Among the many variations of the deadlift, one of the most common is that of the mixed grip deadlift; a small but nonetheless effective alteration in the grip technique of the conventional barbell deadlift that significantly changes the maximal loading potential and unilateral muscle group activation of the exercise.
The mixed grip deadlift is somewhat controversial, and was never truly intended to be used in regular working sets.
However, despite this, there are doubtless several benefits provided by this grip technique that can aid the exerciser in maximizing the amount of weight they can lift, as well as the fact that the mixed grip may even be used in certain strength-based competitive athletic events.
The mixed grip technique is a form of barbell hand gripping wherein the exerciser will create an asymmetric force exertion by forming one overhand grip and one underhand grip along the barbell, or what is otherwise known as a combination of supinated and pronated hand formations.
Also known as the alternated grip, the mixed grip is primarily used to increase the maximal load the exerciser may maintain their hold upon so as to avoid the lift being limited by the muscular endurance and strength of the exerciser’s forearms.
This is especially useful in strength-based athletes, as the larger muscle groups such as the glutes and the latissimus dorsi can easily outpace the forearms in terms of maximal physical strength and endurance, limiting the amount of weight the exerciser may freely train these larger muscle groups with as they are unable to maintain their grip on the exercise implement.
Because of the fact that the mixed grip technique can greatly improve the exerciser’s total grip strength capacity, it is found to be most useful in one of the heaviest free weight exercises of all; the ever popular barbell deadlift or sumo deadlift.
The exerciser will note significant improvement in the maximum load potential they may lift during the deadlift if their limiting factor is that of their grip strength, as the usage of the mixed grip will negate this particular issue and therefore allow the full strength of their other muscle groups to be utilized instead.
Though the mixed grip deadlift is relatively simple and may be easily learned by exercisers of any level of experience; it is found to be most useful in intermediate to advanced level lifters whose major muscle groups have outpaced their maximum grip strength.
All the more so, athletes attempting to perform a personal record-breaking competition lift or exercisers testing one repetition maximum deadlift load (1RM) can greatly benefit from the boost in forearm loading limit that is provided by the mixed grip during the deadlift.
This is not to say that novices or exercisers not attempting a one repetition maximum shouldn’t use the mixed grip however, as doing so is entirely possible - just not advisable in terms of long term training habits and methodology, as will be explained later in this article.
A major issue in powerlifting and general weightlifting is that, at higher loads, the exerciser’s grip strength will often give out before all repetitions within a given set have been completed. This can greatly limit the training stimulus that may be developed within a workout session, or even potentially injure the exerciser.
Moreover, the deadlift is one particular compound movement that is notorious for such occurrences, making the usage of the mixed grip while performing the deadlift a given in most circumstances.
However, this boost in total grip strength is not the only benefit provided by the usage of the mixed grip while deadlift, as it may also help stabilize and secure the barbell by providing force from two different angles along the barbell, thereby better locking it into position and preventing it from rotating within the exerciser’s grasp.
The mixed grip deadlift is best performed either when attempting a maximal load repetition of the deadlift, when the exerciser does not have access to certain grip strength-improving fitness equipment or in the case of an individual being unable to perform the hook grip technique.
Though the many advantages offered by the mixed grip deadlift were already covered previously, certain other benefits that are less commonly noted can also be achieved with the usage of the mixed grip deadlift.
These benefits are primarily caused by the change in muscle group activation caused by the mixed grip deadlift, especially in terms of resistance distribution across the entire skeletal muscle system of the body.
With an unbalanced distribution of resistance and force, the biomechanics of the exerciser are also changed; resulting in a greater capacity to perform certain aspects of the deadlift.
One among these benefits provided by the mixed grip technique while deadlifting is the greater capacity for repetition volume, as the mixed grip not only aids the forearm muscles in retaining a grip on heavier weights, but will also do so in terms of more repetitions or a longer period of time under tension.
This can equate to not only the exerciser being able to lift their true maximal load per repetition, but to also perform more repetitions per set before the forearm’s total muscular endurance is completely exhausted, removing yet another limiting factor in deadlift performance.
