Quick Points On Grip Strength

I’ll be the first to admit that I don’t know something, and something that I don’t know a whole lot about is grip strength. However, I have a few pointers that may help you include it in your training.

Brent mentioned Chris’ impressive hook grip, but Chris is not the only person to implement a double overhand hook grip (DOHG).Brad Gillingham pulling 881 DOHGY style.



The ease of being able to hold onto a deadlift is dependent on your grip strength, but, as with all of lifting, it is dependent on your anthropometry as well. The anthropometry in question is the total hand size, palm size, and finger length. Larger hands will make deadlifting easier because the circumference of the bar is relatively smaller. On the other hand, smaller hands will make holding onto a bar more difficult because it is analogous to a larger handed man deadlifting with a fat bar (or at least a “fatter bar”). This is the same reason why women’s weightlifting bars are of a smaller circumference of men; they have smaller hands.

This is another reason why not everyone can implement the hook grip; they may not have the hand size to successfully do so. Chris is one of those guys who has some large hands (he calls them “his grips”), and for some reason his thumbs aren’t damaged by the hook grip (we’ll get to this later). Brent, on the other hand, is a 5’5” Korean who has hands like a child. If he is capable of DOHGing his max deadlift, which I don’t think he is, then he will have to work very hard towards that goal.
Total hand size is then broken down into two characteristics: palm size and finger size. Someone can have decently sized hands, but then have shorter fingers with large palms (this describes my hands). In contrast, someone can have very long fingers with a smaller palm area. I’m not sure if this poses a problem for holding onto a barbell – it would seem like it would be the ideal situation.

Now let’s say you have some decently sized hands and you still can’t make DOHG work. In this case, your thumbs probably hurt like a mofo when you try it. Well, as with most things, you’ll have to get adapted to it. Chris was an Olympic weightlifter before he got into powerlifting, so he was comfortable early on with the hook grip. When he trained his deadlift, he naturally used the DOHG. I would even surmise that he used it when he was weaker, and as he got stronger he continued using the DOHG. I know that in the time that I have coached him and trained with him his deadlift has gone from the mid 400’s for reps to the low to mid 600’s – all with a DOHG. This means that A) his hand size permitted him to use the DOHG and B) his DOHG strength adapted with his pulling strength.

But is the DOHG any more impressive than an alternated grip? I guess since the hands are both pronated it makes the rep look more awesome. But remember, the hook grip is used so that A) grip strength isn’t a factor in the lift and B) it allows the grip muscles (that cross the wrist while some also attach at the elbow) to relax and allow the wrist and elbow to pass through their ranges of motion more easily when doing the snatch or the clean. Since these muscles are not all contracting, it makes holding onto the bar easier. Regarding the deadlift, it also prevents any of the imbalances that can occur from having one forearm supinated (whether it be mechanical or anatomical problems). In other words, it makes the deadlift more efficient and safe, and this is why you should use it if you can. But does that mean it’s more impressive? I don’t know. It may be that Chris will need to switch to an alternated grip when his deadlift gets heavier (we have talked about this), but I don’t think he’ll need to. Time will tell as his career progresses.

Regarding grip strength in general, it usually isn’t something a novice should be worrying about. Pull your deadlift warm-ups with an overhand grip and it will improve over time. If you’re able to DOHG it, go ahead, but otherwise alternate your grip when necessary. Both of these methods will still improve your grip strength, although I don’t know by how much. The alternated grip will require the finger flexors to work much harder than in the hook, but this may not be more of a detriment. Remember that an alternated grip makes the bar easier to hold onto because your hands apply torque to the bar in two different directions. This prevents the bar from rolling in any one direction as your hands weaken and probably improves the coefficient of friction as a result.

If you are unable to keep a hold on your deadlifts regardless of the method, then you are probably underweight. Double check this fact by stepping on the scale, and once you are sure, absolutely positive you are a strapping adult male, then we’ve got some weird problems because most decently sized guys can hang onto decent amounts of weight. Nevertheless, we need you to get stronger ASAFP. If you limit your deadlift because you can’t hang onto the bar, then you are also limiting your squat, your muscle mass increases, your hormones from going all crazy to help you grow, and thus you’re indirectly affecting your other lifts. Obviously you need to use straps. You need to be strong NOW.

