Hi guys, this week's post is short but very important, and addresses a very common question among beginner to intermediate level deadlifters. What do I do when I can no longer hold the bar with a "regular" double-overhand grip. 

First, what do I mean by regular grip? I mean a simple, two hands holding the bar grip. The palms face the lifter, and all four fingers are wrapped around the bar, with the thumb then on top of the fingers.

As one progresses in the deadlift, at some point the weights simply become too heavy to hold. With both hands facing the same direction, the barbell has a tendency to roll towards the fingertips, thus breaking the grip. Eventually, the weights will reach a heavy enough threshold that grip becomes a limiting factor - your core, legs, and glutes can handle more load, but your hands cant. For some context, I've deadlifted 660lbs, but would have trouble holding more than about 385lbs with a standard double-overhand grip.

Importantly, we want to switch to one of the grip options below BEFORE our form breaks down. Nearing the limits of our grip strength is risky for several reasons. First, an uncontrolled drop of a barbell is clearly a hazard. But, more subtly, when the grip is the weakest link, athletes will often "short lock" the barbell, meaning they fail to fully extend the hips at the top of the lift, for fear of dropping the bar. 

There are two good options to switch to once needed, and a third option which isn't recommended for regular use, but is worth mentioning.

But First, Chalk
Before we get into the specifics of how to grip a barbell, I want to point out the importance of using chalk. Especially if your hands sweat while working out, a little bit of chalk will go a long way. Chalk absorbs the moisture on your hands, and provides a grippy, non-slip surface. Gym chalk is readily available on amazon, very inexpensive, and absolutely necessary for heavy lifting.

If your gym doesn't allow chalk, they have chosen to put cosmetic appearance ahead of your safety. There's no other way to put it. They care more about what their gym looks like than your safety or progress, and you should find another gym.

Of course, sneaking chalk into a gym that doesn't allow it is against the rules, and I would NEVER recommend you break the rules of your gym ;). But, if one were to want to sneak chalk into a gym, a gallon ziploc bag or small tupperware works great. Just make sure you clean up after yourself so you don't get busted. 

Now that we've gotten that out of the way, here are your two (and a half) choices:

Option 1 - Mixed Grip

A mixed grip involves supinating one hand, so that one hand faces the lifter, while the other faces away.This is the approach that the overwhelming majority of lifters take, and I think it's a great option. I mentioned earlier that a bar held in a standard grip rolls towards the fingertips -by turning one hand under, now that roll is directed away from you, so that the hands cancel each other out.

The main issue with a mixed grip is that you must never, ever develop a preference for one side or the other. Doing so can cause significant muscle and postural imbalances. 

In my later years of powerlifting, I realized that I could lift more with my left hand pronated, and when it came time for really tough sets, or competition, I defaulted to my strong hand. I paid for this by developing a functional scoloisis (one side of my back become stronger than the other, pulling my spine out of alignment. Just as much fun as it sounds). Have the discipline to always switch each set, even if that means doing a tough set on your weaker side.

Pros

  • Easy to learn
  • Provides rock-solid grip

Cons

  • Asymmetric; Can cause imbalances if left and right are not trained equally
  • Increased risk of biceps tear, though this should not be an issue if you're using your lats correctly.

 

 

 

Option 2 - Double Overhand Hook Grip

The hook grip is a staple in Olympic style weightlifting (the Snatch and Clean & Jerk, neither of which we're discussing here). There are a few powerlifters at a very high level who use the hook grip, but it's not the norm. The benefit is that you will stop the bar's roll without creating an asymmetry.

The downside is it can be very painful on your thumbs. Most hook grip deadlifters say that after a few weeks or months of consistent practice, your thumbs get used to it, and it will no longer be uncomfortable. I suspect that there's some selection bias involved - people whose thumbs are well-suited geometrically to hook grip deadlifting stick with it, while others find the discomfort gets in the way of their lifting.

If you've never tried deadlifting with a hook grip, it's definitely worth a try. 

Pros

  • Symmetrical

  • Cons
  • Can be very painful at first. May require weeks or months to get used to.
  • Not as strong as the mixed grip

Option 3 (not recommended) - Use Straps

Lifting straps go around the wrist and then wrap around the bar. As a result, the hands are largely taken out of the equation. Straps get a really bad rap among strength coaches, and in some ways for good reason. It's really important to have a strong grip, and straps often prevent lifters from developing strong hands. Gripping the bar hard is a part of good deadlift technique.

That said, I'm not as negative as some others on straps - I think they have a time and a place. On really high volume deadlift programs, they can help the lifter accumulate volume that would otherwise be impossible due to grip fatigue, especially for lifters who don't have gigantic hands.

For most lifters, the only time I'd really recommend to use straps is if you tore a callous or have some kind of minor hand injury. If that is the case (torn callus, for example) , just wear straps and don't feel bad about it. 

 

Pros

  • Most secure
  • Can help a lifter do more work in a training sessions, or week (volume accumulation)
  • Great for minor hand injuries

  • Cons
  • Can prevent the lifter from developing hand strength
  • Can often become a crutch
  • Nobody wants weak hands

So there you have it. Two good options, and one "once in a while" option for when you can no longer hold a deadlift in the "regular" double-overhand position. 




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