Grip Training

Grip strength is obviously of great importance for people who lift. When you’re lifting heavy weights off the floor, with the deadlift specifically, grip can often be a limiting factor. Using straps when your grip gives out can be an effective method to continue the workout, but it’s not always optimal.

That being said, ideally – and especially if you plan to compete in a sport such as powerlifting – your grip should be strong enough to hold the maximum amount of weight the rest of your body allows for. In short, grip strength should not be the limiting factor.

I already covered grip progression and some other things about it in my Deadlift 101 article, so I’m just going to copy and paste that portion below. Then I’ll go into the grip strength exercises I would recommend.

 

How to Grip the Bar

Your best bet is the double overhand grip. Use this until weights get too heavy for you to handle with the overhand grip. Make sure you’re gripping the bar properly during the deadlift. This also applies to other pulling movements. Video on that: Rip on Grip (Bonus: Gripping the bar in this manner will reduce callus formation during pull movements like the deadlift.)

Once your overhand grip gives out, improve your grip by using lifting chalk. If your gym does not allow the use of lifting chalk, try an alternative like Liquid Grip or an eco ball.

When your chalked overhand grip no longer does the trick, you have three valid options: Use a mixed grip, use straps and/or use a hook grip. I’ll give you a quick breakdown of the positives/negatives of each option.

Mixed Grip: This is where one hand is in an overhand/pronated grip and the other hand is in an underhand/supinated grip. The positive is that you can pull more weight like this than with a double overhand grip. The negative is that it increases your chance of tearing a bicep.

Using Straps: This is where you’d use lifting straps to help you hang onto the barbell when weight gets too heavy for a double overhand grip (with chalk or a chalk alternative). The positive is that you can use more weight without grip being a limiting factor. You’re also much less likely to tear a bicep than you are with a mixed grip. The negative is that you’ll have to do extra grip training and that you can’t use straps in a powerlifting competition obviously.

Hook Grip: The hook grip is a very good option. The only negative aspect is that it will be painful to get used to the hook grip and it’s not too feasible for most people to use this grip on high repetition deadlift sets. I would say that it’s a valid option for pulling lower rep sets and possibly can be used in competition as well.

Below is a video from Jonnie Candito on why he thinks you should avoid the mixed grip. I say make your own decision, but make it an educated one!

 

What Do I Do?

Personally, I avoid the mixed grip as Candito suggests in the above video (to minimize the risk of tearing a bicep). For my deadlift sets, I use an overhand grip until it gives out, then I use straps for sets done for more than one repetition.  For heavy singles, I use a hook grip. It’s painful, so not everyone will be willing to use a hook grip, but it is very secure and decreases the risk of tearing your bicep tendon.

 

How to Improve Grip Strength

Whichever grip you decide to use, it’s a good idea to train your grip strength specifically. Direct grip training is the most effective way to increase your grip strength. The exercises below will help you improve grip strength beyond the carryover grip strength increase you would get from exercises like heavy barbell rows, pullups and RDLs.

Most of the exercises listed don’t require any special equipment you won’t find at a regular gym either. They’re basic, but they will test your will power.

 

Static Holds

Load up a barbell with around 50-60% of your deadlift max, pick it up (either off the floor, from blocks or safety pins) and hold it for as long as you can. I usually do one static hold with a supinated (double underhand) grip and one static hold with a pronated (double overhand) grip for time. The static holds are done at the end of a non-deadlift workout and not on a workout the day before heavy pulling.

The video below from Elliott Hulse at strengthcamp explains how to do static holds. He also mentions using Fat Gripz to make it harder to grip the bar. And he shows an interesting way to do static holds with dumbbells, before describing how to do plate grippers.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GgtqXFXYWtA

I run 5/3/1 – with some training principles described in Beyond 5/3/1 – as an Upper/Lower split four days per week, so I do the static holds on my squat day at the end of the workout.

Static holds can of course be done with dumbbells, farmers walk handles, an axle, or anything heavy you can grab and hold for time.

 

Farmers Walk

Pick up some heavy dumbbells or loaded farmers walk handles and walk with them until your grip gives out. It’s not easy, but it’s basic and brutal.

 

Hand Grippers

I’ve never used these things, but some people swear they work. Worth a shot I guess. The fact that they’re called Captains of Crush Hand Grippers makes them fucking awesome by default.

captains-of-crush-hand-gripper

 

And that’s it. That’s my take on how to improve your grip strength for lifts like deadlift. As always, it’s just my opinion and you should do what you think is best.

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