But they don’t allow straps in meets, so you’ll have to get this shit figured out soon if you’re wanting to compete. In which case you go to the grip gurus and ask them – that ain’t me (Gant will be writing an article for this soon, so be patient). Sure, it’d be great to have your cake (the big deadlift) and eat it too (no straps), but you may be deficient in one of those areas. Get strong, and then worry about the grip later.
—–

I wouldn’t say the “no straps subculture” (how the hell did we start calling this a subculture, Brent?) is like the “no belts subculture”. The “no belts” guys are just stupid and/or ignorant and usually not very strong. The “no straps” guys are usually veteran lifters who are pretty damn strong. Don’t confuse the two, and don’t insult the “no straps” guys.

But even “no straps” guys would have to agree that they have their use. If you are pretty damn strong in the rack pull, then you will run into a grip problem. There are guys that can rack pull hundreds of pounds more than they can deadlift. If your grip is the limiting factor on an assistance exercise, then you better use straps to allow the relevant muscles to bear the load (erectors of the back, lats, hamstrings, etc.). Not to mention that it is preferable to use an overhand grip in pulling assistance exercises (like rack pulls, halting deadlifts, stiff legged deadlifts, Romanian deadlifts, etc.) because it works the muscles in symmetry and also prevents any asymmetry related injuries to occur (e.g. straining or tearing a biceps tendon).

Regarding Brent’s inquiries about Kroc Rows and wearing a shirt, I’ll let my friend Mike comment on the rows tomorrow. But for fuck’s sake, keep your shirt on if you’re in a gym you don’t own.

41 thoughts on “Quick Points On Grip Strength

  1. Count me as a reasonably big guy (6’2″ 245# with long fingers) who can’t grip for shit (repeatedly missing lifts because of grip, resetting, getting 10# farther in progression then missing because of grip again, last two DL workouts were 385#x5 and 390#x3, and last squat was 380#x5 to legit depth so I know it’s grip and not something else) and I don’t want to use straps because I’m 8 weeks out from a meet. I’ve tried introducing some grip assistance crap, like the Kroc rows and occasional farmer’s walks and other hold-type stuff, I’ve been doing those things for a month or so but haven’t noticed significant help. I’ve heard another suggestion to hold the last rep of the DL set as long as you can, but if I can’t even grip for 5 reps I can’t hold for the extra time. I’d consider resetting again but it seems heretical to deadlift less than I squat. One guy at my gym suggested that my hands were too soft and I need to get more calluses, he also encouraged me to get more meat of my palm under the bar which helps a little but really tears my hands up for sets of 5. So basically, I am open to any and all ideas and suggestions.

    Others can comment on this, but I’ll preface my statement by saying that I don’t have any experience with this situation. You could always pull triples instead of 5’s and see how it works. I suggest this because straps are not an option since you are close to a meet, and your grip endurance fails at a certain rep range. So, you could do triples and it may help since you’ll be able to handle heavier weight, or it may mean you fail earlier. That’s what I’d have you try if I was coaching you given the circumstances.

    I’d also be careful about doing too much grip work all the time. If the “grip muscles” haven’t been trained for grip, then they will take a bit of a beating.

    –Justin

  2. “This is another reason why not everyone can implement the hook grip; they may not have the hand size to successfully do so.”

    If Naim can hook grip his WR lifts with his oompa loompa midget hands there is no reason why anyone here can’t do the same.

    I’m not familiar with the hand dimensions here and you may be correct, but citing one example does not make a trend or correlation.

    –Justin

  3. Why do I have visions of Brent as the guy at the start of Die Hard 2…

    Great article, sums up what I wanted to say yesterday but failed to get across.

    Do you have a youtube clip of the guy you reference?

    –Justin

  4. Milestone…yesterday it finally happened.
    Some guy was grinning at me in the gym like a goon in between some squats (not the usual shit ones you see), i ignored it, loving life in my 70’s Big T. Then he came over and said the words ive been waiting to hear for a long time.
    “Great t-shirt, I’m a fan” 70’s Big’dom has hit Birmingham University UK

  5. Maybe Gant could give me a pointer with an issue I’d like to address in my traning. Whenever I do my heaviest work sets on deads my grip opens up. I have never dropped a weight or missed a lift because of my grip, but alot of sets have ended with my hands looking like a hook. Any suggestions? I’ve pulled 500, weigh 220, and have a beard. I’d just like to get it solved before it becomes an issue.

