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Coming from a Body Building background I have started experimenting with powerlifting recently. I especially like deadlifting a lot and want to improve my maximum weight for singles and doubles.

After I improved my technique during the last weeks it became obvious, that my grip strength is my main sticking point. I can lift 140kg twice, but the second time I almost drop the weight because my grip is too weak. Especially the hand where the fingers point towards me fails.

I am also able to do a single lift with 150kg using grip support, but could not do it without.

How should I train my grip strength to align it with the rest of my body? My goal is to lift as much weight as possible without grip support. My only add-on are lifting gloves.

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If your grip is failing at 150 kg, you need to do more rowing work and deadlift work, not necessarily grip work. You must not have much pulling in your program - if you even have one. –  user9941 Jun 27 at 17:23
    

3 Answers 3

up vote 6 down vote accepted

There are several methods of increasing grip strength, and some of the principles that work the best you should already be familiar with due to the bodybuilding background.

First, let's look at what causes grip to fail:

  • Sweat. The sweatier your hands, the more the bar wants to slip out of them.
  • Effective bar thickness. The thicker your bar, the tougher it is to grip. When specifically training the grip you want to take advantage of it. However, when you are trying to test your strength you want something as close to competition thickness as possible.
  • Not changing to a stronger grip technique. There are three main ways to grip the bar for deadlifts that are competition legal: overhand (weakest), hook grip (rough on the thumbs), and mixed grip (one hand suppinated, strongest).
  • Weak fingers. The first thing to fail in your deadlift grip is your pinky finger. If your fingers get stronger, then your grip will also get stronger.

With just the first two bullets, we have a good reason to ditch the weightlifting gloves for deadlifts. Gloves cause your hands to sweat more, and they increase the effective bar thickness. They also can allow the bar to shift in your hand, making it harder to hold on to. In short, gloves are hurting your deadlift.

Next, let's look at things you can do to increase your ability to grip the bar immediately (i.e. no strengthening required):

  • Use chalk. Many big gym chains don't allow chalk because it's messy, but there is also liquid chalk and the Eco-Ball by Metolius (climbing company) that have less messy alternatives. Chalk soaks up your sweat and allows you to have a more firm grip on the bar.
  • No gloves. For the reasons we mentioned just above. In fact, avoid anything that will increase the thickness of the bar.
  • Use hook or mixed grip. The hook grip is very uncomfortable when starting out, but there are some power lifters who can use it to lift over 360 kg (~800 lbs). Mixed grip is what you'll see most powerlifters use. Both are much stronger than double overhand.

Lastly, there are several strategies that work very well to strengthen your grip:

  • Paper binder clips: by squeezing the paper binder clips between your thumb and each of your fingers, you can work on increasing the strength of your fingers. You can do this pretty much anywhere and any time.
  • Static holds: on your last set of deadlifts for the day, hold the bar as long as you can when you finish your last rep.
  • Farmer's walks: you can kill two birds with one stone and get your conditioning in while working on your grip. If you have farmer's implements, great. Otherwise, use the heaviest dumbbells you can handle, grip them tight, and walk with them for distance.
  • Perform lighter, longer sets double overhand: when performing barbell rows, or some other lift where you pick the bar off the ground, do them without any grip assistance other than chalk.
  • Use the alternate deadlift form for volume work: Either conventional or sumo style deadlifts will feel more natural to you. That's the one you'll be trying to get stronger. However, use the one that feels less natural to you to do a more bodybuilding style training. 3x8 at 50-60% of your strong deadlift form max, done on your weak deadlift. That builds some of the supporting musculature, and puts more time under tension for your forearms.
  • Don't use straps. When grip is your limiting factor, you need to have more time under tension in your grip. The straps allow your grip to rest a little. Straps do have their place, and are useful tools when your upper back becomes the limiting factor. The straps will allow you to pull a bit heavier to build the back. Just understand where your weakness really is at the moment. NOTE: no powerlifting federation allows the use of straps, but they are perfectly legal in strongman competitions. This advice assumes you have aspirations of competing in a local powerlifting competition.

In fact, the age old bodybuilding concept of time under tension really does apply to grip strength. It seems to be the best way to train it. Just understand that grip training like this can be pretty taxing. I would cycle it in and out of your training so that your forearms get a chance to rest and build themselves up stronger.

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related: fitness.stackexchange.com/a/12335/692 –  claws Aug 26 at 5:25

Lifting gloves get in the way and make your job harder. I recommend going without.

Chalk helps enormously to prevent sweat from making the bar hard to grip. Buy a block of rock climber's chalk for a buck. Before each set, use the chalk to "paint" your fingers and the inside of your palm where it meets your fingers. Rub your hands together to work it into your calluses and to spread the chalk around.

Use a double overhand hook grip: Hook grip instructions

A chalked ungloved hook grip should allow you to lift at least double bodyweight for reps without straps.

The other variable to consider is bouncing. I don't mean to impugn your technique but I've seen many bodybuilders come from the land of forced reps and sets to failure and therefore bounce their deadlifts vigorously off the floor. This makes it hard to maintain a solid hold on the bar. If you're doing touch-and-go deadlifts, then make sure the plates are meeting the floor gently. If you're doing full-stop deadlifts, then make sure to reset your grip for each rep, and consider extra chalk.

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I've heard of several people damaging nerves and losing the feeling in their thumbs after using the hook grip. I've also heard about people doing it for years without adverse effects, so it's probably an individual matter. Just felt like adding that. –  LarissaGodzilla Jun 27 at 14:35

Despite that you're asking for advice which does not involve grip support, let me give one that does. Sorry, but if as you say you are really looking for maximum weight in singles, there is no way you can avoid grip support.

Competitive powerlifters use mixed grip to overcome this problem, because other equipment is usually not allowed. But, you can not use mixed grip for usual daily workouts, as it is dangerous for your spine. Powerlifters only participate in competitions once, maybe two times a year, which means they do just several mixed-grip deadlift reps a year, so whatever negative effect there is is negated by recovery time they get.

All other time they use wrist wraps. Which is what you have to use. Of course, you should develop your grip (by delaying using wraps as long as you can, and maybe by employing specialized exercises), but no one can overcome the fact that deadlift weight grows way faster than grip. Sooner or later you will have to use either wraps or mixed grip — and the second one is really not a good choice.

I'd recommend this simple strategy: go bare hands during warmup sets and maybe first couple of working sets, as long as you can; but as soon as you feel your hands are failing you, start using wraps. This way you will keep developing your grip to its limits, and at the same time your deadlift will not be held back by weaker hands.

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