Have you ever been lifting weights at the gym and found your forearms or hands getting tired before the rest of your body? Perhaps you have a problem with the barbell trying to roll out of your hands which is compromising your grip on certain exercises.
These are problems that most people will come across them at some point in their weightlifting journey. Thankful there is an answer, and you can solve all of these problems, and more, with a small change to the way you grip the barbell.
If you have been lifting for any amount of time, there is a good chance you have already heard of the hook grip. You may have even tried to use it and found it slightly uncomfortable at best or unbearably painful at worst.
This is perfectly normal and no reason to give up trying to learn the hook grip. Once you have mastered this technique you will find that it gets less painful over time and eventually you may find it more comfortable than your normal grip.
So if you’re an intermediate lifter looking to improve and start moving onto heavier weights then the hook grip is a great technique to add to your repertoire.
It will lock the bar more securely in your hand so it can’t roll back out, and help you to relax your arms and hands which is the secret to better lifts. If you are going to try this hold then it is essential that you do it properly in order to get the best benefits and avoid injuring yourself.
So that’s why we’ve put together this comprehensive guide on what the hook grip is, how to do it, and what benefits it can bring to your workout routine.
Different types of grip
There are four main types of grip that people use to hold onto their barbells. If you are just starting out, then you should use whichever grip you find most comfortable.
The most important thing when lifting weights is proper form and technique. It is very important to learn and perfect the basics before you start attempting to learn new grips.
This is the most common grip technique and as such, it is likely the one you are most familiar with. For a pronated grip, you should put your hands over the barbell so your knuckles are facing the ceiling. Next, wrap your fingers around the bar and rest your thumb over the top of them.
For many this will be the most comfortable way to hold onto the bar however there are some drawbacks. For one it places most of the weight onto the hands and forearms and since your thumb is resting on top it is more likely to move during your lifting.
That said, this grip should be your go-to hold for most exercises and lifts. As well as deadlifts, this hold works well for rowing, barbell squats, and bench presses.
This technique is a reverse of the pronated grip. To do it, put your hands under the bar with your palm facing the ceiling. In the same way as the previous grip, close your fingers around the barbell and place your thumb over the top.
The supinated grip is mainly used for bicep curls or any exercise where both horizontal and vertical movement is required such as rowing.
One risk with this hold is the increased chance of bicep tears. This is an unlikely injury to occur, but if it does it can be very serious so always exercise caution when using a supinated grip for extremely heavy lifts.
As you may be able to guess by the name, this method involves placing one hand over the bar and one under to form a mix of pronated and supinated grip.
When it comes to lifting you may see this hold used in some variations of the standard deadlift. It can also be a great way to hold the barbell when spotting a friend.
Often if people are doing multiple deadlifts, they can get tired before the end of their set. When this happens, switching to an alternate grip for the last few reps can be a helpful way to find the extra strength you need for finishing those last few lifts.
The hook grip
So now that we have gone through the three basic ways to grip a bar, it’s time to have a look at the fourth. The hook grip is a slight variation on the pronated method. In this version, your thumb is wrapped under the bar with your fingers closed over the top.
This hold is essential for some exercises and very helpful for other ones. The next section will cover the three main lifts that can greatly benefit from using a hook grip.
Lifts that utilize the hook grip
Hook grips are most commonly used for deadlifts, snatches, cleans. These are all integrated exercises, which means they will engage muscles groups throughout the whole body.
When doing any full body lifts, it is vital to have the correct form and technique so as to avoid injury With that said, here is a brief guide on how to perform each of these lifts.
How to prepare and execute a deadlift
Standing behind the barbell, place your feet shoulder-width apart with your toes rotated slightly outwards and your shins almost in contact with the bar. From this position lower yourself into a squat making sure to keep your back straight.
Bend forward to pick up the bar and squeeze it with your hands as you sink further back onto your hips. Keep your back flat as you rise out of the squat using your thighs and leg muscles to do the majority of the lifting.
Raise the bar up to your hips and finish the lift with your shoulders rolled back while keeping your legs and back completely straight.
After holding the weight for however long you can start to slowly bend your knees and sink back to the starting position for returning the weight to the floor. When done correctly, you should feel the burn in your glutes and thighs rather, not in your back!