  6. @Brent
    You should probably just carry a DB with you everywhere you go as well as some of those tear away pants so that when you get the urge you can just KROC OUT with your JOCK OUT! HIII OOOH!

    @Hippy
    Thats awesome, you should start an on campus lifting club and send in some picks of everyones moustaches

    @Vamshi
    I am sorry to inform you, but no you are not special. There are plenty of us that are underweight that can still control the bar. I am sorry if i just shattered your dreams, my wife says im good at that, but the reality is that WE need to eat lots of meat and get stonger and lift more weight and not get complacent on where we are today. Ok this seems a little to serious, Fuck yeah man your special!

    @ry-b
    I have the same thing happen sometimes and I dont mind at all. If you finished your sets, what difference does it make if you are barely holding on by your fingertips? The important part is that YOU DID IT. I think 20rep had a good idea of just holding onto it as long as freakin possible after the last rep and your hands will have to get stronger. Also refer to what i told Brent, mass KROC ROWS every day! Hope that helps.

  7. I know it’s not PR friday yet but I was pretty excited to Clean and Jerk 235 yesterday, I guess this is mildly relevant because I did use a hook grip. I know 235 isn’t huge but I think its decent for a 150 guy.

  8. I was using hook grip until a certain point with the deadlifts, then I started using the mixed grip. I don’t have a reason, I just did what I needed to do to get through the sets.

    Based on yesterday’s article, I did deadlifts today with a hook grip. I have very long fingers so it’s not a problem for me. However the thumb on my right hand began bleeding from underneath the finger nail. thankfully nothing got on the bar, but my hand looked like I just slaughtered a small animal. This sucks in a public gym. I cleaned up in the bathroom before proceeding with my next rep and the bleeding stopped almost immediately.

    Also, I agree people should wear shirts at a public gym. This includes the ladies. I see many of them who like to wear just a sports bra when they workout. Is this really necessary? You really want your bareback to be touching those benches and machines. Just because you think you’re hot doesn’t mean you don’t sweat. COME ON!

  9. Jason
    Congrats Man! Considering that I can’t press/jerk/move my elbow in that plane of motion, I am considerably jelous. Also, I sure as hell can’t clean 235 yet, and I weigh 30+ more than you, so yeah man celebrate the shit outta that today! YEEEEEE HA!

  10. Watchng the interview over at starting strenght with Jim Wendler, that guy is 115% 70sBig love that beard.

    I got to meet Jim for a minute. He was a really cool dude.

    –Justin

  11. @Justin.

    The guy I’m referencing is Col. Stuart, played by William Sadler. At the beginning of the movie he goes through some Kata, butt naked.

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eCp4-dWZp8Q

    Unfortunately the idea of Brent doing Kroc Rows “so you’re saying that i should be doing the Kroc rows nude in my apartment, similar to how i do finger tip chin ups nude in my apartment?” Conjured this image in my mind.

    Apologies for the quality but I don’t think you want the 1080p hi def version.

  12. I suspect I may have big hands with stubby fingers as well. Is there a finger to palm ratio? My longest finger is definitely much shorter than my palm if that means anything. Anyways, I pull heavy weight with an alternate grip but for grip strength I work up as high as I can go with a double overhand, thumbs on top (no hook) grip. I’m no scientist so this may be a terrible idea but it feels like I’m doing work so I assume it is.

    I admit that my interest in palm to finger ratio is very low, thus I don’t have any figures for you. Just keep doing what you’re doing.

    –Justin

  13. 20repsquats – bummer, man. Here’s what I would do: First, do NOT use more palm meat. It squishes and fucks everything up (did Henry suggest that?). Get the bar right at the base of your fingers as much as possible (Rip has said he uses the monkey grip, which is actually on the first knuckle). Try alternating the other way as well, and see if that feels better. If you are using the hook on warm ups, just use double overhand w/o the hook. After your DL set, use the Ironmind fat bar with a double overhand for some speed sets (maybe 3×10) – they won’t impact your recovery much at all, but they’ll work your grip even more than the Krocs, and high rep fast deads murder my upper back. You can also try holding on to a pullup bar after your DL sets for time. Wrap a towel around if you can.

