The deadlift has long been touted as the King of Lifts. Whether you agree with that or not, it’s easy to see why it has gained such a reputation.
For most, the deadlift is the lift for which you shift the most weight. (This makes it a great answer to those people you meet at parties who ask “How much do you lift?”) When performed correctly it is an incredible posterior chain developer, and an intense stimulus for muscle growth. The deadlift is a raw, primal feat of strength. And just admit it – it is fun to pick heavy shit off the ground! Train the deadlift smartly and it will have immense carryover into the rest of your lifting, not the least with regard to grip strength.
When it comes to deadlifting, you have three main styles of grip to choose from – the hook grip, the double overhand grip, and the mixed grip. Let’s take a look at each of these grip variations and explore what they each have to offer.
Double Overhand Grip
The ‘classic’ deadlift grip, with both palms facing the lifter. This is the default grip. Ask a person who has never deadlifted before to pick a bar off the ground and they will instinctively grip it with a double overhand grip.
Their instincts are correct, too. It is the most basic of grips and is the one you should start your deadlift workouts with and stick to until grip becomes a limiting factor. This is when you would consider the mixed grip.
The mixed grip is when one hand is turned around to face away from the lifter. The reason it is so strong is the interplay between the two hands. All the bar wants to do as you are lifting it is leave your hands and return back to solid ground due to the undeniable force of gravity. With the double overhand grip, as you fight this force of nature, the bar starts to slip out of your fingers and there is nothing to stop this happening.
With the mixed grip, as the bar rolls out of one hand, it is rolling into the other hand. It’s like in the films where the bad guy tries to escape one way down a confined space but is confronted by a team of law enforcers. He tries to run the other way – but lo and behold, there’s another team there. He’s left no choice but to remain in between them. Using this clever rouse, you are able to retain hold of the bar for longer with a mixed grip.
So why not use this grip all the time?
First, development of grip strength. Although mixed grip is a solution to a weak grip, it is not a cure. The cure is to increase your grip strength. The way to do this is to work the double overhand grip for as much of your deadlift session as possible.
Second, there is a danger of creating muscular imbalances, especially if you are guilty of throwing mixed grip into the mix early on in your deadlift workout. For most people, one mixed grip combination will feel stronger than the other, so they tend to stick to that way almost exclusively.
Last, it puts your supinated arm (the palm facing away) at risk of injury through tearing of the bicep.
In summary – despite these concerns, the mixed grip is definitely worth using, but only when grip becomes the limiting factor in your workout. The idea behind using the double overhand grip as much as possible is that the point at which you have to move to a mixed grip becomes heavier and heavier as your grip improves.
The hook grip is a double overhand grip made stronger by trapping the thumb in between the bar and the first couple fingers. This creates a hook on the bar that is supported by the index and middle fingers.
Ask an Olympic weightlifter to walk up to a heavy bar and pick it up, and almost every time they will hook grip the bar. The main reason for this is that they are used to it (it’s a common sight to see Olympic lifters hook grip their shopping bags and steering wheels) but it is also a hat tip to the fact that the hook grip is in fact a phenomenally strong grip.
This is all well and good, but if you are not used to hook gripping a bar, then using it for a heavy deadlift can make you feel like your thumbs are about to detach from your hands. There is no way around this but to use it and get used to it.
Stronger than the standard double overhand grip, and safer than the mixed grip, hook grip is well worth having in your toolbox.
How to Improve Deadlift Grip Strength
I’ve also put together a few more ideas on how you can improve your deadlift grip strength. The concept behind these suggestions is not to perform separate grip work to aid your deadlift. It is to work your grip for the deadlift through the deadlift and deadlift variations. In this way you continue to build strength while working your grip a little harder to bring it up to speed.
There’s also a flip side to this, concerning the use of straps. Although this whole article is focused on grip strength for the deadlift, the goal of the deadlift is certainly not to build grip strength alone. It is a total body strength exercise, and thus, once all these grip options have been exhausted, it is prudent to use straps so that the rest of the body can experience the overall strength benefits that heavier deadlifts would provide.
Here, then, are my five tips to help you improve your grip strength:
- Cut Out the Chalk– A simple but very effective suggestion, and an easy one to implement immediately. Lifting without chalk makes your grip work harder and therefore builds grip strength faster.
- Perform Static Holds– There are whole strongman events based on this. I often program holds in the top of the deadlift position as finishers to a deadlift workout. Perform these static holds for a variety of lengths, sets and reps. Watch this video to see Chris Duffin do a static hold with over 700lbs.
- Do One-Handed Barbell Deadlifts– Aside from being a lot of fun (and looking pretty cool) these are a good way to develop the hook grip. Try this with a standard grip and you will quickly discover that you need a hook grip to retain hold of a heavy bar with one hand. This is an excellent demonstration of the strength of this grip. One-handed deadlifts can either be done straddling the barbell or with it out in front of you like a regular deadlift.
- Use a Fat Bar/Fat Gripz– If you’ve never deadlifted with a fatter object before, you will be surprised how much harder it is to a regular bar. If you don’t have access to a strongman axle, invest in a pair of Fat Gripz. Gripping a standard bar will feel easy after a few sessions with its beefed-up brother.
- Work Up the Chain– This tip is a summary of everything we have discussed. Next time you deadlift, work up the following order: double overhand without chalk, double overhand with chalk, mixed grip, and lastly if required, straps.
This final tip serves as a neat conclusion. Use the rawest form of grip possible for as long as possible to strengthen your grip. Then make the best use of what your body has to offer by using natural ways of strengthening your grip, like reversing one hand for the mixed grip or jamming your thumb in between your fingers and the bar for the hook grip. Once you have reached the end of the road with these, consider using straps to give yourself the opportunity to go even heavier and allow body to receive the wider advantages the deadlift has to offer.
Whichever grip you use, grip the hell out of the bar to let your body and mind know your mean business – then make lifting that bar your only business.