How to perform a snatch
Snatches and cleans are very similar to deadlifts but they are also a bit more complex. For many of those just starting to take up weightlifting, it is important to get the deadlift right before you attempt either a snatch or clean. The hook grip is essential for both of these lifts.
For a snatch, you are going to be starting in a very similar position to the deadlift. Before you start, it is important to make sure your hands are in the correct position on the bar.
To find the right position, lift the barbell without any weights on it, stand up straight, with your arms fully extended, and find the position where your hands are in line with your hip pockets.
This is a slightly wider grip than is used for the deadlift but it will be necessary for getting the bar over your head.
The setup for this lift is very similar to the deadlift except you only want to lift the barbell to roughly the middle of your thighs. From here your hips should still be in a slight squat which will give you the upward force necessary for rapidly raising up the bar.
The next step is called the extension stage and should be treated almost like a jump. Straightening your legs out of squatting position and using the upward force generated by your thighs, rapidly raise your arms up all the way up to your chest.
The momentum created by this sudden extension of your legs and arms will temporarily make the bar feel much lighter which will help with the catch. Once you are at full extension start to widen your feet and fall into a deep squat with your knees and toes both pointing outwards.
Keeping your back straight, raise the bar above your head by driving upwards with your arms. You should now be holding the barbell in an overhead squat position. From here you can complete the snatch by using your legs muscles to stand up with the bar still being held over your head.
It is important to note that the extension and the catch should be one fluid motion and pausing between these steps will likely prevent you from finishing the movement.
In order to get the speed and confidence necessary for this exercise, it can help to practice with very light weights or a completely empty bar before you attempt to lift heavier loads.
How to perform a clean
The final lift where a hook grip is most commonly utilized is clean. This is a very similar exercise to the snatch and for doing it you will want to do the same setup and lift up until the extension phase where normally you would try to rapidly raise the bar over your head.
Instead, as you dip into the squat, you want to use the upward momentum you have generated to raise the barbell just past your chest and let your arms bend backward so you are supporting the bar just below your chin.
It must be emphasized that your arms simply bend backward to bring the bar towards you in a controlled manner. They do not handle the majority of the lifting and pulling back too hard may slam the bar into your chest or throat.
As with the snatch, you want most of your power to be coming from the upward motion of your thighs as they come out of squatting position. Once the barbell is in position you will sink back down into a squat and stand up to finish the exercise.
A power clean is a variation on this exercise during which you will only drop into a half squat before standing up. This variation is a little bit easier on the legs and if you are struggling with a regular clean it can help to practice with varying heights of power clean first.
For this, you will want to get lower and lower in your squat with each power clean until you can raise yourself and the bar out of a full squat with no problem.
Now that we have seen how to perform deadlifts, snatches, and cleans it’s time to look at what can go wrong. If you are struggling to find the strength for a lift, then there are several movements or techniques that people use to compensate and find that extra power.
Many of these compensations will compromise your form and stop you from getting the full benefits of your lift. Even worse, compensatory techniques can increase the chance of injuring yourself by putting all the weight onto the wrong muscles.
Always make sure to practice these moves with empty bars, or very light weights to ensure you have perfected the form and technique before attempting them with anything heavier. Here are the three main movements to watch out for and avoid.
Flexing your wrists
If you are struggling to generate the power for a lift from one area of your body, it is natural to draw on the strength from another part of your body. A common compensatory strategy is to flex the wrists so the knuckles are pointing towards the floor.
This isn’t too much of a problem for a standard deadlift but if your wrist can’t maintain the flexed position they will straighten and put downward force on the barbell which is counter-productive.
For a snatch or clean, flexing your wrists like this gives them more work to do when pulling the bar up. Even if you can maintain the flex, it may cause you to reach your contact point early, putting your legs in the wrong place for an effective extension.
This means your upper body will need to generate more force for completing the lift which is far from ideal.
Flexing your elbows
Another way people can try to gain extra power is by flexing their elbows outwards so their arms are slightly bent.
Again unless you can maintain this position, your arms will just straighten during the lift causing the barbell to move downwards, the exact opposite direction you want it to be moving.
This flex will also arrange your back muscles in a similar way to rowing which is a terrible position for any lift. The reason for this is that rowing the bar can increase the chance of it colliding with your legs or hips.
Any collision like this will send the bar forward which will make it harder to maintain control during the catch phase of a snatch where you need to rapidly raise the bar up over your head.
