It’s a gutting experience dropping a deadlift because of grip. Grip is our connection to the bar and a weak grip can hold us back from deadlifting maximal weights.
So how can you maximize your deadlift grip? The key is to hold maximal weights for longer at the top of each rep. Once you finish the lift, squeeze and hold the bar in your hands for 10 seconds. This will be the most specific method for increasing grip strength. You’ll also want to pick an effective grip, either double overhand, mix-grip or hookgrip.
Let’s discuss which grip will the most effective for you and how to structure a proper grip routine.
Three Types of Grip Styles For Deadlifting
The grip refers to our hands wrapping around the bar. It is the connection between our body and the bar. There are three different kinds of grip that we can utilize when deadlifting: double overhand, mixed grip, and hook grip. Each grip styles have pros and cons, which we’ll discuss further.
1. Double Overhand Grip
Double overhand grip is when you have two hands over the bar.
This is typically the grip everyone starts off with. It’s the most natural hand position and requires no learning curve. You can also gain significant levels of strength using the double overhand before your grip starts to become an issue.
When you deadlift, you might notice the barbell spins — barbells have a bearing which allows them to rotate. Under maximal loads, the double overhand grip will give up quickly because the bar is able to rotate out of our hands. With a double overhand grip nothing is stopping the rotation as soon as the bar starts slipping.
Most people who workout will be totally fine using this style of grip, but at some point, it becomes very hard for competitive powerlifters to continue using this grip in the later stages of their career.
This grip stops the rotation of the bar, which allows you to hold onto heavier weights. If you’re using a double overhand grip and failing under maximal loads, the mixed-grip is the easiest solution to impelment in order to see immediate benefits.
Usually, people put their dominant hand as the overhand and the non-dominant hand as the underhand. The dominant hand is your stronger hand, which is the hand you primarily use day-to-day like when writing, or brushing your teeth.
Sometimes people can create imbalances if they only use the same mixed grip. For example, always having their right hand down and their left hand up. As such, it would be helpful to switch your hands whenever possible. One tactic used by lifters is to switch the hand position while warming up, but during the heavier sets using the most dominant hand position.
One cause for concern in the mixed grip is the risk of tearing a bicep (on the underhand arm). However, this is largely due to improper technique. If you keep your arms straight and avoid jerking the deadlift, the risk of tearing a bicep is unlikely. As soon as you bend the elbow on the underhand arm you put an incredible amount of stress on the bicep. Simply keep your arm straight throughout the entire range of motion to reduce the likelihood of bicep tearing.
3. Hook Grip
The hook grip is where you hook the thumb under the bar and then wrap either 1-3 fingers over your thumb.
Typically you should be able to get your first two fingers (index and middle) over your thumb and maybe even your third (ring) depending on your hand size. Both hands are overhand and the thumb is essentially sandwiched between your fingers and the bar.
This style of grip prevents the bar from rotating, and at the same time prevents any sort of imblances between your right and left arm like discussed in the mixed grip. Stronger than the standard double overhand grip, and safer than the mixed grip, hook grip is well worth trying out.
There are two cons to the hook grip:
First, it’s incredibly painful on your thumb with the amount of pressure between your fingers and the bar. There’s no simple way to avoid the pain other than to build up your thumb durability over time. Many powerlifters quit on the hook grip and return to the mixed grip simply because they can’t handle the pain.
Second, lifters with shorter fingers won’t be able to do hook grip because their fingers can’t wrap around the bar and grab their thumb. The longer your fingers, the easier hook grip will feel.
So Which Grip is Best for Deadlifting?
In powerlifting the best grip would be the one that lets you lift the most weight.
There are lots of anatomical variances such as hand size which could play a factor, but generally people mostly will do mixed grip in competition as it is the most natural progression from double overhand, followed by the hookgrip.
Here’s what I would do:
- Start with a double overhand grip until you reach a weight where your grip is no longer strong enough to hold onto the bar.
- From there, have a couple of sessions with the mixed grip or hookgrip and commit to it. If you have smaller hands, you may find that you cannot grab onto your thumb on the hookgrip, So a mixed grip may be a better option.
- I encourage you to experiment with different grips and see which one you like the best. However, don’t switch between different grips every workout. Try and commit to one, and stick with it over a few weeks (or months) to see if it works for you.
How To Grip The Bar Properly For Deadlifts
Whatever grip you choose, you want to ensure you are gripping the bar properly.
Grip Evenly & Straight Down
The first step is to grip the bar evenly and in line with your shoulders.
Make sure your body is centered over the bar. When you place your hands to grip the bar, ensure they are the same distance away from each other.
Personally, I grip the bar right where the knurling starts for both my hands, that way they are the same distance apart. You can also use the knurling or the rings to gauge your distance by measuring with your thumbs.
Grip distance will vary depending on your size and stance. In general, your hands should hang straight down from your shoulders.
Place Bar in Centre of Hand
The next step is to actually grip the bar with your chosen grip.
When you grip the bar, try to grip the bar at the center of your hand, it should rest close to the base of your fingers. As you start pulling, you should feel the bar slide and lock into a certain position. This might be harder if you have short arms while deadlifting.
