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I've been deadlifting now for 7 workouts, increasing nicely, but for the first time today I could feel my grip starting to give way. With another 5kg being added next workout, I fear my grip is going to be limiting me soon.

Unless it improves along with the deadlift.

Or should I be doing grip exercises? I actually thought I had a strong grip. I'm definitely not into accessories like straps if I can help it.

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  • What weight are you at? How big are you? Are you using a hook grip? Are you alternating your hands? Dec 4, 2012 at 3:01
  • 1
    Lifting 210 pounds, weigh about the same, 6ft tall, simple overhand grip as in Berin's first picture.
    – jontyc
    Dec 4, 2012 at 3:24
  • 3
    I thought I was near my grip limit, before I tried chalk. Chalk is amazing!
    – user4644
    Dec 4, 2012 at 4:31
  • I found this detailed advice extremely useful, too.
    – Martin
    Aug 23, 2017 at 19:45

4 Answers 4

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Grip will eventually be a limiter, but there are things you can do:

  • Hold the bar at the top for an extra 10-15 seconds on your last rep
  • Change your grip to a stronger hold
  • Do grip specific work

The first option will help get your grip stronger pretty well. There does come a time when the weight on the bar increases faster than your grip strength, though. This is where we come to the second option.

There are three main types of grip for deadlifts, in order of strength:

Double Overhand Grip

Double Overhand Grip: This is what most people start with. Getting this grip as strong as you can will help the other two options.

Hook Grip

Hook Grip: Wrap your fingers around your thumb to hook it in place. This adds quite a bit more strength to your grip. It is uncomfortable at heavier weights, but it provides the same symmetry that you get with double overhand grip.

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Mixed Grip: One hand is overhand (pronated) and the other hand is underhand (suppinated). This gives the strongest grip you can use, but it lacks the symmetry. The most critical piece of advice for using the mixed grip is do not flex your biceps at all. This advice applies to all the grips, but because the suppinated hand is stretching the biceps, that's a good way to tear the muscle. Instead, make sure there is no flex in your arms at all.

The most critical piece of advice for using the mixed grip is do not flex your biceps at all.

Grip Specific Work

Each time you change your grip, keep employing the first option to hold at the top an extra 10-15s. Eventually, even this may only work so long. If you want to do grip specific work, you can employ:

  • Plate/dumbbell pinches: Hold a flat plate (don't use ridges) or the end of a dumbbell by pinching it with your flat fingers and hold it as long as you can. You are not curling your fingertips to help out, but just using the pressure of the grip to hold it. When you get to 30s at a time, you can increase the weight you are using.
  • Grippers: Anything that has resistance when you squeeze will help your grip.
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  • +1 I forgot to mention the 10-15s hold; that has definitely helped me out as well.
    – Moses
    Dec 4, 2012 at 3:41
  • My last set (Greyskull) is AMRAP so generally I don't know when my last rep was until I've failed the next one. I guess doing the 10-15s on last rep of the last warmup wouldn't be advisable, and after the last set, I'm dead. Any alternative, or just forget the 10-15s bit?
    – jontyc
    Dec 4, 2012 at 5:53
  • You know if you have a rep left. I run Wendler 5/3/1, and AMRAP is defined as 1 left in the tank--not going to complete failure. Same with Paul Carter's SLL template, although he calls it AMAP. I'd be quite surprised if Greyskull has you going to complete failure and not saving one in the tank. Dec 4, 2012 at 12:17
  • @jontyc If the hold is important, maybe add a single-rep set with a hold a minute or two after the AMRAP set? Or, you could add the holds to pull-ups instead. Dec 4, 2012 at 17:09
  • yes you're sort of right come to think of it Berin, Greyskull wants you to stop when you think you won't be able to do another rep. My question void.
    – jontyc
    Dec 4, 2012 at 21:11
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If you're deadlifting about as much as you weigh with a double overhand grip, there's no need to worry about your grip as a specific thing. The deadlift itself will develop your grip strength just fine for a while longer, with just a minor tweak or two.

The Least Intrusive Grip Improvements

The important thing to do is to challenge your grip as much as possible without interfering with your progress on the deadlift itself. For that, I recommend:

  • Chalk
  • A hook grip on your heaviest set

Chalk was a dramatic shift in my deadlifting. Not having the bar slip out of my hands from sweat was a game-changer with no discernable downside. I got a block at a rock-climbing store for a buck fifty and it's lasted me over a year with frequent use. Keep it in a bowl so you can capture the dust and fragments to use later.

