The barbell deadlift is one of the most productive strength and muscle building exercises you can do. Bodybuilders deadlift to add mass to their upper and lower backs, glutes, and hamstrings, while athletes do deadlifts to develop functional strength and power. Deadlifts are also the last lift contested in powerlifting competitions.
When it comes to deadlifts, most lifters use an overhand or a mixed grip. Some also use lifting straps. While all of these grip options can work, they have drawbacks too.
A double overhand grip, also known as a pronated grip, is the weakest way to grip a barbell. The bar has a tendency to roll out of your fingers and, if your grip fails, you’ll have to stop your set, even if the rest of your body is yet to fatigue.
The mixed or alternating grip involves holding the bar with one hand pronated and one supinated. This stops the bar from rolling out of your fingers but puts a lot of stress on the biceps of the supinated hand. Biceps tears during deadlifts are quite common and almost always happen on the supinated side.
Another issue with the alternating grip is that it creates an asymmetry or imbalance, especially if you always pronate and supinate the same hands. You can avoid this problem by swapping your grip around set by set, but many lifters don’t do this. Instead, they always grip the bar the same way.
Some lifters use lifting straps. These straps wrap around your wrist and then the bar to provide a more secure grip. Lifting straps can be used to reinforce a double overhand or a mixed grip.
However, as effective as lifting straps are, they won’t increase your grip strength. In fact, if you become over-reliant on lifting straps, your hands will probably get weaker and not stronger.
The good news is that there is a fourth grip option for deadlifts – the hook grip.
The hook grip is common in Olympic lifting, where the athletes are not allowed to use wrist straps during competition. Some powerlifters use the hook grip too, and it’s often recommended by CrossFitters.
Hook Grip Deadlifts Benefits
When you use a hook grip for deadlifts, your arms will be symmetrical, eliminating the unbalanced development that using an alternating grip can cause. Also, a hook grip is stronger than the standard double overhand grip, so you are less likely to fail because your hands fatigue sooner than you’d like. Finally, with the hook grip, you don’t need to use lifting straps, so your hands will get stronger, and you aren’t reliant on an external crutch to complete your workouts.
Hook grip deadlifts work all the same muscles as regular deadlifts. In fact, apart from your grip, they’re the same exercise. This means that they’ll work:
Gluteus maximus* – the muscle on the back of your hips that is responsible for hip extension.
Hamstrings* – located on the back of your thigh, the hamstrings extend your hip and flex your knee.
Erector spinae* – the collective term for the muscles that make up your lower back. These muscles are responsible for extending your spine and, when deadlifting, preventing you from rounding your lower back.
*These muscles are collectively known as your posterior chain. This group of muscles is essential for sports, posture, and functionality.
Quadriceps – located on the front of your thigh, the quadriceps extend your knee and flex your hip.
Core – the collective term for the muscles that made up your midsection. The core stabilizes your spine and compresses your abdominal contents to create intra-abdominal pressure, which also helps maintain lumbar stability.
Middle trapezius and rhomboids – located over and between your shoulder blades, the mid traps and rhomboids pull your shoulder girdle back in a movement called retraction.
Upper trapezius – the muscles of your upper back, the upper traps stop your shoulder girdle from being pulled down when you’ve got a heavy weight in your hands.
Latissimus dorsi – located on the side of your back, your lats attach your arms to your torso, and their functions include shoulder joint extension and adduction. In deadlifts, the lats contract to keep the bar close to your legs.
Biceps brachii – the biceps are located on the front of your upper arm. They are responsible for flexing your elbows. In deadlifts, their primary role is preventing hyperextension of your elbow joint. Elbow hyperextension is more likely when using a supinated grip.
Forearm flexors – these are the muscles that keep your fingers wrapped around the barbell. They are the weak link in deadlifts. Weak forearms flexors mean your grip will fail before the bigger, stronger muscles involved in deadlifts.
How to Do Hook Grip Deadlifts
Hook lift deadlifts take some getting used to, especially if you usually use a mixed grip or lifting straps. But, with practice and perseverance, you’ll become more accustomed to them and start to reap the benefits.
Here’s how to perform hook grip deadlifts:
- Stand with your feet about hip to shoulder-width apart, toes beneath your barbell. The bar should be at about mid-shin height. Use full-size Olympic bumper plates to achieve this, or place your bar on blocks if you are using smaller or lighter weights.
- Squat down and hold the bar with a double overhand, shoulder-width grip. Take your thumb and tuck it under your first and second fingers. Ensure you only cover up to the first thumb joint with your fingers, and do not put pressure on the thumb knuckle, which will make this technique even more uncomfortable.
- Squeeze your thumb tightly to hold it in position. This increases friction and reinforces your grip.
- With your grip set, drop your hips, straighten your arms, lift your chest, pull your shoulders down and back, and brace your core.
- Drive your feet into the floor and, without rounding your lower back or allowing your hips to rise faster than your shoulders, stand up. Use your lats to keep the bar close to your legs.
- Stand fully upright and pause for a second. Do NOT lean back.
- Push your hips back, bend your knees, and lower the bar back to the floor. Again, do not round your lower back.
- Quickly adjust (but do not release) your grip, reset your core, and repeat.
Tips for Better Hook Grip Deadlifts
Make hook grip deadlifts easier and more effective with these handy tips!
