You may have noticed in our previous articles, programs and training videos that when it comes to deadlifts we always use, and recommend you use, a pronated grip, meaning both hands are over the top of the bar with the palms facing inwards – as demonstrated in the video below. This is a deliberate choice at The Fitting Rooms, as deadlift grip is a topic we have a strong opinion on.
The common alternative is a mixed grip with one hand pronated and one supinated (under the bar / palm facing away). The advantage of this grip is that as the force of gravity pulls the bar down the supinated hand supports the bar so that it is locked between the palms, unable to slip from the fingers.
For years I followed the fairly standard practise of using a pronated grip as I warmed up, and switching to a mixed grip for my heavier working sets. This allowed me to pull substantially heavier weights than I would have been able to if I had only used a pronated grip. However, last year I made a conscious decision that I, and my clients, would stop mixing our grip and would instead keep both hands pronated for all sets. The reason for this is as follows:
Deadlifts are my strongest (free-weight) lift, meaning I will generally execute them with a load greater than at any other time. You can see in the mixed grip section of the video here, that with my left hand supinated, my shoulder is locked in external rotation which causes the bicep to twist at it’s point of insertion. If I’m performing a set of heavy deadlifts with a mixed grip, I am essentially forcing my body to pull the heaviest load it is capable of in an unbalanced, contorted position. The short term risk of this is injury to the supinated arm, and bicep tears are not unheard of. Longer term there is a risk of developing muscular imbalances, especially if people favour a particular hand for supination, which can lead to a misalignment of the hips: the root of many back problems.
After years of deadlifting with a mixed grip the effect on my body was visible: despite switching which hand I supinated between sets, my shoulders were uneven and my hips were no longer completely aligned which I believe contributed to me injuring the sacroiliac joint on one side of my lower back last year.
Further issues with a mixed grip are that there is no transference to other lifts such as cleans and snatches, which all use a pronated grip and, additionally, because the bar is simply locked between two hands the improvements to grip strength are limited.
If you do decide to employ a pronated grip for all deadlifts, there are two options to help you lift weights similar to those you would have done with a mixed grip: lifting straps or a hook grip.
Lifting straps simply loop over your wrists and then wrap around the bar to give you extra support so grip isn’t the limiting factor for your deadlift weight.
As demonstrated in the video below, the hook grip is achieved by wrapping your thumbs around the bar and then your fingers around your thumbs, rather than the standard grip of thumb over fingers. This is the technique I have been using since last year, and whilst it takes some time to get used to the feeling that you’re crushing your thumbs, I am now pretty much as strong with a hook grip as I was previously with a mixed.
Similar to a mixed grip, neither straps or hook grip will significantly improve your grip strength so I recommend continuing with a standard pronated grip as far in to each session as possible, only switching to straps / hook when your grip strength gives out and then try to include specific grip training into your program, such as farmers walks or wrist curls.
For many people, the frustration of having to lower their deadlift weight as they get used to a different method of lifting outweighs the benefit from doing so. And for some people, such as powerlifters, I agree that mixed grip may remain the better choice (although some top powerlifters do opt to use a hook grip when competing). However, whilst building strength is a hugely important part of my training, I am not a powerlifter concerned wholly with lifting the heaviest weight I can. For me, body composition and structural health and balance take precedence and so for that reason a pronated (hook) grip is my deadlift grip of choice.