I also recommend using an overhand grip for all warm-up sets, then switching to a hook grip for the work set (or sets). Since the overhand grip is weak, you will be requiring and creating grip strength on all your warm-up sets (particularly the last). Using the hook grip when it's really heavy gives you a major grip strength boost. This will prevent your grip from getting in the way of big weights, or distracting you from proper form.

This double-overhand/hook-grip combination should prevent your grip from hampering your deadlift until you are lifting approximately double what you are now, or more.

Grip-Specific Work

I'd recommend against straps or grip-specific work unless they become absolutely necessary, and even then I philosophically prefer exercises that have other benefits over grip-strength-specific work. For instance, pull-ups, particularly on a rope, fat bar, or other hard-to-grip setup are great for your grip and also improve a whole lot of other strengths. Farmer's walks are another great, fun, productive way to work your grip while also improving posture, conditioning, and muscles across the trunk and legs. I'd do these before resorting to grippers.

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I had this problem as well, where I was able to lift the weight easily enough, but my grip was giving out (I almost dropped the bar at one point). Your grip strength will increase as you progress with deadlifts, but sometimes you will need more so your grip can keep pace with your progressive overloading. Here are a couple of tips that have helped me out a ton with improving my grip:

  1. Take off the gloves and straps. Gloves make it easier for the bar to slip, and don't build up grip strength as much as going gloveless. Straps take the load off of the grip, so your grip will get weaker by using straps. Avoid these two things, plain and simple.
  2. Use mixed grip. By far the biggest change I ever made for grip strength was incorporating mixed grip into the work set. Mixed grip allows you to lift heavier weights and improved my overall grip strength. Note: I only use mixed on my work set, for the lighter-sets I use normal grip.
  3. Use white-knuckling. Read this interview with Pavel Tsatsouline that talks about white-knuckling, or using focused body contractions to improve your grip and overall strength.
  4. Use chalk. If all else fails and you are still really having trouble with grip, try chalk out. Some people have very sweaty palms and swear by it, whereas I have fairly dry palms and never noticed much of a difference. Your mileage may vary.
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  • No sweaty hands here either, it's more of a strength thing I think than friction. Gym has a dark carpet too, not sure they'd be too happy, but that Dry Hands stuff if sweat ever becomes a problem.
    – jontyc
    Dec 4, 2012 at 5:43
  • @jontyc It doesn't always feel like sweaty hands are the problem, but unless they're bone-dry, chalk will help. Dec 4, 2012 at 14:09
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Thought I'd deliver a minority report - get yourself some straps!

I worried a lot about grip strength when I started deadlifting, which in retrospect I wish I hadn't. I did a bunch of grip training, and the only outcome was a persisting elbow tendonitis. Since my grip was my weak point, that was what was worked the hardest during deadlifts, so the extra grip work ended up being excessive volume that my poor arms couldn't handle.

One of the things I've since realized is that it wasn't my grip strength that failed me, it was my grip endurance - it wasn't my 1RM lifts where my grip failed me, it was during high-rep work. And while I do care a lot about being able to set my new personal bests strapless, I don't see any reason why I shouldn't use straps for the volume sets, should I feel the need.

My priority list would be something like this:

  1. Keep on deadlifting. It's great grip training, and it's specific training for your current goal, namely deadlifting. (I'm not so sure about the carryover from, say, grippers or plate pinch to deadlift, though.)
  2. Chalk. It does a world of difference for deadlifts, and has benefits for most other lifts. (Liquid chalk is fine, perhaps not quite as good as chalk blocks but much more convenient.)
  3. Mixed or hook grip. You can use overhand for lighter sets, but this is just such a game changer for heavy lifts.
  4. Straps. Use them when you need, and skip them when you don't. To me, I skip them during heavy, low-rep sets, but the more reps, the more I'll consider them.

Straps are great. No, really! They take up next to no space in your gym bag, even the good ones aren't particularly expensive, and they last more or less forever (the textile ones do, anyway, leather dries out), and they are great help to get in volume. They also spare the skin in your hands if you're doing a lot of deadlifts, which neither hook/mixed grip or chalk do.

Anecdotally, I would even say that the negative effect on grip strength by straps is somewhat debatable (you still use your grip, you know). I used straps for pretty much every pulling exercise for over 6 months (because tendonitis), and when I finally decided to try lifting without them, I could keep on using the same weight for my deadlifts (which had increased by at least 20 kg during my straps-only halfyear).

I'd also say that grip strength is one of those things you worry about as a beginner. I'm not sure why the issue disappears, but I'd guess chalk + not using overhand grip explains a lot.

Finally, if you think straps are for wimps, go tell the World's Strongest Man contestants.

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