This entry is a little bit different than most of my coaching logs: it’s less about giving advice than about asking for it.
If you’ve been following this page for a while, you know I’ve had my share of hook grip woes: I missed breaking Ed Coan’s 791-pound deadlift record three times in meets on grip, including at the US Open. And, try as I might, I haven’t found a great way of strengthening my hook.
That said, I still like to think I’m a damn good hook-grip puller. I’ve hit 800 at 198 in a meet and 750 for 5 in the gym, both with hook, and I’ve spent a long time thinking about and practicing my hook grip technique (which I’ll write about in a future article). I’m just not quite good enough… yet.
So I’d like to use this column to brainstorm a little, and hopefully you can weigh in with some answers or suggestions to help me improve.
Why does the hook grip work?
This one is a little confusing to me. The thumb is stronger than the other fingers, and so it makes sense that when the thumb applies pressure directly to the bar, the grip overall is stronger -- but not so much stronger that it accounts for the difference between a double-overhand grip and a hook grip.
Here’s one guess: in the ideal hook grip, your fingers pull your thumb around the bar, not push against the bar itself, and your thumb is just along for the ride. My knowledge of physics isn’t good enough to understand whether that’s realistic, but if yours is, please chime in!
How do you strengthen the hook grip?
It’s hard to answer this one without understanding why the hook grip works, but I’ll take a stab at it. There’s different types of grip strength (crushing, pinching, and so on), and clearly an exercise like closing a gripper won’t carry over well to a hook grip, where the strength of your index, middle, and ring fingers are paramount.
There’s lots of ways to strengthen the fingers individually -- that’s pretty easy. But are there exercises that carry over more directly than others?
Is it really better?
For me, there’s no question about sticking with a hook grip. I tore the bicep of my dominant hand a few years back (flipping a tire, not deadlifting), and it’s an experience I never care to repeat. And, when I pull sumo, my supinated hand tends to drag along my thigh and give up way too early.
But if you’ve tried both hook and mixed grip for your heavy pulls, which has worked better?
Again, I know this is a much different entry than most, but I’d really appreciate any input you’ve got, and moving forward, I’d like for this log to be more interactive -- so if you have other topics you’d like to discuss, please share them, too!
I couldn't help but notice something, you completed an 800 pull at 198, but your grip gives out at that lower weight. I'm a rookie who's only competed in 2 meets, so forgive if I sound dumb, but could it be that your hands become more "bloated" from the larger weight cut? I know typically lifters hands will swell up a bit after reloading their sodium levels. If this is happening to you it's possible that the bloating in your fingers could make getting a firm hold of your thumb difficult, especially after 2 previous attempts. Possibly offering an explanation as to why your hook holds up much better in training and at the higher weight.
As far as strengthening your hook, I've found that plate pinches for 30 second holds and on long car rides I'll do "sets" of hook gripping my steering wheel for 20 seconds at a time. This has left me with permanent dark red bruises on my thumbs, but I've had zero trouble pulling anything for 6 reps and under.
I hope at least something here helps, much love brother. Keep doing you!
I'm adding timed plate pinches (single and double handed) and good old fashioned deadlift holds after my last rep and I'm hoping that helps.
I've got small hands, so that may be part of my problem. I hope you find something that works, and, if you do, I hope you share it on here so I can fix mine too.
I don't mean to over simplify, but a lot of lifters I try to teach hook grip to don't understand that the biggest flaw to grip is not grip strength but bar roll. This Is why the double overhand is never as strong as the mixed grip.
Thank you for all your content Ben!
I watched your deadlift tips over on juggernaut training systems, and you talked about digging your hand as deep as possible into the bar first before taking a grip. In my opinion, this is what is limiting your grip. Think of marital artists that can have their hands run over by a car when they make as tight a fist as possible. Their hands are not crushed because there is no room for their hands to move, not because they're just insanely strong. It's a matter of not allowing any movement to begin with. Hookgripping should hold that same principle, in that nothing should be in a position to move. Digging your hand as deep as possible allows the bar to simply drift downwards and roll. Instead, try holding the bar lower in the hand and use the thumb more like a "pad" against the bar than an actual appendage. Secure the bar in an area of the hand where it has no room to move unless it moved upwards I suppose.