How to Grip the Bar When You’re Deadlifting

Deadlifting challenges your strength from head to toe. In order to pull heavy weights, you must have a strong chain of muscles, and your grip is definitely an important link in this chain.

In this article, I outline four common ways to grip the bar during deadlifts:

  1. Double overhand grip
  2. Hook grip
  3. Mixed grip
  4. Lifting straps

You’ll learn how to do them, along with the pros and cons of each technique.

1. Double Overhand Grip

Deadlift with double overhand grip
Double overhand grip.

This is the standard, intuitive way to grab a barbell. You simply hold on to it with both palms facing your body (pronated), and the thumbs opposing the other fingers.

The good thing about this lift is that it is both comfortable and natural; it’s the way you usually grab stuff. It’s also symmetrical for your arms and shoulders.

The negative is that this grip is weak. That’s because the barbell will want to roll out of your fingers. This grip technique is great for beginners learning the deadlift, but after just a few months of training, it usually becomes a limiting factor for how much you can lift.

The fact of the matter is that the rest of your body has a much greater strength potential than your double overhand grip has on a rotating bar, and no one in the powerlifting elite can pull their maximum weight using this grip. Therefore, if your goal is a powerful deadlift, you can start out with this grip, but sooner or later you will have to move on to one of the other three grip techniques.

Pros:

  • Comfortable and intuitive. The way you usually grab stuff.
  • Symmetrical for your arms and shoulders.

Cons:

  • Weak! Limits how much weight you can lift.

2. Hook Grip

Hook grip deadlift
Hook grip as viewed from behind. First, place your thumb alongside the bar, then lock it with your index finger. Viewed from the front, this grip will look just like a double overhand grip.

The hook grip is common in weightlifting and is gaining popularity in powerlifting. It is an evolution of the double overhand grip, but despite them being very similar, the hook grip increases the weights you can lift by 20–30% or more.

You still grab the bar with a double overhand grip, with the difference that you stick your thumb under your index finger and maybe also your middle finger. The thumb will act like a wedge or a chock and hinder the bar from rolling out of your grip.

Here’s yours truly, deadlifting 260 kg with a hook grip in a competition in 2020.

Daniel Richter deadlifting with hook grip
260 kg with a hook grip.

The hook grip will put your grip strength on par with the rest of your body’s strength, and most lifters won’t have an issue with grip strength when using this technique. Like the regular overhand grip, it is also symmetrical for your arms and shoulder.

The downside of the hook grip is two-fold. First, it tends to hurt quite a lot more than regular gripping. For some people, it barely seems to hurt at all, but for others, it’s almost unbearable. I was somewhere in between when I had to switch over to the hook grip because the mixed grip started to hurt my elbow. Initially, my thumbs started to hurt at about 100 kg in the deadlift, and I had to gradually increase the weight over the course of a few months. Today, six years later, it barely hurts at all, even when I pull maximum weights.

Secondly, I won’t rule out that the hook grip increases the risk of injury to your thumbs or skin. I find that I have to take better care of the skin in my hands for it to withstand deadlift training with the hook grip. Also, since you’re squeezing the thumb against the bar, it’s plausible that your thumb joints might take some damage. I’ve been deadlifting heavy weights regularly with the hook grip for half a dozen years by now, and while I sometimes sense a (very) slight ache in my thumbs, it is far from enough to keep me from continuing to use this technique. So far, I’m not worried about my thumbs, but you will have to try it out for yourself and make your own call.

Pros:

  • Much stronger than a regular overhand grip.
  • Symmetrical for your arms and shoulders.

Cons:

  • Painful! It gets better with time, but will still be more uncomfortable than the normal way of gripping a bar.
  • More wearing on your skin, limiting the volume you can do. This can be alleviated with lifting straps.

3. Mixed Grip

Deadlift with mixed grip
Mixed grip.

The mixed grip is the most common grip technique in powerlifting. Here, you counter the barbell’s rotation by supinating one hand – that is, turning one palm facing away from you. Like the hook grip, this greatly increases the weight you can lift, putting your grip strength on par with the rest of your body’s pulling strength. Based on an EMG-study on the forearm muscles when deadlifting, the mixed grip might be even stronger than the hook grip, given that the mixed grip elicited lower forearm activation.

The upside of this grip, aside from its strength, is that it spares you from any pain from the hook grip. The downside is that your grip is no longer symmetrical: one of your hands are supinated, which affects the position of your shoulder and shoulder blade, and maybe even your spine and hip. The question is: is this a problem? Probably not. Especially if you train other back exercises where your grip is symmetrical. One workaround could be to switch which hand is supinated between each set, but lifters rarely seem to like this in practice.

Plenty of powerlifters pull with the same mixed grip their entire training careers, and I’ve yet to see a single example of a wildly asymmetrical back musculature. Unless you’ve got a reason to suspect otherwise, I think you’re safe.

Pros:

  • Much stronger than a regular overhand grip.
  • Not very painful or wearing on your skin (compared to hook grip)

Cons:

  • Asymmetrical for your arms and shoulders, which might transfer to an asymmetrical spine and hip position. It is unclear, however, if this actually is a problem. Probably not.

4. Lifting Straps

Deadlift with lifting straps
Lifting straps.

The last grip technique worth mentioning here is the use of lifting straps. Lifting straps will remove any grip-related limitations for your deadlift, will spare your skin, and also enable you to pull with a symmetrical overhand grip.

The downside is, of course, that you won’t reap the benefit of getting a stronger grip from your training. A good compromise for an avid deadlifter might be to use straps in about half of your deadlift training if you feel that pain or damaged skin is holding you back.

When I deadlift once a week, my skin is usually able to recover well enough between sessions, so that I can do all my training with the hook grip. When I up the volume and increase the frequency to two deadlift workouts per week, however, my skin quickly gets worn to the point that it limits my training. My solution is to begin my sessions using the hook grip and doing the first half of my working sets with this style. Then, for the last half of my working sets, I put on the lifting straps to save my skin. This way, I’m still getting enough grip training for my grip to keep up with my overall pulling strength, without letting my skin hold back my total training volume.

Pros:

  • Symmetrical for your arms and shoulders.
  • Very strong – grip won’t be a limiting factor.
  • Painless and spares your skin.

Cons:

  • Won’t develop your grip strength.
  • Not allowed in most powerlifting competitions and thus might give false security.
  • One more thing to carry around in your gym bag.

More Tips on Deadlifting

Getting your grip right is fundamental for your deadlift. For more fundamental deadlift considerations, as well as the advanced stuff, you should check out our massive guide:

How to Deadlift: Technique, Training, and Gaining

Want to get stronger in the deadlift? Then you should consider downloading our app StrengthLog, to check out our popular deadlift program, Deadlift Disco. Six weeks long, two sessions per week, and lots of fun.

Thanks for reading, buddy! And good luck with your deadlifting.