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The "Do You Even Deadlift" Clinic
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StrikeBack Offline
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Post: #42
RE: The "Do You Even Deadlift" Clinic
At my powerlifting meet today, I promised some of my mates (one holds an open WR deadlift, and uses the hook grip) that the hook grip master race shall dominate the world, and so here's the hook grip post as promised.

If you just want to use straps, you don't want to read all this shit anyway. Personally, even outside of powerlifting, I hate using straps due to having to take all that time to set up. I'm just lazy.

What is the hook grip?

It's a grip mostly known in weightlifting, as that's how you grip the bar in the clean and the snatch i.e both of their competition lifts. A quick Google image will show you what it's like. Essentially you have the thumb against the bar, and the other four fingers holding the thumb in while hooking around the bar.

What I'm showing you here is the hook grip used in deadlifting. This is not necessarily how you use it in weightlifting, as there might be subtle differences. I learned the hook grip in person from Brad Gillingham, a hall of fame IPF deadlifter, and I don't do weightlifting, so keep that in mind.

The different grips in deadlift

There are 3 raw (i.e no strap or other grip assisting equipment) grips you can use to deadlift:

- Double overhand: for each grip, it's 4 fingers on one side of the bar vs 1 thumb on the other side i.e 8 fingers vs 2 thumbs overall. Which is why this is the weakest grip.
- Mixed grip: most popular grip when the weight gets heavy (in powerlifting or otherwise), one overhand, one underhand. You end up with 4 fingers and 1 thumb on one side of the bar, vs 4 fingers and 1 thumb on the other side.
- Hook grip

The problems with the mixed grip

Most people are told to use the mixed grip at some point when they begin to deadlift a half decent weight that a normal double overhand grip cannot handle. The mixed grip is very strong and is frequently seen in WR deadlifts. However, this is an asymmetrical grip and can cause many issues.

The most obvious of all is imbalance in muscle development. You will end up with a slightly stronger and bigger side of the body. Switching the mixed grips (pronated left, supinated right -> supinated left, pronated right) isn't ideal as often you'll find that you do one flavour of mixed grip better than the other anyway.

The less obvious one but most important reason why I do not recommend the mixed grip is safety. I first realised this after my back/hip injury, while getting scans done at a sport medical center. My doctor, knowing that I deadlift and having treated many lifters, straight up asked if I used a mixed grip with supinated left and pronated right, which was correct. He then pointed at the difference in one side of my back/hip vs the other in the scans and said he sees that all the time in lifters. He recommended me to use either the double overhand or straps, but obviously neither would work for me as a powerlifter.

That story doesn't convince anyone, so I often get people to do a simple exercise. Take a neutral stance, reach forward as far as possible with your straight arms. What do you find yourself automatically doing? Pronation of both hands. Why? Because your arms extend the longest that way. Now try supination of both. Clearly you would have a reduced reach. Now, with one pronated, one supinated, you will have one reaching slightly less than the other. What do you think that will do to your back and discs? Will you stand on slightly raised ground under one foot vs the other and deadlift a lot of weights? Thought so.

If you want a visual of this safety issue, watch a mixed grip lifter directly from the front when the weight gets heavy enough (around 5RM and above). You will see a clear lean / twist on one side of the body as the bar leaves the ground. Not great for longevity.

But but but.... plenty of very strong, even WR holders lift with a mixed grip? Yes, that is true, because it is a strong, very easy to learn grip, but powerlifters do not do their sport to be safe. They use whatever to lift more weights in competition.

The last, not super common but very scary issue of a mixed grip is a potential bicep tear on the supinated arm. This actually is a very popular reason why powerlifters would switch to the hook grip.

Why hook grip then?

I first tried the hook grip as I started lifting again post back/hip injury rehab entirely for safety reasons, but the more I used it the more awesome I found it.

Here's the list:

* Safety and symmetry of double overhand

* Equal strength to the mixed grip - it's rare and only just rising in popularity, but some of the recent WRs and top 3 deadlifts have been done with the hook grip. Personally hook grip is way stronger for me.

* Longer arm lever - due to the bar hanging further down your fingers, and the reason above with the pronation of both hands: excellent for short armed lifters (why I stick with the hook grip even in competition, when safety isn't my main concern, because I have short arms)

* Vastly reduced hand calluses - you basically exchange hardly noticeable thumb calluses for all those you find in your palms at the bases of your fingers and around the finger knuckles. I have none of the big calluses you find on a typical powerlifter, in fact I hardly have any at all. This might be important for you, aesthetically (or for girls I train), but for me as a competing powerlifter, it means I have zero chance of a ripped callus that will instantly ruin my training session or comp meet.

