Gripping the barbell or dumbbells in your training may be the last thing on your mind – but once you start lifting with heavier loads, or want to optimise your training to target specific movements or muscles, the way you grip is pretty important. Below we will discuss the how-to of grips types and straps, as well as some reasoning behind the choice you make.
So, there are a number of different grip types, and reasons for using them. Often the best choice is based on your exercise selection, your comfort or preference, and goals. When gripping a barbell, our hands, elbows and shoulders will be in a fixed position (ie. not able to move freely, like when gripping DB’s), and these are 4 common methods to grip; overhand, mixed, straps, or hook grip.
The overhand grip is the most common grip, and generally feels most natural whenever picking up a bar. You’ll use this grip for most lifts such as deadlifts, pull ups, bench pressing, or rowing. Aim to maintain this grip until you feel like your grip strength is starting to slip, or is the limiting factor for your lifts (ie you could add more weight to the bar, but your grip is slipping or your forearms are burning up). When this occurs, a mixed grip can be helpful.
A mixed grip moves one hand over, and one hand under the bar, and generally allows you to lift more weight without the grip slipping. Although this grip is beneficial, the only exercises I would recommend using a mixed grip would be deadlifts and RDL’s, as the upper body and back during these lifts are locked and held isometric, while the legs do the work. For other pulling movements where scapular mechanics and movement through the shoulders and elbows is important, having uneven or opposing grips may be detrimental to performance or long term shoulder function. And so an even, overhand or underhand grip is preferable.
For other higher rep, heavy work, lifting straps are great. They allow you to achieve more work at heavier loads where your legs or upper body can do more, but your grip is failing. Often with pulling work (rows, lat pull downs, RDL’s), straps will also allow a better mind-muscle connection with working muscles, because your forearms and grip aren’t the main focus or limiting factor during the movement.
The hook grip is commonly used for olympic lifts, but can also be beneficial outside of this context. To hook grip you will place your thumb around the bar, and then grip the last bone of your thumb with your index (and middle) finger. This gives you the strongest type of grip, but comes at the cost of being pretty uncomfortable. Even so, if your struggling to lift with your current overhand grip, and don’t have lifting straps, give the hook grip a go.
GRIP TYPES AND STRAPS FOR DB LIFTS
The great thing about dumbbells is that we are not restricted at the wrist or shoulder position when gripping the implement, like we are on a barbell. There are a number of grip positions that can be used for DB work including pronated, supinated, and neutral grips, and you can use straps with any of these.
The pronated grip is the most similar to the grip you’ll be using on a barbell, as both hands will have palms down to the floor or away from the body. The supinated grip is the opposite to this, where the palms will be up to the ceiling or towards the body. For a neutral grip the palms will be facing towards each other.
A pronated grip is most common for pushing movements (push ups, chest press, overhead presses), however a neutral grip or supinated grip may be used in some variations to recruit slightly different musculature, and to strengthen the shoulders in slightly different position.
When pulling (rows, lat pull downs, pull ups), there are also slight differences in muscle recruitment with each grip. A wider pronated grip will recruit more shoulders (rear delt, upper and middle traps, and rhomboids) while a supinated or neutral grip will recruit more mid and lower back (lats, lower traps) and biceps.
So next time you’re in the gym, have a think about how you are currently gripping the bar or DB for each of your lifts, and experiment with a few of these other variations. You might find different muscles start to work, or you can increase the load on the bar now that your grip isn’t failing!