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Fact checked by Kirsten Yovino, CPT Brookbush InstituteFACT CHECKED
March 27, 2023
Imagine that perfect workout day where your body is feeling good, you are full of energy, the right song is playing in your headphones, and you are ready to test your one rep max to see if all that hard work has paid off. It is devastating to pull that deadlift off the floor only to have it slip out of your hands with your grip failing.
Your grip is the weakest link in the kinetic chain, and if you cannot hold the weight, you won’t be able to lift it even if the rest of you is strong enough. The same concept applies to Olympic lifting, except it’s even more dangerous if the bar spins and rolls out of your hand in the middle of a snatch.
The hook grip is the answer to these problems if you can deal with some discomfort in the learning phase.
Here is what you will learn in today’s article:
The hook grip technique is a double overhand grip where your thumb is wrapped around the bar inside your fingers. It’s usually covered by your pointer and middle fingers, depending on how large your hand is. The main difference is that with a conventional grip (the most common grip), your thumb will be in front of your fingers instead of wrapped under them.
It is highly effective at allowing you to hang onto heavy weights and not letting the bar slip out of your hand. Olympic lifters developed it since they couldn’t use weightlifting straps in competition, and this style ensured their grip didn’t fail.
This grip uses your thumb as a ridge so the fingers can dig into it instead of just wrapping around the bar. In short, the hook grip fights the bar when it tries to roll. It is reasonably uncomfortable on your thumb at first, but your body will adjust after a few weeks of practice.
The hook grip can be confusing because although it allows you to lift and hold more weight, it isn’t the best option for exercises to increase grip strength. That belongs to the overhand grip.
This isn't to say it doesn't strengthen your forearms at all because it does, but it reduces grip, finger, and wrist flexor tension. We will get into this more later in the article, but for now, you need to understand that this allows your body to create more force because it’s in a better position to use internal rotation. That will enable you to transmit more power to the legs and hips for more speed and power during something like a deadlift.
The hook grip looks like a fist with your thumb tucked inside. It will appear slightly different for everyone based on their anatomy. The length and girth of your thumb and fingers, along with your tendon flexibility, will be the determining factors.
It is certainly easier for people with larger hands but is still doable for people with smaller hands. Just look at Olympic weightlifters who compete in the lighter weight classes. They are snatching weights most average Joes will never even attempt. All in all, there isn’t a perfect look for this grip besides tucking the thumb.
Image courtesy of www.chineseweightlifting.com
Hook grip strength is real, once you get past the initial discomfort and thumb pain, this grip will open up a new world for you. The hook grip allows you to lift more weight than a conventional grip.1 So how does it do that?
A hook grip assists with the internal rotation of your hand and forearm, which helps produce more force into the bar. This means the more secure grip allows your elbows and shoulders can move more freely and not internally rotate as you secure the bar.
By implementing this grip, you will change your hand placement, allowing your thumb to apply force better into the bar. When your thumb is out wider away from your hand, it produces more external rotation, which is why you don’t get as much force from a conventional grip. The farther you reach your thumb across your hand, the more your palm will fold and the more leverage you will have on the bar.
When you grip a barbell with a standard overhand grip, you only use your fingers to counter the downward force from the bar. As your thumb wraps underneath the bar, the hook grip creates a second layer of resistance to help hang onto the bar.
If you make a fist and open your hand, you will notice that your thumb and fingers open in opposite directions. During a hook grip your thumb interlocks with your fingers to make it harder for the bar to roll in your hand. Again, this produces more internal rotation, which means more force and leads to less of a need for lifting straps.
If you take your left index finger and thumb and press on the outer edge of your right thumb pad, you’ll notice that the fluid in your thumb pad moves to the other side and expands. This happens during a conventional lift, and it will cause your thumb to move in that direction, making it harder to hold the bar. The hook grip equalizes this pressure since the fingers are wrapped around your thumb, increasing pressure against the bar to prevent it from rolling.
Now that you know a little more about the hook grip and how to execute it, we wanted to cover the major benefits of using it below.
As we mentioned, the hook grip has shown that it allows a lifter to lift more weight on a one-rep max or to set a new personal record. This is important for building strength because your grip will fail before your other muscles.