Inwardly rotating your elbows too much
Inwardly rotating your elbows isn’t a bad thing by itself and as you will see later it can massively help with forming a strong hook grip. However, excessive inward rotation will put the muscles in your back in the wrong place for the lift as well as round your spine.
This reduces the amount of force produced by the middle of your back, meaning all the weight will be shifted to your neck and lower back.
All of these compensations will reduce the effectiveness of your lifts and make it harder to generate the explosive force required for a snatch or clean.
A hook grip can help with all of these problems. So without further ado, let’s look at how to make a hook grip and what it can do to improve your workout.
How to make a hook grip
When forming a hook grip you should place the bar in the fleshy part of your hand between your thumb and forefinger. The most important step is to make sure your thumb is wrapped all the way around and under the bar.
This is easier if you let the thumb also go across and under, instead of pointing it straight up towards your finger. Close your middle and forefingers over the thumb so they are holding it in place and pressing it into the bar.
The index and pinky fingers can then be closed to complete the grip. Another important thing to note is that you are using your fingers to secure the hold and pull your thumb further around the barbell. Simply swishing your thumb into the bar won’t help your grip and will probably just hurt.
Tips for practicing the hook grip
The first tip is one we mentioned above concerning the position of your thumb. It needs to be hooked around the bar but pointing it up towards your fingers will just increase the risk of skin tears.
Instead, let your thumb travel across so it is parallel to the bar but still hooked under so it is easier to wrap your fingers over it and complete the hold.
You want your fingers to ideally reach the fleshy side of your thumb rather than the thumbnail. This is because pulling on your nail during a lift will be significantly more painful.
When you first try this hold it will probably be very uncomfortable, to say the least. This is because the hook grip doesn’t come naturally and most people’s hands aren’t used to doing it.
A good way to minimize discomfort is to rotate your elbows towards each other while you are forming the grip and rotate them back away from each other once the hold is complete.
The internal rotation will help you properly hook your thumb around the bar, while the outward rotation will return your elbows to the correct position for lifting.
Learning to implement this hold will always be uncomfortable at first, but if you can power through the first few weeks it is very worth the effort.
Once the muscles in your hand have become conditioned to the hold the discomfort will start to go away. Eventually, you may even find this hold more comfortable than a standard pronated grip.
Can I do a hook grip with small hands?
Not all hands are made equal and some people may have more trouble mastering the hook grip than others. Those with smaller hands often struggle with wrapping their fingers all the way around the barbell to grip the thumb.
You only really need the middle finger to reach the thumb for a secure grip, so don’t worry if you simply can’t get your forefinger there as well. If you are facing this problem there are a few ways you can try to solve it.
Firstly make sure you have the right barbell for you. In most Olympic weightlifting events the men will use 20kg bars with a diameter of 28mm while the women will use 15kg ones that are 25mm thick.
If you are a guy with small hands struggling to master the hook grip then consider buying a 15kg bar to give your fingers an easier time.
Naturally, this may not be an option for some and if you are training for a major event of any kind you should always practice with the bar that you will be given to lift on the day. Another good tip is to perform hand and finger stretches to increase your flexibility.
You can do this with the barbell as well by practicing your grip on lighter weights that you can easily lift. The most important area to stretch is the thumb so you can get it as far around the bar as possible, which will make it easier for your middle and forefingers to grab onto it.
Taping your thumb for a hook grip
Another thing that can help massively with the hook grip is taping your thumb to provide a better hold on the barbell. Steel is slippery and although a lot of gym equipment has special textures to provide more friction it can still be difficult to hold onto.
Elasticated athletic tape is easier to wrap too tight which will cut off the circulation of blood to your thumb so try and get hold of the rigid variety if possible. As well as improving your grip, the tape can also protect your hand against skin tears.
Start by peeling off a thin piece of tape that is roughly half the width of the roll. You won’t need much but make sure you have enough to go around your thumb at least three or four times.
Bend your thumb at the knuckle and wrap all the way around the base before taking the tape up to cover the top half at the base of your nail.
Repeat this wrap until you run out of tape leaving the bent knuckle exposed so that blood can still flow and you aren’t compromising your motion or flexibility.
Another thing that can help you to better grip the barbell is covering your hands in chalk. Chalk is sold both as a solid powder or in liquid form which is easier to apply but will sting if you apply it to any open wounds.
