by Grant Broggi, SSC
I was coaching some lifters online and in the gym this week and I realized that a lot of new lifters do not know why we use the grips that we use for the deadlift. Your grip while deadlifting is very important. Your ability to set the back and lift a weight will depend on to your ability to grip the bar.
There are three main grips that we use in the deadlift, and they all work and can be used at different stages of your lifting journey. Remember that the goal is for you to be able to grip the bar, lift more weight, and get stronger.
Double Overhand Grip
The double overhand grip is the most basic grip and what we teach all new lifters. You simply bend at the waist and squeeze the bar with your thumb around the bar.
This grip is great for new lifters because they’re already learning so many new things. Most new lifters struggle with putting their lumbar in extension (making their back flat) so with all the new things they’re learning the grip should be the last thing for them to worry about.
When you first start deadlifting you have to learn that the bar should be directly over the middle of the foot. If it is too far forward, or too close to your shins it is harder to get your back in the correct position and also harder to lift more weight. We want to get into a position that allows us to lift the most weight possible.
The double overhand allows you to grip the bar and focus on “pushing” the floor with your feet, rather than trying to pull it off the ground. Stan Efferding likes to say “think of the deadlift as a standing leg press.” We are not pulling it off the floor with our hands, but rather extending the knee and making it rise utilizing the quads and knee extension.
The double overhand grip allows us to symmetrically load the body, grip the bar, and start fixing our main problem: weakness. Now, as your deadlift gets heavier your grip is being strengthened along with the rest of your body.
The problem is that as the load gets heavier your ability to squeeze the bar and keep it high in your palm will diminish. As a result, the bar will start to travel towards your fingertips during the rep and most of the time lead to a loss of lumbar extension. We do not want this. We want to deadlift with a flat back.
When you or your coach notices that this is starting to happen, it is time to switch to a new grip.
The hook grip is where you wrap your thumb around the bar and then press it back against the bottom of the bar with your index and middle finger. This action secures the bar in your hand and also adds a friction point (the meat of your thumb) that keeps the bar from slipping out of your hands. This grip locks you into the bar and allows you to lift more weight.
To use the hook grip you should wedge the bar into the webbing of your thumb and index finger and then wrap the thumb around the bar and grasp it with your index finger. If you are using a sub-standard Olympic barbell then the bar will probably be too thick (diameter) and you will not be able to get your thumb around the bar.
Standard Olympic Barbells are usually either 28.5 or 29mm in diameter, and Women’s Olympic Barbells are usually 27mm. Bars greater than 29mm are either specialty bars or made of lower quality steel requiring a fatter bar in order to achieve the desired weight.
We make both a 28.5 and 29mm barbell. For most people I recommend a 28.5mm barbell as it has the most versatility and can be used by most people for the most exercises. 29mm bars are referred to as “Power Bars'' and are usually used by lifters that lift for “sport” rather than general strength and health.
So, regardless of your bar size, see if you can get your thumb around it and then clasp it with a few fingers. If you can, the bar is the right size for you and you should hook grip. Now. The hook grip does have some slight discomfort to it. New lifters often do not like the pressure of a few hundred pounds applied to their thumb and will whine about how much it hurts.
This will not describe you, because you are better than that. You know that in order to get stronger you must lift more weight, and do it correctly, and the hook grip allows you to do that.
For those with smaller hands or refuse to endure the pain of the hook grip, they are a good candidate for the alternate grip.
The alternate grip is where you grip the bar with your dominant hand in the regular overhand position and grip the bar with your non-dominant hand supine (palm facing up).
Do not overthink this. This is similar to the first time you got on a surfboard, you faced one way or the other. You did what felt natural. The same applies here, flip the hand that makes sense and feels good to you.
The alternate grip can allow you to grip the bar better than the double overhand grip because the flipped hand creates an opposite force on the bar. There are a few issues with it:
- If your elbow is not completely locked out on the supine hand it can put the bicep under a lot of tension and cause pain or even injury.
- The alternate grip is not as a symmetrical loading of the back as is the double overhand or hook grip. This can cause the bar to windmill and also have some slight variation to adaptation of either side of your body.
- The alternate grip can make the lifter try and pull the bar rather than staying focused on pushing the floor with their feet.
So which grip should I use right now?
All three grips have their own time and place.
New to lifting? Double overhand and do not worry about it.
Starting to fail your deadlifts because you can no longer hold onto the bar or find yourself rounding your back towards the end of a rep? Time to hook grip.
Want to hook grip but your hands cannot get all the way around the bar or you want to die on the cross that it hurts too much? Alternate grip.
The ultimate goal is for you to get stronger. So grip the bar how your coach tells you to, or how you are able to lift the most weight.
Using chalk for the deadlift
You cannot talk about the deadlift grip without discussing both the chalk on your hands, and the knurling on the bar. That sentence was intentional. Chalk does not go on your bar, it goes on your hands.
The purpose of chalk is to get rid of any moisture in the hands that would make it harder for you to grip the bar. The purpose of knurling is to create more surface area for your palm to grasp so you can better grip the bar.
There are lots of types of knurling, some mild, some medium, and some aggressive. A mild knurling does not do much for your grip so for the general strength lifter we recommend a medium knurling. Some do prefer a more aggressive knurling and that is totally okay. The goal is for you to be able to lift more weight.
If your barbell is packed full of chalk then there will not be any knurling exposed to help you grip it with your palm. We recommend brushing the chalk off of your barbell with a brass brush when you see it on the bar to make sure that the knurling is exposed.
We also recommend not using way too much chalk that leads to this happening in the first place. Just enough to keep your hands dry. That is all.
Is one deadlift grip really better than another?
Well, if you are just getting started do not worry about this too much at all. If you have been lifting for a while and your deadlift is hard to hold it is probably try to switch your grip.
Which is better? I prefer the hook grip to the alternate grip although I use both in training from time to time and use both on my lifters from time to time. I told my mom to deadlift with alternate grip because she struggles grasping the bar with a hook grip. I also have a female online client who hook grips a 29mm aggressive knurling bar no problem. Personally, all my heaviest deadlifts in competition I have pulled with a hook grip.
Both grips are fine. Find the one that allows you to keep deadlifting new weight and get stronger.
That is what we are here for anyway. If you have an experienced coach, they can make this decision for you.
Keep deadlifting. Keep getting stronger, and do not let your grip be the limiting factor of your strength.