This is going to be a fun one.
I originally thought this would be one article but for the blog to be a weekly thing again, I will have to split into at least two parts.
We'll start with my relationship with hook grip and we'll progress from there.
Hook Grip & Me
As a wannabe bodybuilder roughly 14 years ago, I had no issues using straps. My problem was that I didn't have ANY kind of technique to speak of until I qualified as a PT at the age of 20 or 21.
Aww, so insecure.
After a couple of years in my first gym job, I started wanting to improve my grip and my forearms so I started leaving the straps in my gym bag.
So I'd frustratingly max out my grip at like 120-140kg on the deadlift until I relegated the movement as sub-optimal from a muscle-building perspective. I see now, many years later that it was probably because deadlifts were hard or plateaued that I didn't want to keep doing them!
I didn't even know about using chalk to help with lifts at the time. Why I didn't ask a coach to at least help me out at the time I have zero ideas.
Then, one day, I decided to google 'powerlifting' and me and my client Rob Beattie began training like powerlifters immediately.
It was here that I furthered my hateful relationship with deadlifts.
I had discovered chalk by now but as an aspiring powerlifter, I knew that I a) had to deadlift and b) couldn't use straps in competition and I'm not built for Strongman. I didn't know what hook grip was at the time so what option did I have for holding onto that cruel mistress of a barbell but the under/over grip?
So for the next 5 years, I had a left hand under, right hand overgrip to every moderately heavy barbell that I deadlifted.
I did fairly well regionally. I've qualified for nationals 3 years out of the last 4 with the exception of 2018 when I stopped benefiting from additional weight (fat) gain in the 83kg category and decided it was probably best to drop back down the weight classes again where I am competitive.
But a 200kg deadlift forever alluded me until recently, especially on a stiffer IPF bar much to my continued annoyance.
Something was missing from my deadlift performance as it simply would not progress like my squat and bench press at the time.
So lot's of competitions, lots of missed deadlifts and paddies later I decided to give hook grip an attempt just before the British nationals in 2017. It was my worst deadlift performance I'd ever put in, only getting my opener and even reverting to under/over in the last ditch attempt to get my third deadlift.
Needless to say, I spectacularly missed the lift.
In hindsight, I should never have tried changing my technique so late in the game without researching, building up the tolerance of my thumbs, or strengthening my grip at all as this slide from my 9 FOR 9 series shows!
So I went back to deadlifting under/over.
I had about another year of training alone, punctuated with various online meltdowns to Dan Bedford and my future coach Tim Garrett about how my training was going to shit, especially my deadlift.
Just as I was transitioning from bodybuilder to powerlifter I blew out my back doing rack pulls. It then 'went' numerous times. It happened with sumo deadlifts, normal deadlifts and once it happened while squatting at a gym where I'd gone in on a day pass and I ruined a squat rack and a bar.
Luckily it wasn't a Texas power bar or to use their words "I would have been dead."
Lessons learned indeed!
When I began working with Tim he suggested immediately that I get on the hook grip train but I dismissed the suggestion out-of-hand because I had "tried it." I look back at my attitude and shake my head slightly at my naivete.
No matter what I tried while performing under/over deadlifts I couldn't keep the bar close to my left shin. It would spin miles out, feel awful and deadlifts were generally the bane of my existence.
And my back would still periodically blow out.
I tried stretches, mobilisations, weird warm-up drills and all sorts of jazz.
To no avail.
Then one day I picked up an empty hex bar for one of my clients to use and my bicep tweaked.
I have no idea why it happened then, but I'm incredibly glad it didn't happen while holding on to anything above 25kg!
From then on, my bicep was the only thing I could think about when deadlifts came around. After one session of this complete and utter fear, I decided I was going to all-in with the hook grip. I'd got my back in a pretty good place by this point but it would occasionally still feel funny. I think that was because of the massive amounts of rotation featured in every deadlift session!
It came down to this:
If powerlifting was going to stay on my agenda I knew this was 'the only way.' I had to hook grip or stop powerlifting.
So I've been hook grip for at least a year now. I now occasionally enjoy deadlifts rather than dreading them!
I no longer have a massive swing away from me left shin every time I deadlift, my grip is much stronger and deadlifting isn't as butchering on my nervous system as it used to be.
I've hit 10 out of my last 12 deadlifts in competitions and the lift is far more consistent.
I've also hit some PBs. At 74kg I've taken my deadlift from 200kg to 207.5kg and I feel there is more in the tank.
Another key point is that my bicep and back have been completely fine every since.
In terms of skin tears, I've had nothing like that. I had a small amount of blood/ a bruise under one nail after the first couple of weeks but afterward, this completely disappeared and I've had no problems since.
This then led me to then assume that everyone should hook grip if they are a powerlifter to the point where I began saying that "I don't teach under/over anymore."
Delving further into the research I now think that this was wrong and far too black and white as rules in fitness tend to be. There are certainly people who are completely fine lifting under/over.
So while hook grip is the best grip for me to use at this present moment in time, our hook grip story is only just beginning.
So how do you go about deciding what grip to use?
This is a topic I will go into in part 2 where we'll start to talk about specific assessments and tests you can use in order to ascertain where you or your clients should hook grip or whether it is an unnecessarily painful risk.
By Chris Kershaw
The Heavy Metal Strength Coach