alternate grip
- Double overhand natural grip
- Double overhand with straps
1. Mix/Alternate Grip
A mixed grip is when you have one hand over the bar and the other hand under the bar.
You may choose mixed grip for 3 reasons:
- Your hands and fingers are too small for hook grip
- Your double overhand grip is too weak
- You have injured your thumb or damaged skin from hook grip
The disadvantage of doing mixed grip is that it will cause muscular asymmetries in your upper body that will affect your squat and bench press set up.
You may experience a longer range of motion when deadlifting with mixed grip if you hand to reach lower to hold the bar in your palms instead.
There is also a mild increase in the risk of injury to the bicep of the arm that grips the bar with an underhand hold.
We have an ultimate guide on explaining mixed grip deadlifts with pros and cons.
2. Double Overhand Natural Grip
The double overhand natural grip is when you put both hands over the bar with your thumbs on top of your fingers, as opposed to fingers over your thumb in hook grip.
This is a much less painful grip than a double overhand hook grip but this grip is a weaker grip compared to hook grip or mix grip.
Check out this article where we explain how wide your deadlift grip needs to be.
3. Double Overhand Grip With Straps
Double overhand grip with straps is the least painful way of gripping the bar with the least amount of effort with holding onto the bar.
You may choose a double overhand grip with straps for 3 reasons:
- You have ripped a callus
- Your grip is fatigued
- You want to push more weight or more reps
Double overhand grip with straps enables you to be able to lift more weight because it eliminates grip strength or pain tolerance as a factor for failure.
However, the disadvantage to pulling with straps means that your grip strength does not increase as much along with the rest of your body. So in the future, you may develop a weaker grip when not deadlifting with straps.
Hook Grip Hurts: Frequently Asked Questions
Here are some frequently asked questions I get about why hook grip hurts:
Is Hook Grip Supposed To Hurt?
Yes, hook grip is supposed to hurt slightly. It may be distracting at the start, but as you get stronger over time, your perceived pain will go down but never go away.
Does Hook Grip Thumb Pain Ever Go Away?
Yes, hook grip thumb pain will go down but it never fully goes away. As you get more experienced, hook grip sensation will reach a point where it does not distract you when you train deadlifts.
Can A Hook Grip Damage The Thumb?
No, hook grip will not damage the thumb if the technique is correct. With the correct hook grip technique, you might develop skin callus that may rip. If hook grip technique is wrong, you may cause damage to the thumbnail or the knuckle.
How Long Will It Take For Hook Grip To Stop Hurting?
Normally it takes between 4 to 8 weeks for the hook grip pain to mostly go. After several weeks, the hook grip will feel more natural.
If I stop hook gripping for a while, will it hurt more again?
Yes, if you take a break from hook gripping, you will resensitize your thumbs, and returning to hook grip will hurt again.
Sticking with a hook grip and performing the grip technique correctly, will pay off in the long run with deadlift performance. You will benefit from more muscular symmetry, moving through less range of motion, and decreasing the risk of injury. Being patient and implementing relevant solutions to make the hook grip teething period bearable will be key to being able to hook grip long term.
About The Author: Norman Cheung ASCC, British Powerlifting Team Coach
Norman Cheung is a powerlifting coach and an accredited strength and conditioning coach under the UKSCA. He has been coaching powerlifting since 2012 and has been an IPF Team GB coach since 2016. He has experience with coaching a variety of lifters from novices to international medallists and international university teams. Along side coaching, he takes interest in helping powerlifters take their first step into coaching. He currently runs his coaching services at strongambitionscoaching.com