Tape your thumbs
The hook grip puts a lot of pressure on your thumbs, and this is usually uncomfortable. You may also find your fingers slip off your thumb, especially if you are sweaty. You can prevent both of these problems by wrapping your thumbs with athletic tape. This will protect your thumbnail and joint and also prevent your fingers from slipping.
If you are new to hook grip deadlifts, you will undoubtedly find that they are uncomfortable. Don’t give up! Instead, start light and practice using this grip until it starts to feel more natural. This may mean you use the hook grip for your warm-up sets before switching to your regular grip later in your workout.
Over time, start using the hook grip for some of your heavier deadlifts until, eventually, you can use it for all your sets.
Practice using the hook grip on other exercises
This article is all about hook grip deadlifts, but that doesn’t mean you can use this technique on other exercises. In fact, for practice, you should use the hook grip as often as you can.
The more you do it, the sooner you’ll master it. Good opportunities to use the hook grip include:
- Lat pulldowns
- Bent over rows
- Pendlay rows
- Single-arm rows
- Seated rows
- Chest supported rows
While the hook grip increases friction on the bar for a more secure handhold, sweat will make this technique less effective. Taping your thumb will help, but even that won’t save your grip if your palms are sweaty.
Use lifting chalk to soak up sweat and stop your hands from slipping. There are powder and liquid chalks you can use for this purpose.
A lot of lifters read about the hook grip, try it once, and then dismiss it because it feels uncomfortable or they don’t manage to pull it off properly on their first try. Don’t be a quitter! If you want to do double overhand deadlifts but don’t want to resort to using lifting straps, the hook grip is the way ahead.
It will take practice, so keep at it; you WILL get used to it, and you should eventually find that you can deadlift the same amount of weight as when you used a mixed grip.
Hook Grip Deadlift Variations
There is no need to limit yourself to just doing conventional deadlifts with a hook grip. There are several other hook grip deadlift variations to try.
1. Hook grip sumo deadlifts
Sumo deadlifts involve using a wider-than shoulder-width stance with your arms inside your legs. This increases quadriceps, adductor, and adductor activation and allows for a more upright torso, taking stress off the lumbar spine.
Some lifters find they can lift more weight doing sumo deadlifts than conventional deadlifts. For this reason, a lot of powerlifters do sumo. Sumo deadlifts are often performed using an overhand hook grip.
Check out our sumo deadlift guide.
2. Hook grip rack pulls
Rack pulls are deadlifts done with the barbell raised off the floor. This reduces the range of motion, allowing the lifter to use more weight. Rack pulls also provide an opportunity to focus on the lock-out portion of deadlifts. This can be useful if you find that you are frequently unable to complete a deadlift.
You can use a hook grip to perform rack pulls, and they can be done conventional or sumo-style.
Also check out rack pull vs deadlift.
3. Hook grip paused deadlifts
Paused deadlifts increase time under tension, making them useful for building muscle. Also, pausing mid-rep eliminates momentum, making them harder, and a good method for increasing strength and power. You can do paused hook grip sumo or conventional deadlifts.
How to do them:
- Set up for your preferred style of deadlift. Apply your hook grip, brace your core, and start your lift.
- Pause as the bar approaches your knees. Come to a complete halt while maintaining your neutral spine and keeping your core braced. Pause for 1-3 seconds.
- At the end of your pause, complete your rep as usual and then put the weight back down again. The longer the pause, the harder this exercise becomes.
4. Hook grip snatch grip deadlifts
Snatch grip deadlifts work really well with a hook grip. With snatch grip deadlifts, you hold the bar with your hands well outside shoulder-width apart, making a mixed grip all-but impossible.
This deadlift variation forces you to lean further forwards and involves a larger than normal range of motion, increasing posterior chain and upper back recruitment.
Also read snatch grip deadlift.
5. Hook grip Romanian deadlifts
Romanian deadlifts are typically done using a double overhand grip. As you know, this grip is prone to fail mid-set. Pump out more reps or lift more weight by using a hook grip. Romanian deadlifts are a posterior chain exercise that starts from the standing position instead of the barbell resting on the floor.
6. Hook grip deficit deadlifts
Deficit deadlifts are conventional or sumo deadlifts done while standing on a low platform. Like snatch grip deadlifts, deficit deadlifts involve a larger range of motion, which increases posterior chain activation.
They also increase strength and speed off the floor, which can be helpful if you find your deadlift tends to stall at the start of a rep. Using a hook grip will ensure a more symmetrical pull while bolstering grip strength.
Read more about deficit deadlifts.
Hook Grip Deadlift – Wrapping Up
The hook grip is a divisive workout technique. Some lifters love it, while others hate it. The only way to see how you’ll respond to using a hook grip is to try it for yourself. That doesn’t mean use it for your next workout and then drop it because it’s uncomfortable or you can’t lift as much weight as usual.
Instead, you need to commit to using this grip for a couple of months to see if you grow to like it and if it helps your deadlift.
There WILL be an acclimation period, so don’t expect instant results or benefits. But, in time, you may learn to love the hook grip too. If you are frustrated by your lack of strength in the double overhand grip, prefer a more balanced approach than mixed grip deadlifts, and prefer not to use straps, hook grip deadlifts are a very useful option.