It differs slightly for everyone, but if you find that the bar slides away from you as you lift, you may be gripping too high up into your palm.
On the other hand, if you find the bar is slipping to your fingertips, you should grip a little higher. Play around with it to find your sweet spot.
Practice ‘Squeezing’ & Commit To Your Grip Choice
Once you have everything set, remember to squeeze hard, and don’t stop squeezing until you are finished your set.
Grip is an active thing, so use your muscles and squeeze the bar as hard as you can. Think about leaving ‘finger prints’ on the bar.
Whatever grip you choose, try to stick with it for a period of time. We often fall into the trap of thinking the grass is greener on the other side, so you’ll switch from one style to the next. But give it time and an honest go before deciding to jump ship.
How to Train Your Grip
The best way to work grip is by doing extended holds with the barbell.
Now that you know how to grip, what happens when that grip fails and how do you train it to get stronger?
In competition, you are only concerned with holding one rep waiting for the referee to give you that sweet down command. So a simple way to train your grip is to try to hold your last deadlift for an extended hold (5-10s). For example, if your workout is 5 sets of 5 reps, then on the last rep of each set you’ll hold the bar at the top for an extra 5-10-seconds before putting the weight down.
In addition, you could try the following protocol, which I’ve used to increase my grip strength:
At the end of your deadlift session perform:
Week 1 – 70% of 1RM * 10 second hold * 3 sets
Week 2 – 70% of 1RM * 15 second hold * 3 sets
Week 3 – 75% of 1RM * 10 second hold * 3 sets
Week 4 – 75% of 1RM * 15 second hold * 3 sets
Only increase the weight if you can successfully complete all 3 sets of holds. If it’s too heavy, start at a lower working weight (ie. 60%RM) and work your way up.
The key here is to build some type of measurable progression week to week. You should notice your holds on regular deadlifts should be feeling easier as well. Also, use a timer or get an honest friend to count out loud for you so you don’t cheat — 10 seconds can feel like an eternity when holding maximal weights.
Why Should We Train Grip In This Way?
Training using barbell holds is the most specific way to work your grip for deadlifts.
There is a principle in strength training called the “Specific Adaptation of Imposed Demands” (SAID). This refers to the idea that if you want to adapt to a stimulus, you need to impose demands that are specific to the outcome.
You can work on grip all you want by using other methods, but if you don’t practice it under the specific situation that you’re trying to improve, it will not get stronger.
What About Grip Accessories?
“Grip accessories” are using tools such as grip trainers or fat bars.
Although these tools can be beneficial in increasing grip strength, the best bang for your buck is to hold your deadlifts longer. Feel free to utilize any of these tools in addition to your training, but don’t feel that they are necessary. General grip training, in theory, should be beneficial as you can get stronger at gripping things, but you need specific training for it to be meaningful for the deadlift.
Should We Use Straps In Training?
Wearing straps can be used to get through some heavier deadlift sets, but try to use them as a last resort if you are having grip issues. If you use straps constantly, then you are not training your grip in the specific way needed to get stronger.
With that said, almost every top lifter has a set of lifting straps in their gym bag. These are different from lifting hooks. Learn the difference between lifting straps vs lifting hooks.
Other Important Grip Factors to Consider
You want to ensure you have proper rest in between deadlift sessions or any days where your grip is challenged. You may find it silly to rest your hands, but when they are beat up, they won’t be able to grip as hard.
You want to ensure you have a nice hand care regime. Be diligent with getting rid of calluses that have grown too large. I recommend getting a good moisturizer for your hands (I use bag balm). We tear callus’ all the time when deadlifting which can set back our grip training, or even be the reason why we drop a deadlift. By taking care of your hands, you can mitigate the risk of this happening.
Keep in mind that the whole body is one kinetic chain, and can be why your grip may be failing in the deadlift. For example, your grip will unravel no matter how strong it is if you lack whole body tightness. Make sure your core, lats, and legs are tight before you pull the bar off the floor (read about how to breathe properly in the deadlift and get tighter before pulling off the floor). Your hands are the hooks for your body to use to lift the weight. Take a look at your whole deadlift, and make sure the movement is sound before shifting all the blame into your hands.
A bar with better knurling will be easier to grip as there is more friction. In competition especially, lifters tend to use baby powder, and if baby powder gets on the bar, it will be very hard to maintain your grip. To get around this, make sure you chalk your hands before you lift, and also get the head referee to wipe down the bar on every attempt. They do this automatically for all 3rd attempts, but you can request it on the first and second attempt too.
After you’ve selected your grip style, make sure the bar is placed correctly in the hand. You want to grip with your hands evenly on the bar and straight under the shoulders. Before you lift the bar from the floor, you want to think about squeezing hard, and leaving ‘fingerprints’ on the bar. Get a stronger grip by implementing long holds at the end of each deadlift rep, or using the progressive overload plan described above. Be patient. Commit to these principles over the long haul and you’ll reap the reward of a stronger grip.
About The Author
Clifton’s most notable achievement is winning the 2017 IPF Classic World Championships in the Junior 66kg class whilst setting an Open World Record Deadlift. He graduated with a Bachelors of Science degree in Kinesiology and is currently pursuing a Doctor of Chiropractic.