It’s deadlift day. You walk to the bar with all your might to pull the hell out of it and as you pull it, the bar falls deeper into your hands and your fish-like hands open up in the middle of the lift, prompting you to land the bar back to the floor, which leaves you in a rainfall of frustration. Your weak grip strength just deprived you of a successful deadlift attempt yet again, which is probably why you landed here in search of how to increase grip strength for deadlifts.
When we talk deadlifts, we have to talk about grip strength. There’s no way around it whether you like or not.
All great deadlifters (this should be a demographic) have one thing in common – hands made of steel capable of producing an iron-hard grip strength.
That said, weak grip strength can be extremely frustrating when training the deadlift. For many people, it quickly becomes the weak link in the chain. Meaning, your hamstrings, back, and core can handle the weight but your hands can’t. To get around this, you need to increase your grip strength and use techniques that will help you produce maximum holding strength.
In your quest to go as farthest as possible from weak-ville and become a strong badass, one of your goals should definitely be to increase your deadlift, for which you will have to also increase grip strength at some point. Better start as early as possible to avoid plateauing all over the place due to your grip strength later on in your training.
When you’re still a beginner or novice, you’ll be able to easily increase weight on the lift without much struggle. For most people, getting to that 2-plate figure (225lb) is fairly manageable, after which some turbulence is bound to occur in your progress.
As you mature on the lift, you’ll start seeking mercy from Lord Hercules to give you that extra strength. But he’ll only give that strength to our Greek brothers, so don’t even bother. Greek Gods aside, there are so many ways you can add an extra 10-30lbs to your deadlift no matter where you are in your training, just by using efficient techniques. You can also improve your grip strength and add 50-100lbs more to your deadlift by incorporating grip training exercises that will be outlined below.
However, before incorporating the tips below, try and get to a 1.5x BW deadlift for 5 reps 100% naturally and raw. That is, no belt, no mixed/hook grip, no straps, and yes, no chalk too! This will help you build foundational strength and conditioning – it’s worth it even if it takes longer!
Techniques and Gear to Help Increase Grip Strength for Deadlifts
First, let’s look at tips and techniques that will help you hold the bar efficiently to help you use your maximum grip strength. It is important to recruit and optimize your grip strength fully.
The OPTIMAL double-overhand grip
You should deadlift using the double overhand grip until it’s impossible – only then you can move to mixed grip if you really need to.
If by any means grip strength is the weak link in your deadlift chain, you need to learn how to optimally grip the bar in the double overhand position first. Most people will just walk to the bar, hold it, and then separate it from the ground with all their might. You won’t last long with this technique if your grip strength is naturally weak.
Here’s how you should grip the bar for minimum damage to your calluses:Image courtesy of starboardcrossfit.com 1https://static.wixstatic.com/media/a99fba_f1a4f411cf8b439d97b25e712b59fac4~mv2.png/v1/fill/w_479,h_319,al_c,usm_0.66_1.00_0.01/a99fba_f1a4f411cf8b439d97b25e712b59fac4~mv2.png
With palms facing you, align the bar with your calluses just under your fingers, then wrap your fingers around the bar, then finally wrap your thumb around. By doing this, you’re locking the bar and not allowing it to drop any deeper in your hands during the lift. This will prevent the pinching of your calluses that occurs with the normal bar-across-palm grip. You can align the bar with your calluses or slightly higher to align with your fingers. Note that you should test out for yourself at what alignment you feel strongest, for most people, it’s just under the fingers.
Squeeze the bar
During the setup position of the deadlift, squeeze the bar with all your strength so much so that you feel the tension in your forearms. This will help you hold on to the bar tighter and longer, decreasing the probability of failing the rep.
When you engage a certain muscle to its full potential, the neighboring muscles also kick in and help out. Meaning, a tight squeezed grip will help link and tighten your other muscles like your lats and traps, engaging them even more. This added recruitment of muscle will make the lift much easier.
Lifting Chalk / Gym Chalk
When the double overhand grip begins to fail you, utilize some lifting chalk (also known as gym chalk) to increase your grip strength. Note that contrary to what many lifters will tell you, using lifting chalk is NOT cheating. It simply helps you use your grip strength more efficiently.
It’s like adding a layer to your skin which helps produce more grip strength. Using chalk in your training is ideal as it also increases your raw grip strength, so when you’re not actually using the chalk, your grip strength will have improved!
A word of caution for those of you thinking of using regular blackboard chalk – it doesn’t work! No matter how you crush it, it won’t be as effective as lifting chalk or liquid gym chalk. Lifting chalk is fairly cheap and is easily available online or in sports stores, and is definitely a good investment for your deadlift training.
You can get a block of lifting chalk for a few dollars on Amazon, and this will last you a long, long time.
The Mixed Grip and Hook Grip
Aside from the standard double overhand grip for deadlifts, there are two other popular grip variations used to grip the bar easier – the mixed grip and the hook grip. Remember that you should really use the double overhand grip as much as possible unless you really need to move to mixed/hook grip or if you are competing. The mixed grip and hook grip are unnatural grip positions even if they enable you to lift more weight.
Mixed grip. In the mixed grip, one hand faces you while the other faces away from you, hence the name mixed grip. Your dominant hand’s palm should be the one facing towards you. What really happens in the mixed grip is as the bar attempts to drop out of one hand, it goes into the other hand, creating a desirable locking mechanism.