* Learn how to initiate the deadlift from your lower body instead of yanking with the arms - see previous post on why you round your back; you can't yank with the hook grip because it's impossible. You automatically treat your arms like taut ropes hooking onto the bar, because that's what they do in the hook grip, literally.

* Way easier to activate your lats and engage them symmetrically - just like the double overhand. Good for both strength and muscular development.

The list begs the question:

If it's so awesome, why so few people use it?

Simply because it's not a straight forward grip and hardly anyone knows how to coach or learn it. I'll run through the usual issues and give you the solutions.

1. My hands are too small / my fingers and thumbs are too soft

Half of the time, when I said "hook grip", I'd hear something about it only works for Brad Gillingham because he's 6'5", built like Mr Incredibles with gigantic bitch-slap hands. It can't work for anyone else with smaller hands...right.

There are some people whose hands and fingers are way too small to hook grip, actually. However, those are very rare. To give you an idea, one of my mates is a 5'4" shorty in the 145lb class and hook-grips the open WR deadlift (620lb). I've trained numerous girls to hook grip, most recent one being a 115lb class skinny tall girl who pulled 242lb. My thumbs are so soft that they can bend 90 degrees, my fingers are equally soft, and I can hook grip well over 3xBW.

In other words, yes you can do it, unless you're a midget.

2. It takes too long to adapt!

It takes about 2-6 weeks in my experience to cut over. Took me 4 weeks. 6 weeks for a WR holder. 2 weeks for newbies.

I feel that setting a few weeks aside to learn a safer better grip is a wise investment of time. Most people are not very patient at all and just want it now, which is why a few weeks later they are still exactly where they were.

3. My thumbs feel like they're gonna get dislocated!

By far this is the most common complaint. It's because you're overgripping your thumbs.


(note: it might be correct for weightlifting, I wouldn't know, but definitely horrible for deadlifting)


Just grip the first knuckle of your thumb, not more. Hook the little finger and the ring finger around the bar. The dislocated feeling comes from people trying to wrap as many fingers as they can around the thumb.

4. My thumbs burn!

Yes they will, until calluses are formed, not unlike the other two grips (hence the few weeks of adaptation). If you're switching over, start with your warmups only, or at the start of a new training cycle when you're going to be lifting lighter anyway. Use medical tapes (2 layers around the thumbs will do) to help adaptation. After a while, you will not need medical tapes anymore, and in fact the tapes make it worse. I accidentally found out when forgetting to tape my thumbs one day, and realising that they're handling more than fine.

My first session trying to rack pull 300lb, I felt like someone just jabbed my thumbs with a burning cigarette and had to drop the bar. 2 weeks later I was repping out 390lb.

I often start newbies straight with the hook grip and they adapt instantly.

5. My thumbs feel like they're going to explode!

You feel a huge pressure built up in your thumbs. I felt it when I first tried too. I asked Brad Gillingham, and he told me to grow my thumb nails out a little bit. Pressure gone. The nails give the meaty bit of your thumb something secure to push against, which reduce the pressure.

Also, try to break the bar around the shins with your fingers (or hook the little finger and ring finger real hard). It will take most of the thumb pressure away.

6. My grips give out too quickly with all the volume I throw at it!

This is in fact a true weakness of the hook grip. It's not good for high volume deadlifting (or olympic style pulling). You see weightlifters use straps all the time for assistant lifts to save their hands and fingers. So would hook-grip deadlifters if they hit a high volume. Brad Gillingham would use straps for any sets over 5 reps (sometimes with 5 reps) or for assistant exercises like Romanian Deadlift with high reps. Personally I deadlift with somewhat low volume so I don't need straps much, but when I used to do Sheiko (the evil Russian gets you to do a double deadlift session - deadlift, bench, deadlift - on the same night) I would use straps in the second round.

If you're not lifting a huge amount of weights though (remember that Brad Gillingham is a Hall of Fame powerlifter), sets of 5-10 will be fine. This particular complaint is for the very strong powerlifters.

Hook grip strength training

Anything that strengthens your usual grips and finger strength specifically will help. Personally I like to do pull-ups with a false grip and fingers monkey-hooking over the bar. That's the extent of my grip training.

That's all for now, happy hook gripping!

StrikeBack's Wife School
(This post was last modified: 04-27-2015 09:25 AM by StrikeBack.)
04-27-2015 09:21 AM
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RE: The "Do You Even Deadlift" Clinic - StrikeBack - 04-27-2015 09:21 AM

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