As the various muscle groups of the back and legs rapidly outpace the forearms in terms of total strength output, intermediate to advanced level exercisers will begin to notice that they are having trouble maintaining their grip on the barbell during particularly heavy sets of the deadlift.
A variety of different solutions have been found to combat this particular issue, such as the use of additional fitness equipment, a differently shaped barbell or the most simple of all; altering the exerciser’s manner of gripping the bar.
This is where the hook grip comes into play - an alteration of the standard pronated or overhand grip that most lifters use wherein the exerciser will be able to maintain their hold over the barbell despite the significantly heavy load, especially in comparison to the standard overhand grip.
Specifically, the hook grip is a manner of gripping a barbell in a pronated position wherein the thumb is pressed against the bottom of the barbell by the other four fingers of the hand, with these four fingers wrapping or “hooking” over the thumb as the knuckles face downwards.
It is generally done for the purposes of allowing the exerciser to retain their hold over deadlift loads higher than what they would be capable of with the standard overhand grip, though there are several instances wherein it cannot be comfortably or reasonably used.
The hook grip is often compared to the mixed grip during deadlifting wherein both types of grip allow for the exerciser to move significant amounts of weight - though the hook grip is considered to be somewhat safer and better for long-term training than the mixed grip simply because of its equal distribution of resistance.
Though there are certain alternatives to the hooked grip that do not present the same risks or stresses that it normally does, the hook grip is considered an efficient and highly effective method of achieving much the same goal - all without the need to purchase additional fitness equipment, alter the deadlift’s training stimulus or its angle of resistance.
Generally, when the exerciser has reached a point in their training development wherein their grip strength can no longer keep up with the rest of their musculature in regards to the deadlift, they can initially opt to utilize a minor alteration in their deadlift technique so as to overcome this difference in strength.
The most commonly known alteration is in that of the mixed grip, wherein one hand remains in the overhand position over the barbell while the over switches to underhand - producing an asymmetric distribution of resistance across the body that otherwise allows the exerciser to lift more weight during the deadlift.
However, this technique has a multitude of drawbacks and dangers, and is otherwise unsuitable for long term use. This is the reason for the hook grip’s existence, as it does not present the same drawbacks as the mixed grip.
Other reasons why the hook grip may be used while deadlifting is its capacity to allow greater biokinetic synergy by drawing the forearms (and by extension the torso) further outward - as well as the fact that the usage of the hook grip is more stable and thus reduces the risk of certain types of injuries.
The hook grip shines best during particularly heavy maximal repetitions of the deadlift, or what is otherwise known as a one rep max, though it may also be used to great effect in standard sets of the deadlift if the exerciser is not capable of maintaining their grip over the bar.
The hook grip may be used in most variations of the deadlift that feature the barbell being placed in front of the exerciser’s shins, such as the stiff legged deadlift, the sumo deadlift or the traditional deadlift - and is equally useful in all of these variations.
This particular grip technique is especially useful for exercisers executing high weight deadlifts with above average sized hands, as it requires fingers long enough to comfortably wrap around the barbell in order to utilize without pain or risk of injury.
The hook grip requires the exerciser to assume the deadlift starting position prior to wrapping their fingers over the top of the barbell, tucking the thumb beneath the other four fingers and pressing it flush against the bar, thereby increasing friction and forming a sort of natural hook from which the exerciser may hinge their arms through.
In terms of safety, the hook grip is in fact significantly better than its mixed grip counterpart, with its comparably reduced risk of muscle asymmetry being developed, as well as its equal distribution of force throughout the back and legs.
Another factor that contributes to the safety of the hook grip is that it does not alter the biomechanics of the exerciser in any dangerous manner, only bending the arms slightly forward as the forearms are forced to extend several millimeters in order to account for the greater thumb stretch.
In addition, the more secure grip of the hook grip technique reduces the risk of the barbell slipping from the exerciser’s hands and potentially injuring them as well.
Though the hook grip is considerably safe to use for the majority of individuals, it does pose a small risk of injuring the thumb as it is crushed against the bar. This is especially true in exercisers that are not performing the four finger wrap appropriately, as doing so will place the thumb in an injurious position.
Some level of discomfort or pain is normal when using the hook grip while deadlifting at first - though the exerciser must ensure that they are not injuring themselves as they learn to adapt to this discomfort.
Ideally, the exerciser will find that their thumb is not stretched too far, and that the other four fingers are not placing excess pressure against the joints of the thumb - two warning signs that the hook grip is unsuitable for their hand size, or that they are performing this technique improperly.
The hook grip is a technique that has aided a wide variety of athletes and casual gymgoers alike, though one must keep in mind that it is not entirely a foolproof technique, and presents just as many disadvantages as it does benefits.
The hook grip’s most significant benefit is the more powerful and secure grip it provides the exerciser, though other positive effects such as a more advantageous synergistic biomechanical chain and reduced energy being funneled towards the forearms are also significant benefits of utilizing the hook grip while deadlifting.
Primarily, the disadvantages of the hook grip have to do with its increased pressure placed on the thumb, resulting in pain and potentially injury if performed improperly.
Another distinct issue with the hook grip is the fact that it forces the exerciser to utilize a double overhand grip during the exercise - something that, while common, may make the hook grip inapplicable in certain variations of the deadlift.
Of course, the majority of other disadvantages concerning the hook grip have to do with its improper technique, and as such may be easily avoided by ensuring that the hook grip is performed appropriately.
While the hook grip is doubtless an excellent tool in any serious lifter’s book of techniques, it is not entirely applicable in every situation - and, worse, may even be unsuitable for exercisers with smaller hands or whom otherwise find the hook grip to be uncomfortable and dangerous.
As such, there is no problem with utilizing a similar technique or piece of equipment that can recreate the grip strength boosting effects of the hook grip.
Considered to be the technique counterpart to the hook grip deadlift, the mixed grip involves the exerciser utilizing one overhand and one underhand grip simultaneously, creating an asymmetric distribution of resistance across the body that nonetheless greatly helps in moving loads heavier than the standard double overhand grip would be capable of holding.
A type of fitness equipment that wraps around the wrist and provides additional support and protection to the hands during a double overhand grip deadlift, lifting straps present a similar effectiveness to the hook grip without the disadvantages involved in its usage - providing an effective if less convenient alternative.
A specialized type of barbell specifically meant to be used during the performance of heavy deadlift sets, a deadlift barbell features rougher and more embossed knurling as well as a somewhat narrower circumference in order to help the exerciser maintain their grip over the bar, regardless of grip stance or forearm strength.
1. Jedd Pratt, Arianna Hoffman, Adam Grainger, Massimiliano Ditroilo, Forearm electromyographic activity during the deadlift exercise is affected by grip type and sex, Journal of Electromyography and Kinesiology, Volume 53, 2020, 102428, ISSN 1050-6411, https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jelekin.2020.102428. (https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S1050641120300705)
2. Coswig, Victor S.1,2; Machado Freitas, Diogo Felipe1; Gentil, Paulo3; Fukuda, David H.4; Del Vecchio, Fabrício Boscolo1,5 Kinematics and Kinetics of Multiple Sets Using Lifting Straps During Deadlift Training, Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research: December 2015 - Volume 29 - Issue 12 - p 3399-3404 doi: 10.1519/JSC.0000000000000986