Hook Grip Part 4: What Do The Experts Say?
In the first 3 parts of this series, we discussed at some length, how I choose which grip someone should use. Today, I thought I'd refer to other far more intelligent people than me, much better lifters than me and see if there suggestions are far from what I put forward in those 3 parts.
Some of these are fairly old quotes, so the people quoted may well have changed their opinion since these were written. If that is the case, I humbly apologise.
I recommend you check out all of the following people on the gram, Facebook, the web, and anywhere else you can find them.
I will link each of them up below.
Timothy Henriques, All About Powerlifting
"Some powerlifters use a hook grip for the deadlift, but this is pretty rare. A hook grip is like a closed grip, but instead your thumb goes under your fingers, opposite the bar. The thumb is in direct contact with the bar, and then your first two fingers are on top of the thumb, holding it in place. Ultimately this can be a very strong grip, and it has the advantage of putting the body in a symmetrical position.
However, the big negative is that this grip is very uncomfortable to learn especially with heavy weights. Because the alternating grip is strong enough to support the weight, it is generally adequate and feels more natural. The hook grip is commonly used in Olympic Lifting, where an alternating grip is not feasible (heavy snatches, cleans, and jerks with an alternating grip would not work) because Olympic Lifters have no choice but to use a hook grip."
Izzy Narvaez, PowerliftingToWin
"The last grip consideration is pulling hook grip. I am a huge fan of hook grip and I believe that, if your hands are big enough, it is the best grip to use.
Not only does hook grip minimize the chances for a bicep tear, but it also prevents a very common problem experienced in mixed grip: unevenness of the bar. When you try to take a narrow mixed grip, your tricep, on the side of the “under” hand, will turn and “run into” your lat. This tends to throw the underhand forward a little. When the bar is more forward on one side than the other, you get all sorts of imbalances and it can throw off the pull.
Usually, lifters resort to just using a wider grip to ensure their arms aren’t rubbing up against their lats excessively. As we already know, a wider grip means shorter arms. Shorter arms mean a smaller pull. Hook grip eliminates all of these issues and allows the bar to sit about as far down in the hand as is possible with a strong grip."
Brady Cable, Kabuki Strength
"With a hook grip you’ll be able to hold the bar lower than a mixed grip and I think this is one of the reasons it’s advantageous to the mechanics of the pull. You get not only the symmetry of pulling with both hands in the same position, but also get to lower the bar slightly and start in a slightly higher position. These details are all minimal but especially when you start incorporating things like a deadlift bar when the weights get heavy, it all adds up."
Mike Tuscherer, Reactive Training Systems
Instagram: @miketuchscherer, @reactivetrainingsystems
"The hook grip is not invincible. I was told at one time that the hook grip is just by its nature more secure than a mixed grip and you’d never see someone drop a deadlift with a hook grip (provided their hands were big enough to get two fingers onto the thumb). Don’t fall for this. I’ve seen plenty of lifters drop hooked deadlifts. What’s more, I’ve seen a lifter drop a mixed grip deadlift, then over some months switch to a hook. The hook was more secure for a few years, then they started dropping them again. The lifter then switched BACK to a mixed grip and stopped dropping them again!"
Mark Rippetoe, Starting Strength
Twitter: @CoachRippetoe @SS_strength
"...if you can use a hook and it’s more secure for you, then go for it. But don’t automatically assume it will be because magic.
Olympic weightlifters use a grip technique that provides enough grip security to hold on to highly-accelerated loads on the barbell.
The "hook grip" is useful for general strength training as well, for several reasons.
1. A hook grip is performed by taking a regular double-overhand grip on the bar, and then moving the thumb in toward the opposing fingertips and placing the distal digit of the middle finger on top of the thumbnail, with the other fingers accommodating this position. This doesn't work with a fat bar or short fingers, but for most people and most equipment commonly found in the weight room it can solve a lot of problems.
With a chalked hand, this middle finger/thumbnail interface creates both friction between the two surfaces and quite a bit of pressure as the thumb is pulled up into the knurl of the bar. The pressure on the skin of the thumb can be mitigated by athletic tape, but it still takes some getting used to. When you first decide to use it, you'll need to hook all your warmups for several workouts until your thumbs can tolerate the load. They can: Brad Gillingham has pulled 881 with a hook grip.
2. The mechanism by which a normal double-overhand grip works relies on "squeeze", as the fingers encircle the bar and apply pressure around the circumference. Both forearm flexors and extensors are actively involved in this contraction, and since some of these muscles cross the elbow joint, tight forearms also tighten the elbows. This prevents the rapid rotation required for racking a snatch or a clean, since a tight elbow can't rotate as fast as a loose elbow. And since we power clean and power snatch in strength training, the hook grip is useful. And it helps a novice lifter learn how to keep the elbows straight, since the bar can hang securely from loose elbows.
3. It's also useful for maintaining the rotational symmetry of the shoulders in a heavy pull. An alternate grip – commonly seen as the default deadlift grip for people who don't even need to use it because the weight isn't heavy – features one shoulder in internal rotation and one shoulder in external rotation, since one hand is prone and the other supine. This almost always produces a rotation about the saggital plane as the bar gets pushed away from the supine side (through some mechanism we haven't entirely explained). It's sometimes hard to control, and it can get you hurt if the bar gets too far away from you. A hook grip places both shoulders in nice symmetrical internal rotation, simplifying the mechanics of the pull by eliminating the rotation.
4. A minor beneficial side-effect is the tendency for the bar to ride a tiny bit lower in the hands in a hook grip than in an alternate grip, because most people tend to "overgrip" the bar when they alternate their prone/supine hands. A lower bar position in the grip reduces the ROM of the deadlift by that distance, and every little bit helps in a meet.