Even though this is most commonly used in Olympic lifts, you can experiment with this grip on various lifts. This is especially helpful if you use straps because their grip can’t handle the weight.
The mixed grip is usually the grip of choice when you see people deadlifting heavily in a gym. It does allow you to lift more weight, but the problem is people often stick to holding it with their hands in the same position without ever switching. This can cause imbalances if you do it long enough, and it is eliminated by using the hook grip.
If you use an overhand grip for an explosive movement like a snatch or clean, it will internally rotate your arms. This makes it tougher to keep good posture, especially in your mid back. It then causes your low back and neck to pick up the slack, which is not good. The hook grip relaxes your arms and prevents the bar from rolling, which improves posture and acceleration during your pull. More force and more velocity equal more power.
The mixed grip and underhand grip have a much higher chance of a bicep tear during a heavy deadlift. The hook grip takes this out of the equation and is much safer for those extremely heavy weights.
Any lift will be limited by your grip strength. As soon as that starts struggling, your brain focuses on that and not on the rest of the muscles you are trying to train. Using the hook grip requires less force, so that you will have less forearm fatigue. This allows you to lift more weight and increases your ability to use muscles like your legs and back to move the weight.
The hook grip takes some time and practice to get it down pat. Be careful to avoid some of the common hook grip mistakes we often see in the gym.
If you place your thumb parallel to the bar, it will put extreme pressure on your thumbnail. It can also be painful if the bar is pressing into the boney portion of your thumb. Make sure to wrap your thumb pad around the bar which may take some time in getting used to hook grip mechanics.
It can feel like your nail is getting pulled off if your other fingers are pressing directly on it. This area is sensitive, and this portion can take some practice. There are a couple of solutions. Press the web between your pointer finger and thumb farther into the bar. If that doesn’t work, try reaching your thumb farther across your palm and wrapping your fingers around it as far as you can. You can also use elastic tape to help reduce potential pain that comes when you're new to the hook grip.
If the bony part of your elbow is pointing directly behind you, it will externally rotate your arm. Make sure they are pointing laterally so your arm can relax. Remember that we learned earlier that internal rotation is where the force comes from.
For most gym goers, this is not something you will learn on day one. It is going to be uncomfortable and will take a lot of practice. It will take a few weeks, at the least, to adjust. Remember that you can practice it during warm-up lifts until it becomes more comfortable.
Make sure to try some of the exercises below as the hook grip can provide advantages compared with more traditional grips.
This includes all lift variations, such as the power snatch, hang snatch, snatch from blocks, and snatch. Since your thumb is hooked in the opposite direction of your fingers, the bar is much less likely to roll out of your hands. This is important for all Olympic lifts because of how much explosive upward force you need to accelerate the bar.
The snatch is especially scary because you catch the bar overhead and drop into a squat. You're in trouble if that bar rolls forward or back in your hand, and you can’t hang onto it. The hook grip also allows you to maintain better posture at the start of the lift, which is essential because that’s where you need to generate the most force. Without that posture, there will be energy leaks in your body, and your strength will decrease.
This also pertains to all lift variations, including the power clean, hang clean, clean from blocks, clean and jerk, and regular barbell clean. Similar to the snatch, this Olympic lift requires upward explosive force. This means your hands need to be able to hang onto the bar, so you don’t drop it on yourself and maintain good posture during the initial pull.
The hook grip relaxes the grip and elbow tension which allows your arms to rotate internally. That internal rotation is where the power comes from. Doing this will enable you to transmit more power from your legs and hips, which you need for the pull. To simplify, with the correct grip and posture, your body can focus on activating and using the big muscles you are asking it to.
It’s common to see people use a mixed grip when performing heavy singles for deadlifts. As we learned earlier, that can lead to injuries and imbalances. The hook grip deadlift is the best option if you attempt to lift above 80% of your max.
Remember that the deadlift is present in the Olympic lifts and is the initial pull for those movements. The same rules apply here as for Olympic lifts. If you use the deadlift hook grip, you will have better posture and body positioning, which will allow you to generate more force, all while being able to hold more weight.
Olympic lifters commonly use this exercise to assist with their snatch. This will help with consistency for those lifters if you use the hook grip for all these Olympic variations. The hook grip ensures the bar does not roll out of your hands when it is overhead. It will also allow you to generate more stability in your shoulders to maintain good posture.