The benefits of the hook grip
So how can a hook grip improve your reps? Well, provided you do it properly there are several ways it can help.
It offers a more secure hold on the bar
The hook grip is a much more secure way of holding onto a barbell than a pronated or alternate grip. There are two reasons for this firstly, wrapping your thumb around the bar gives you a large protrusion to grab onto, which will offer more purchase than the slippery steel bar.
Your thumb will make a great anchor for reinforcing your grip since it is attached to your hand.
Secondly, because your thumb is hooked in the opposite direction of your fingers the bar is far less likely to roll out of your hands. Unlike with a closed pronate grip, the hook provides a double layer of resistance against the downward force exerted by the barbell.
This is essential for executing snatches and cleans where the rapid upward force will make it much easier to drop your weights. Furthermore, pronate or supinated grips often place most of the weight of the bar on your middle and forefingers.
The hook grip allows you to spread this weight more evenly across your hand by engaging your pinky and index fingers as well for a stronger, more secure hold.
It takes the strain off your forearms
The way your thumb is positioned allows it to exert force on the barbell which means you are engaging another part of your hand during the lift instead of putting all the strain on your fingers and forearms.
Furthermore, the pressure of your fingers pressing the thumb into the bar will prevent it from moving which is a common issue that can occur when using a pronate or alternate grip.
The extra security offered by the hook grip not only prevents you from dropping the bar but it also allows you to relax your hands more while lifting.
Relaxation may sound counterproductive when it comes to rigorous exercise, but it can actually help you get much more out of each rep by improving your efficiency.
As such the hook grip has been proven to make it easier for you to lift heavier weights by reducing strain and engaging slightly different muscles to those involved in a pronated grip.
If you are struggling with those last few deadlifts, switching to a hook grip can help give you the strength to power through when your forearms or hands are starting to get tired.
More relaxed arms will also help you to avoid several of the compensatory techniques we mentioned above. This is partly because it relaxes your forearms which will stop you from flexing your elbows or wrists.
Also, the way that you form a hook grip can be great for correcting the position of your elbows. If you inwardly rotate your arms when placing the bar in the fleshy part of your hand, you will have a much easier time wrapping your thumb as far around the bar as possible.
Once you have your grip on the barbell, you can then rotate your arms outwards again to leave your elbows in the perfect place for a successful lift
It is safer than an alternate grip
Often when amateur lifters are struggling with their barbell, a common suggestion is to swap their pronate grip for an alternate one. This technique can help with handling heavier weights and working other muscle sets but it forms an asymmetrical lifting position in the process.
If done for prolonged periods of time these asymmetries can eventually lead to a slouch in one shoulder due to the unbalanced rotational energies.
Furthermore, you may have a higher chance of tearing your bicep on the arm that is in supinated grip, which is a terrible injury that will keep you out of the gym for months until you recover.
Switching to a hook grip when you’re tired instead will ensure that both your shoulders are rotating the same way which is a much better and safer way to lift.
Not only will you avoid bad posture or uneven shoulders, but you will also be far less likely to give yourself a debilitating injury. It is important to note that some deadlift variations such as the sumo deadlift can only be done properly with an alternate grip.
The drawbacks of the hook grip
Sadly the hook grip will not be better for everybody and some people will struggle with it much more than others. As we said above, having small hands can be a large disadvantage when trying to master this technique.
If you can’t make a secure hook, this hold may hurt significantly more than it should. Another problem with this technique is the increased risk of skin tears especially along the base of the thumb.
These are caused by all the extra force being exerted and placed on the thumb during each lift. While skin tears may not sound like a major injury they will definitely stop you from lifting weights for a few days and as such should be avoided wherever possible.
When should I use a hook grip?
Olympic athletes and professional weightlifters are likely to use the hook grip for almost all of their lifts, especially snatches and cleans. This is because this hold can help you to lift more and improve your form by preventing you from relying on compensatory methods.
This hold is basically essential for any lift that requires speed due to the extra security that will stop the bar from rolling or falling out of your hands.
For amateur weightlifters, you really don’t need to be using a hook grip until you are ready to move on to more complex barbell exercises such as cleans and snatches.
Before you can start practicing these exercises you need to be able to do a basic deadlift, where a normal pronated grip will do just fine. The main reason to avoid using the hook grip immediately is the initial discomfort many people experience while learning how to do it.