Another advantage not often talked about when utilizing a mixed grip during the deadlift is the asymmetric resistance distribution across the entirety of the body, allowing the exerciser to use their more dominant half of the body to greater effect in regards to mind-muscle connection.
This can not only improve total force exertion, but also muscular control and proprioception, allowing the exerciser to better navigate the various form cues of the deadlift movement and reach a better understanding of their own unique bodily mechanics.
However, the exerciser must also take note that this asymmetric distribution of resistance and force is not characteristic of an ordinary deadlift set (and should not be due to the dangers and risks involved in regular mixed grip usage), therefore providing a caveat to this particular benefit of the mixed grip.
The mixed grip, despite its many advantages, does provide several dangers and drawbacks that can make it potentially hazardous or even unusable within the context of certain situations.
These dangers revolve around the asymmetric force and load distribution that is characteristic of the mixed grip - a side effect that, while advantageous in the correct circumstances, is also quite risky when the body is placed under the heavy stresses of a maximal deadlift repetition.
As one hand is placed in an underhand grip position, greater force is placed on one biceps brachii over the other, increasing the risk of an injury known as the bicep tear occuring.
This asymmetric resistance distribution on one bicep, when combined with improper or fatigued form adherence such as would be the case in particularly heavy deadlift sets, will place sufficient enough stress on the distal portion of the biceps brachii and thus cause its connecting tissues to tear off the elbow joint.
In order to prevent this from occurring, the exerciser must make absolutely sure that the underhand or supinated arm of the mixed grip is kept straight, with the elbow fully extended and the biceps brachii only contracting in an isometric capacity instead of a concentric (or shortening) capacity.
While a bicep tear from the mixed grip is relatively uncommon, it is still an unnecessary risk that the exerciser causes by choosing to utilize the mixed grip over certain other alternative techniques or equipment that can achieve much the same benefits without the associated dangers involved.
The risk of developing muscular imbalances from the mixed grip is more of an eventuality if the technique is used for extended periods of time.
This is because of the asymmetric resistance placed on the skeletal muscles of the body as a natural consequence of the mixed grip, of which will also result in asymmetric training stimulus and therefore asymmetric muscular development.
A muscular imbalance developed from misuse of the mixed grip will usually be characterized by one side appearing larger or possessing a higher strength output capacity than the other, especially in regards to the biceps brachii, trapezius and middle back muscle groups.
To avoid developing such muscular imbalances, the mixed grip should only be used in the few aforementioned situations, or switched between sets - though the latter must be considered a last resort, as it is still capable of causing muscular imbalances when used over numerous workout sessions.
A major risk not only in the mixed grip but also with deadlifting in general is that of spinal column and lower back injuries as a result of the shear force and similar stresses placed on those parts of the body.
The mixed grip only exacerbates this danger by creating not only vertical pressure along the spinal column, but also horizontal angled stress that may cause rounding of the lower back and increase the risk of certain injuries relating to the spinal column and lower back.
While this is easily avoided in symmetric grip deadlifts, the mixed grip makes it particularly difficult to avoid incurring these injuries as one side of the body is not balanced with the other in terms of anatomy and resistance distribution.
As such, it is advised to combine the mixed grip with a lifting belt that the exerciser may brace their core against, or for the exerciser to take extra care in paying attention to the various spine and core related form cues of the deadlift as they perform it with a mixed grip.
Two possible alternatives to the mixed grip that do not present the same set of disadvantages are the hook grip technique and the usage of lifting straps - each with their own unique method of achieving the same advantages that the mixed grip is used for.
The hook grip utilizes a double overhand approach similar to the conventional deadlift grip - though with certain mechanical advantages that allow the exerciser to retain their grip on heavier amounts of weight in comparable effectiveness to the mixed grip.
Likewise, lifting straps are a type of fitness equipment that attach to the exerciser’s wrists and remove their grip strength from the equation by fastening the bar to the exerciser via sturdy and flexible material, summarily also eliminating the need for the mixed grip.
While both of these alternatives do not present the same risks and dangers as the mixed grip, this is not to say that they are entirely superior, as the mixed grip is more convenient and may be used by practically anyone regardless of body proportions or training experience, unlike the hook grip or lifting straps.
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