Hook grip is slightly less common for barbell bent over rows, but if you are struggling with your forearms failing at first, try it. It’s common to see people using straps for this exercise, but this can be a better option. Doing this will allow you to handle heavier weights than usual, and you can then overload your back muscles to increase their strength and size. Keep in mind that your lower back strength will also limit this lift.
Below we'll cover the other common types of grips when lifting.
This is the standard grip that is used in the gym. With an overhand grip (palms facing you), you will grip the bar in each hand where the fingers meet the palm. When you close your hand around the bar, your thumb will be on the outside of your fingers. This should look like the fist you’d make if you were going to throw a punch.
This grip works best to strengthen and challenge your hands and forearms, but it will also be the limiting factor in a one-rep max. You can use this for deadlifts, squats, bench presses, pull-ups, lat pull-downs, and bent-over rows.
The supinated grip is an underhand grip where you grab the bar with palms facing away. This grip engages the lat muscles better than the overhand grip. It also recruits the bicep and tricep muscles more due to the vertical position of the elbows.
This style can relieve some pressure on the shoulders and allow you to lift more weight but be careful because it can lead to elbow pain and increases the risk of a bicep tear. It is commonly used for chin-ups, bent-over rows, bodyweight rows, and bicep curl variations.
This grip is a combination of the pronated and supinated grips. One palm is facing forward, and one is facing you. It is most commonly used for deadlifts as it helps prevent the bar from rolling in your palms. This allows the lifter to lift more weight but puts them at risk for bicep tears and developing imbalances.
A neutral grip is most commonly used with dumbbells, a pull-up bar, a trap bar, the V-bar cable attachment, or a swiss bar. This is when you have your palms facing each other. It is a much more joint-friendly grip, especially for pressing variations for most people. It also allows you to recruit your biceps more than an overhand grip which helps assist the pulling motion. It’s great for any exercise with dumbbells, chin-ups, pull-downs, and trap bar deadlifts. The only con is that it cannot be used with a barbell.
False grip, or suicide grip, that places your thumbs next to your index finger instead of wrapping them around the bar. This grip keeps your wrists neutral, minimizes internal rotation, so your shoulder is in a safer position, and increases activation of your triceps. It is most commonly used for bench presses, overhead presses, low bar back squats, and Smith machine bench presses. The benefits may not outweigh the risks as there is a much higher chance of the bar slipping out of your hands onto your body.
The hook grip is best suited for lifting above 80% of their one rep max. This mainly includes barbell deadlifts and Olympic lifts. Anything that is a heavy single is going to be limited by grip strength, so it makes sense to have the hook grip in your toolbox for these moments.
Even if you are brand new, practicing the hook grip on your warm-up sets works excellently. As you build up in weight, it will increase your tolerance for discomfort. Regarding anatomy, the hook grip is an excellent choice for you if you have long fingers or large hands. Using it will make it almost impossible to let go of the bar.
You need to move fast and fluidly when doing things like complexes, Crossfit WODs, high-intensity intervals, or working in higher endurance rep ranges. If you need to go fast or do a lot of reps, the hook grip is not your answer.
If you are using a hook grip, it will take time to readjust, and it will slow you down. Using it for pressing movements is also not recommended, as they are less limited by the grip factor. It is also not great for any bodybuilding movement and rep schemes.
The hook grip ensures that the bar does not roll in your hand, allowing you to lift more weight for certain exercises.
The hook grip increases fluid pressure from the bar and your fingers as they press into your thumb pad. This friction as the bar tries to roll off the inner edge of your thumb causes pain.
It depends on the lift. The mixed grip and hook grip allow you to lift the most weight for a deadlift, but the hook grip has a smaller chance of injury.
Over time it’s possible that this can damage your thumb, hand, and wrist if you are using the incorrect technique. Take your time practicing and learning, and your body will adjust to tolerate it each week.
The hook grip is not necessarily better than other techniques but is more secure for heavy singles or competition-style lifts.
Yes, the hook grip is great for deadlifts if you want to lift heavy for minimal reps or one rep max attempts.
Looking for more ways to level up your grip? Make sure to read our post that covers the best forearm exercises that will help propel you to new PRs!
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