Now you may be attracted to use the mixed grip all the time due to its apparent magical prowess, however, be warned that you will limit your grip strength development and potentially create imbalances in your chain. Many lifters who have used the mixed grip for more than 10-20 years report imbalances, injuries, and claim to have fucked up – these people would rather use double overhand grip if they had the chance to go back in time. These are the sacrifices that come with being able to lift more weight with the mixed grip – you can’t have it all.
Also, make sure to keep your arms straight all the time while using the mixed grip. Many a stupid lifter has attempted to bend his palm-facing-away arm and ended up succumbing to the load of the bar. The last thing you want is torn biceps from bent-arm deadlifts!
Hook grip. The hook grip is quite a peculiar cousin to the double overhand grip, but it works amazingly well. It’s basically the double overhand grip with the thumbs under the fingers as opposed to over the fingers in the double overhand grip. So when you grip the bar, wrap it with your thumb first, and then wrap your fingers tightly around the thumb.
Before you carelessly give an attempt to the hook grip, it is imperative to mention at this point that the hook grip will leave you in scream-inducing pain especially if you’re new to it. You see, another way of describing the hook grip would be your thumb being sandwiched by the bar and your fingers – and because we’re dealing with hundreds of pounds here, your thumb will take the beating.
The hook grip will be painful AT FIRST, but you’ll get used to it eventually. It’s definitely worth learning since it’s safer than the mixed grip yet stronger than the double overhand grip. It’s definitely a good grip to use, with the single downside of having an excruciatingly painful learning curve.
Another vital tool in your arsenal that will further help you increase your holding strength is lifting straps. You wrap them around your wrists and then around the bar, giving you an extra layer of “fake hands” to help you hold the bar longer. The compression that these straps cause in your wrists will also help you grip heavier weights due to the induced blood flow.
The same rule applies here as well: do not unnecessarily use straps until you have maxed out your raw natural grip unless of course, you enjoy being a wimp. Using straps will help you add 10 to 20 lbs to your deadlift but it will limit your grip strength development. That said, it can be a vital tool used in training to help increase the weight lifted, and the more weight you pull, the stronger you get overall.
You can buy lifting straps for just a few bucks on Amazon, or you can even opt to make your own DIY lifting straps from the straps of an old backpack for example – as it’s not an advanced engineering fabric product by any means.
5 Exercises to Increase Grip Strength for Deadlifts
The grip styles and techniques mentioned above will help cover up for your weak grip strength and give you that extra holding power, but they’re by no means the cure to weak grip strength.
They’re simply that bucket that collects water from a leaking ceiling, and what we really want to fix is the broken ceiling.
These 5 exercises will help you increase your raw grip strength for deadlifts since they incorporate similar muscle recruitment. It is always smarter to naturally increase your grip strength than resorting to tools like straps for the rest of your life just to cover up your weak grip strength. You can also check out these 7 simple exercises to improve grip strength in general.
1. Static Holds
Technically speaking, it doesn’t get any simpler than static holds. A static hold is just the top position of the deadlift – prolonged. Simply hold the bar in your hands and stand there for as long as you can. This will really test your hand strength and endurance. and will manage to sculpt hands of steel if done consistently.
2. Farmer’s Walks
As the name suggests, you pick something heavy in both of your hands and walk with it – just like a strong farmer does. You can use dumbbells, kettlebells, plates, or anything that heavy that can be equally distributed in both hands.
For outright grip strength, you may either train for a limited distance and increase the weight for that distance. And for grip endurance, you can use the same weight and try to increase the distance walked. Use a variation of these to really increase both your grip strength and endurance since the deadlift needs both.
3. Dead Hangs
Dead hangs will give you similar results with static holds, but they train more endurance than strength. You simply hang off a bar for as long as you can. If you can’t last a minute, your grip strength could use some help from this exercise. To make the exercise harder, you can also use one-arm dead hangs and then alternate between both arms.
Dead hangs are extremely functional since it tests how well you can hold on to your own body weight. God forbid, it might come in handy if you end up hanging from a cliff one day!
4. Pinch grip deadlift
In this exercise, you hold plates in both of your hands using a pinch grip (4 fingers vertical on one side of the plate, and the thumb on the other side). Once you’ve held onto the plates, lift them in the same motion as the deadlift.
This is but a variation to the pinch grip static hold exercise, wherein you just hold the plates using a pinch grip and stand there, without deadlifting it. However, since the goal is to improve grip strength for deadlifts, imitating the deadlift motion while holding the plates will result in a greater carryover of grip strength to deadlifts.
There are several pinch-grip based grip strength exercises that you can experiment with. For instance, farmer’s walks using a pinch grip will give you a test of withstanding intolerable pain.
5. Fat-bar deadlift
If you’ve lingered around in the gym for long enough, you must have realized by now that thicker, fatter bars are harder to grip and pull than thinner ones. Use this to your advantage in deadlift grip training by using fat bars for deadlifts instead of the standard Olympic bar, that is, if you have access to them.
Look at the bigger picture here. Understand that you’re deadlifting in the first place to become stronger, and grip strength is a huge part of that. As a general rule, use the most natural and raw form of grip to really strengthen your deadlift.
Only incorporate additional gear and grip variations when it becomes impossible to progress on the double overhand grip. And most of the time, it’s still possible to progress even if you think you can’t.
Whether you think you can or think you can’t, you’re right. – Henry Ford
What’s the fun in living stronger alone? If you found this article useful, go ahead and share it with the people you care about! Let’s live stronger together!