In part 2, we spoke about the assessments I use to determine what grip you should use for the bulk of your training.
In part 3 we will be looking at going into more detail about those results and how to apply the lessons learned into your training and how to DECIDE which grip would suit you the most.
I think we shoulder start today by saying that the safest grip is probably either a double overhand grip or using straps. Under/over or hook grip are probably equally as risky depending on the person and how they fare in the assessments we've spoken about already.
If you need a refresher, you can find PART 2 HERE.
The first assessment you should do is to ask yourself whether you want to compete in a strongman, powerlifting or weightlifting competition.
If you do, either hook grip or under/over training will probably be present in some form in your training.
If you don't want to compete I would implore you to either use a double overhand grip and/or straps for 99% of your training.
When Competition Is The Goal
ASSESSMENT 1- Active Range Of Motion/ Can you assume the anatomical posture without additional tension on the bicep?
JUDGEMENT: Hook grip should be implemented into your training for at least a few months to make it safer on your biceps, hopefully, the hook grip sticks and becomes your strongest and safest grip.
WHAT IF HOOK GRIP DOESN'T STICK BUT YOU FAIL THE ASSESSMENT?
Use a modified under/over strategy where you only pull singles using an under/over grip. Use straps and a double overhand grip for the rest of the reps. That means you only ever do the first rep under/over before quickly switching to straps or double overhand. This should keep imbalances to a minimum while still keeping you trained in the under/over position.
WHAT IF YOU PASS THE ASSESSMENT?
If you pass this assessment and can actively assume the anatomical position without tension around the bicep/elbow area and having to point your little finger then you can move onto the next assessment with a relatively safe under/over being a distinct possibility in most cases.
ASSESSMENT 2: You have a history of bicep strains and tears
JUDGEMENT- Even though bicep strains and tears can be influenced in a big way by technique (especially if you have a habit of bending your arms or snapping at the elbows during the deadlift) if you have an injury history in this area then I feel hook grip will be worth investing a significant amount of time in the hook grip.
If a competition isn't on your horizon simply making the grip a double overhand grip or a strapped double overhand grip will be your best option.
WHAT IF HOOK GRIP DOESN'T STICK BUT YOU HAVE A HISTORY OF BICEP INJURY OR INJURIES?
If you have to under/over your deadlift having a history of bicep problems I would again make sure that you are using a gripping strategy that minimises the amount of under/over reps you are doing.
Just pull under/over for either the first rep of a set or only when you are pulling singles. Fewer reps pulling under/over simply means fewer reps where you are exposed to a higher risk of injury.
ASSESSMENT 3- You have muscle imbalances affecting other lifts/ your goals/ contributing towards injury
JUDGEMENT- People who can only under/over one way tend to get the most imbalances from this grip. Those who can swap their under/over at will or use a modified under/over strategy as discussed above and below tend to have fewer imbalances due to under/over but some imbalance will still probably be present.
A powerlifter is never truly balanced anyway, and if there is a slight imbalance but you are performing well, other risk factors aren't present or are under control, a slight imbalance isn't the end of the world.
As I discussed in part 2, sometimes the imbalances are that pronounced that it can cause a lopsided bench press and effect any lift where you have to lie on a flat surface. This is usually because of less muscle mass on one side of the body causing the arms to appear a different length and is often confused with other issues.
If you feel this is present for you, and once again competition is on your agenda I would consider going to hook grip or a hook grip + straps or hook grip + double overhand deadlifting strategy to balance out the imbalances progressively. This should not only make your deadlift safer, but it should make every exercise involving laying on your back safer too.
A NOTE ON IMBALANCES- HOW TO BALANCE THEM OUT
If you have a big asymmetry due to under/over gripping, the first thing to do is to change your deadlift strategy to a minimal under/over strategy or a hook grip strategy or some kind of double over grip strategy to stop feeding that imbalance.
If there are size differences in the lats, make sure you do some extra work on the smaller side, like having an extra set or two on the smaller side when you are performing single-arm rows.
If the traps are imbalanced putting in some single-arm shrugs on the smaller sides in a couple of your workouts can be a strategy that works well.
The same goes for a bicep imbalance. Work the smaller side more than the larger side and the imbalance will slowly correct itself unless something other than an under/over grip is causing the issue.
ASSESSMENT 4- BAR ROTATES AWAY FROM ONE SHIN NO-MATTER WHAT YOU DO
JUDGEMENT- You've tried getting your lats tight. You've tried all the activation drills, warm-ups, foam rolling, you've employed 16 coaches and no matter what you do the bar still rotates away from one shin.
It causes your back to twist, it causes every deadlift session to be harder.
The answer to this is....keep banging your head against the wall and TRY HARDER!
Of course, this is only going to end in frustration at best and injury at worst.
The bar rotating away from one shin exposes you to a higher risk of back pain, of bicep injury, of increased fatigue and a lift that looks worse.
For me, seeing the rotation away from one side is one of the biggest indicators that hook grip, double overhand and staps are probably the best course of action.
If you can't hook grip and you compete or want to compete, yes, you guessed it, you should use an under/over strategy where you only pull singles, doubles or triples under/over. Mr preference as a coach would be singles only, maybe pulling under/over for the first rep then transitioning to straps.
This will allow you to deadlift for more reps with less risk because you aren't exposed to as many imbalanced under/over reps. Plus, if the bar isn't swinging away from you every rep you'll probably enjoy deadlifting a whole lot more.
ASSESSMENT 5- DO YOU STRUGGLE TO SWITCH YOUR UNDER/OVER?
Please don't try this for the first time with max or anything resembling weights!
JUDGEMENT- To avoid big imbalances, to work each side equally, and to deadlift as safely as possible while performing under/over you need to be able to swap your under/over hands around and still be able to maintain the same form.
I certainly can't do this. If I swapped my under/over it would be even more of a mess than that grip already is for me.
I would recommend taking at least a couple of sessions before deciding on whether you think you can swap your under/over because if you've never done it before, of course, it will feel alien, but if it continues to feel alien and look like shit (and feel like shit,) you can't just switch your under/over at will and you can either accept that big imbalances will be present or transition to hook grip or using under/over a little less.
So if you can't swap at will?
Keep under/over lifting to a minimum, experiment with hook grip, experiment with using straps and build-up your double overhand deadlift and you'll deadlift in a safer fashion keeping you on track to hit all the PB's you have on your horizon.
When It's fine To Under/Over To Your Hearts Content
Perform all the under/over reps you want if you:
Pass all of the assessments
Can swap your under/over at will
When you prefer under/over to hook grip
In my opinion, performing all your reps under/over isn't necessarily the safest way to deadlift. But powerlifters, strongmen and Olympic weightlifters aren't performing these sports to be safe. We can't entirely remove risk.
What we can do is perform assessments on our clients and on ourselves to select THE LEAST risky grip and grip strategy to use to get as strong as we can in as little pain and strife as possible.
As you may well have guessed, I am going to extend this to at least another part. I want to include what other experts are saying about hook grip, what science is saying about hook grip and how to transition to hook grip if you have never regularly pulled that way before.
Thank you for reading guys!
See you next week.
The Heavy Metal Strength Coach