The new website has been up for almost a month and I can’t believe it has taken me this long to take advantage of a platform that lets me speak about fitness more. Now I can drop knowledge bombs on the battlefield that is your fitness brain during your own time and I do not have to do things like make the early morning class late for work or cause the late class to eat a cold dinner. You’re welcome!
What else would I write about first besides the one part of training that seems to take the most unwarranted hate; the one thing people choose to complain about without ever asking if they’re doing it right; the one small tweak that can exponentially add reps and load to a workout… the hook grip? I think hook gripping the barbell gives new lifters and exercise veterans fits mainly because it is so misunderstood. With this post I want to end all hate and mystery on hook gripping.
For starters, the hook grip is a method of holding a barbell where you grab the bar with your palms facing you (pronated) and your thumbs are trapped between the first or first and second fingers. This totally depends on hand size. Hook grip does not change in either a snatch or a clean hand placement on the barbell.
Now notice, I did not mention the possibility of the hook grip depending on hand size but which finger(s) trap the thumb depends on hand size. The sport of weightlifting is a weight class sport. Every experienced weightlifter, male and female of any size utilize a hook grip. Any person with any size hands is able to grip a barbell correctly. When weights get heavy enough and a lifter is experienced enough to violently and explosively pull, having a hook grip is a necessity.
“It hurts my thumb!” is something I hear a lot of the time as a justification to abandon this crucial technique. The appropriate application of a hook grip is not simply mashing your thumb between your fingers and the bar but rather your thumb is wrapped AROUND the bar with your fingers pulling it even further around the bar. This completely engages your thumb allowing it to get a better, more full grip on the barbell. The thumb should never be bent to the point that it runs parallel with the bar. If the thumb wraps further around the bar with the fingers still wrapped mostly around the bar, that will give you much more gripping area and a much more even pull than with a traditional overhand grip (which only allows a small portion of the thumb to contact the bar).
Bar roll - If your fingers are doing the majority of the gripping then the barbell will have a tendency to roll out of your hand toward your thumb. With a hookgrip, the thumb creates a place for the bar to stop. Effectively, in a proper hook grip your fingers cause the bar to roll toward your thumb and your thumb causes the bar to roll toward the fingers - this gets rid of your grip having to fight any uneven bar roll during your pull.
Lastly, the pulls of both the snatch and the clean and jerk are much more efficient with long and loose arms. If your upper body is locked in tight and your arms are loose (think ropes or chains connecting the barbell to your shoulders) then moving the weight vertically is done by the powerful muscles that open your hips. With a hook grip, the weight can increase, putting more demand on your grip, without causing a bend at the elbows during your pull. A conventional overhand grip has to fight against the weight and the elbows bend to compensate for the uneven load in your hand.
Sure, the hook grip may be uncomfortable at first but as your weightlifting advances, it will become a necessity. The more you do it, the easier and more comfortable it will get. If taping your thumb is something you might be interested in, there are a couple points in the technique of that as well - 1. Use stretchy tape. The non-elastic sports tape holds your joint in a position that may be counterproductive to strengthening your grip or it could make it more painful. 2. If elastic tape isn’t available, tape in a manner that does not cover the back of the thumb joint. This allows your thumb to stay flexible and allows the joint to expand under load just as it was designed.
If nothing else, the one thing I hope you got from this is the importance of correctly gripping a barbell. With some practice and a little patience, there is no reason why anyone in the gym should overhand grip heavy reps of the Olympic Weightlifting movements.