5. And a major beneficial side effect is safety: distal and proximal bicep tendon avulsions have increased in the public awareness (if not frequency) lately. They are the direct result of the load on the supine side of the grip, where the humerus is externally rotated and the bicep is flexed. They always require surgical repair. Since the hook grip preserves the internal rotation symmetry for both shoulders, there is no supine side to avulse.
The hook grip should not be considered an advanced Olympic weightlifting technique. It should be learned the first time you clean, and used for heavy deadlifts when it is appropriate. It's usually appropriate."
"First things first: lets address the pink elephant in the room. I don’t feel utilizing a mixed grip is bad, much less bad for one’s back. This isn’t to say there aren’t some inherent risks involved. But then again, every exercise has some variation of risk. I know a handful of people who have torn their biceps tendon – including Bret Contreras – while deadlifting using a mixed grip. The supinated (underhand) side is almost always the culprit. A LOT of people deadlift with a mixed grip, and A LOT of people never tear their bicep tendon. Much the same that a lot of people drive their cars and never get into an accident. Watch any deadlift competition or powerlifitng meet and 99% of the guys are pulling with a mixed grip. And the ones who aren’t are freaks of nature. They don’t count. Pulling with a mixed grip does allow someone to handle more weight on the bar as grip becomes less of a limiting factor. I don’t see any issue with this."
"Biceps tears in the deadlift are pretty rare, but when they happen, it’s almost always on the underhand (supinated) arm when someone’s pulling the bar with their arms. Grip the shit out of the bar, but leave your upper arms relaxed. Don’t try to row the bar when you’re deadlifting it.
Many people are concerned that pulling with a mixed grip will create muscle imbalances. For whatever reason, most people do tend to shift their weight slightly to the overhand side, and research has shown that you get a pretty fair amount of biceps activation on the underhand side (and some people are also concerned that they’ll get trap imbalances). I honestly don’t think it matters all that much, assuming the deadlift isn’t the only movement you’re using to train your back. We’re naturally asymmetrical creatures anyways. However, if this is a concern you have, all you need to do is alternate your grip on each set – right hand under on half your sets, and left hand under on half your sets.
One final tip for pulling with a mixed grip: Always grip the bar harder than you need to. If you grip 200lbs as if it was 1,000lbs, the lift will feel easier than if you gripped it just hard enough to hold onto the 200lbs. I’m honestly not sure why that’s the case; maybe it’s due to muscle irradiation, maybe it has something to do with proprioceptive feedback, or maybe it’s purely psychological. Regardless of why it works, it does work like a charm. #brotip
The hook grip is the third major grip style. It’s universally used in weightlifting, but it’s only recently started gaining popularity in powerlifting. With the hook grip, you grab the bar with a double overhand grip, and then you wrap your fingers around thumb, pinning it between your fingers and the bar (instead of putting your thumb on top of your fingers).
If your fingers are long enough, the hook grip will probably let you grip heavier loads than you could grip with a mixed grip. Since you can grip the bar with both hands pronated, the risk of uneven development and biceps tears is substantially mitigated as well.
There are two major downsides to hook gripping:
If your fingers aren’t long enough, you probably won’t be able to get your hook grip “set” well enough.
It hurts. A lot.
The second consideration is the main reason hook grip isn’t more popular. As you hook grip more often, you’ll gradually deaden the nerves in your thumb, helping it get a bit more comfortable. However, it’s hell initially. Your thumb doesn’t particularly like being crushed with every rep.
But, if you can deal with the initial discomfort and learn to hook grip, that should take care of any grip issues with deadlift. If you can get a hook grip set well, you can hold on to basically an infinite amount of weight (only a slight exaggeration)."
Youtube: Josh Greenfield
"The change [to hook grip] for me was down to a cue I still use today which is "bend the bar around the shins" and I was struggling to get it right with the over and under grip, i was also building a slight internal rotation on my over hand side I wasn’t symmetrical anymore.
I feel like hook grip works better as it is a more natural way to pull with both hands facing over, if I ask you to break a stick In two you would never grab it with a mix grip and try break it.
I have short arms so I needed to maximise my arm length an not have any change of my supinated hand been shortened by my bicep at any point!"
"I've only ever used under/over grip and it's worked well for me in my 30 years of deadlifting, I've never failed a lift due to grip issues.
The only time I would ever consider switching to hook would be:
a) if I begin to have grip issues as I move closer to 800lbs, hook grip is less likely to fail b) if I find I have imbalances in my physique due to the alternate hand grip, such as not being able to activate both lats equally c) if I switch to sumo I'd probably consider going hook because my supine grip tends to get in the way of my thigh when I tried it previously. To conclude, I think both grip types are great and you just have to find which works best for your own needs."
Note from Chris
Even other experts and great lifters have varying opinions on whether you should hook grip or use an under/over deadlift for optimum results.
In the last 4 parts, we've discussed the different assessments you can do to try and make an educated guess as to which grip strategy works for you.
What has become abundantly clear to me through researching the argument of hook grip vs. under/over is that their is no universal rule to deadlift grip. Some will find under/over to their advantage, others will find hook grip far more productive.
What I'd also say is that just because one grip strategy is working for you now, doesn't mean that in a few years a different grip might suit your needs more exactly.
What is wonderful is that if you do run into issues with your grip there are options available that will still allow you to deadlift decent amounts of weight if it's appropriate for you to do so.
If you are a coach, I would strongly argue against using a universal rule for all of your lifters, as with lifting, universal rules often fall short with a certain percentage of the population.
We are all the same but different.
And that difference is often enough to warrant a different grip while deadlifting.
I think this brings our hook grip series to a natural end. I've loved writing it to be honest.
Hopefully you'll get as much from it as I have.
Thanks for reading guys!