This pain is largely unnecessary and will only slow your training down, or put you off lifting weights altogether.
As you progress up the weight categories you will find a good time to start implementing the hook grip is when you start lifting roughly 1.5x your own body weight.
Around this level, you may have already started to learn about snatches and cleans, for which this hold is vital to prevent you from dropping the bar as you rapidly lift up to your chest or above your head.
It still isn’t a good idea to use this grip all the time, and when you are deadlifting it is best to stick to a pronate hold for most of your reps.
This is because the extra pressure exerted on the bar by your thumb will engage a slightly different set of muscles than other grips. If you only work out in this way, your arms may not get all the training they need.
You may even end up with an imbalance between your arm and leg muscles which no one wants.
As such it is best to save the hook grip for those exercises where it is absolutely essential and only use it otherwise when your arms or hands are tired and you need a little extra power to finish your set.
In order to give your hands enough rest and avoid skin tears, it is best to practice your hook grip exercises on light weights or empty bars while you are getting used to it.
During this time you should only do deadlifts with this hold at the end of your works out and preferably when your next day is a rest day for letting your hands fully recover.
Frequently Asked Questions
Why does the hook grip hurt?
When you use a pronated grip for a deadlift or any other exercise, your fingers have to put up with most of the friction from the bar. Since your thumb is resting on top, it isn’t experiencing a lot of pressure or exerting much force.
As such, using a pronated, supinated, or alternate grip for any length of time will lead to calluses developing on your palms and fingers but not on your thumbs. This is why people often feel pain when trying the hook grip, as their uncalloused thumb is being swished into the metal bar.
Often after your first time using this hold, you may find that you start to develop blood blisters on your thumb, which is completely normal. As you practice this grip more and more, you will develop thicker pads on the fleshy parts of your thumb and palm.
Not only will these calluses reduce the amount of pain you experience, but they will also lower the chance of skin tears and other similar hand injuries.
Does the hook grip really help you lift more?
According to a study carried out International Journal of Sports Physiology and Performance the hook grip can help you to lift heavier weights and transfer more power into the bar.
This study concluded that the hook grip has a quantifiable effect on how well athletes can perform cleans at certain intensities. The reason for this is that using the hook grip allows you to hold the bar more securely, which in turn will allow you to move it up much faster.
Furthermore, since it can help improve your lifting posture and allows you to relax your forearm muscles, the hook grip also enables you to put more force into a lift. Therefore, using a hook grip will definitely increase your power output and let you lift heavier weights.
This is because Power = force x velocity. So if the hook grip can boost your speed and enable you to put more force into the bar, it stands to reason that it would help you generate more power as well.
Which tape is best for doing the hook grip?
A common way to alleviate pain when practicing the hook grip is to use materials that will enhance your grip. These include chalk and resin, but most importantly tape.
Taping your thumb is a great way to prevent skin tears and protect it from getting too damaged while you perfect your hook grip. There are many different types of athletic tape that can be used with the hook grip.
Earlier in this article, we showed you how to wrap your thumb with rigid tape so your knuckle is still exposed and capable of moving but you can also cover your whole thumb in stretchier tape if you prefer.
Both have their advantages, the rigid tape is easier to put on without cutting off the circulation of blood to the thumb and it is better for leaving your knuckle exposed.
On the other hand, the stretchy tape can provide a bit more protection as it covers the whole thumb and you won’t need as much of it to create a secure wrap.
Whichever variety you choose just make sure that you are pulling the tape around your thumb so it is tight enough to provide compression but not too tight that is limiting movement or blood flow.
So there you have everything you need to know about what the hook grip is and how to do it. It is worth remembering that learning this hold won’t be easy and it is perfectly normal to feel pain when trying it for the first time.
If you can get through those initial first two weeks, then it will get far more comfortable and become a valuable technique for improving your workouts. Yes, there are some risks, as there are with any heavy weightlifting exercises.
However, as long as you stay aware of your limits and take the necessary precautions, like using athletic tape and chalk, you should have no problem implementing this grip safely and effectively.
Not only will it enable you to try more complex exercises like snatches, cleans and power cleans, but it can also help you finish your sets when your arms are feeling tired after a long day at the gym.
So if you want to start lifting larger weights, but are struggling to do so, start practicing the hook grip and see if it can help you make those gains.