    But, don’t fret, KittenSmash and I are both barely deadlifting more than we squat – it’s just how this program works. You will destroy 450/450 at this next meet, don’t worry!

  14. I’ve had good luck training my grip by just staying double overhand up until my heavy work set. I have pulled 415X5 double overhand, and am sure I can do more now. Also I have small girly hands. I can’t hook grip more than 200 though due to a hurt thumb.

    And on the subject of women training in sports bras, well I don’t train in a commercial gym anymore, but I believe that is the only thing I might miss.

  15. Jacob –

    Henry indeed. He’s not going to be joining Mensa anytime soon, but I figured it was worth a shot. Turned out to be pretty uncomfortable and not too much more secure. His dad actually knows a thing or two, he’s given me a bit of other advice that was more helpful. I had been monkey-gripping, but it unrolled my fingers too easily. We’ll see – I also tried to hook grip a rep and it wasn’t particularly effective either.

    I had forgotten about the fat bar – I’ll start working that it.

  16. Hey, I finally have something meaningful to add. :)

    I have found a simple yet effective way of improving grip strength. I got it originally from watching videos of Konstantinovs deadlift workouts.

    Essentially you do your deadlift workout as usual but on your last rep of your last set get to lock out and just hold the bar as long as you can at the top. Basically take your grip to the brink of failure on the last rep of the day.

    I started doing this and have noticed a HUGE improvement in my grip strength in only a few weeks, and I am only Deadlifting once a week.

    Interesting. This would best be done if you are deadlifting on Friday so that you have the weekend to recover. If you plan on power cleaning two days after doing this, there might be problems if you aren’t used to it. Just take it into consideration.

    –Justin

  17. This has nothing to do with todays topic, but i went to the movies this last weekend and saw a trailer for the most 70’s Big movie ever- The Expendables.
    Its an action movie about mercenarys overthrowing a dictator.
    Starring-
    Sly Stallone,Jason Statham, Jet Li, Randy Couture, Steve Austin, Bruce Willis, and AAHHHNNNOOOLLLDDDD.
    I just felt i should share.

  18. Another off topic comment,
    I am forced to endure watching American Idol with my girlfriend. As the season has worn on I find myself silently cheering for Big Mike, a very anti-90’s small guy. He has to weigh atleast 300 pounds and he mentioned being able to bench in the 400’s. Is Big Mike “big” enough to redeem my forced viewing of American Idol? Someone please help!

  19. Let me clarify something…If I use an alternating grip for my deadlifting, I should not hook grip with both hands? I should only use hook grip with double overhand technique? Sorry for the stupid question.

  20. oof5y,
    Well an alternated hook grip, seems kind of redundant. And sounds uncomfortable too. Is the weight so heavy that you are unable to double overhand hook grip, or mix grip, so you must alternate hook grip? One of those should be plenty. Using a double overhand grip as long as you are able and only going to a mixed or hook grip when it’s absolutely necessary will insure that you are getting your grip stronger as well.

  21. Ryan, thanks for the advice. No, my deadlifts aren’t very heavy. I don’t know why I was using alternate hook grip. I probably have been cheating my grip strength.

  22. Jacob,
    Was Henry one of the guys at the Fife meet? Lean looking guy that bombed out on squats? Name just seems familiar. And in regaurds to my squat:deads ratio, I believe my squats will be a bit stronger here soon. Need to try sumo.

  23. + 1 for the last comment.

    I too have been using a mixed hook grip – chalk it up to a rookie mistake! So the general consensus seems to be a normal double overhand and only go to a mixed OR hook grip IF grip strength starts to become an issue with heavier weights?

    Cheers again!

  24. Ksmash – yeah he was at the Fife meet. Gorilla-strength, but some odd training habits for sure. I think he pulled around 575 at his last meet, Alex can confirm. His dad holds many national DL records in his class. Both great DL’ers, not so great squatters, but improving last I heard.

  25. I was able to warm up with hook grip to 225. I then switched to regular overhand grip until my work set of 385; which then saw a switch to hook grip. More on grip to come!

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