Probably the most frustrating part of powerlifting is KNOWING in the marrow of your bones that you can do a task, then being unable to do it for some pain-in-the-ass detail. This could be an injury, a technical “tick”, or one of the most frustrating for me personally, a failing grip.
Dropping an otherwise easy deadlift due to grip issues is a special kind of suck. It’s an awful feeling that leaves many lifters looking at their hands in disbelief. It’s also incredibly stubborn. Many, many lifters have tried all kinds of crazy stuff to improve the grip. Almost all of it fails.
Stuff that just doesn’t get the job done
Reporting negative results is just as important as reporting successful trials. And boy, have we tried some things and failed some things!
There are a ton of gadgets out there that all promise to improve grip. And perhaps it’s a little misleading because there are so many different kinds of gripping strength and the hands are such complex organs. But one way or another, we tried a lot of them that did nothing. Crushers, fat bar work, active grippers (like Grip 4orce), rolling, etc… none of that helped me or my lifters.
Even the old wisdom of doing more double-overhand work didn’t help. In this idea, you would do double-overhand work (without a hook) until you couldn’t any longer. Then you’d switch to a mixed grip. Some even advocate extra double-overhand work in the form of rows and similar lifts. This too got us nowhere.
A quick word on hook grip…
The hook grip is not invincible. I was told at one time that the hook grip is just by its nature more secure than a mixed grip and you’d never see someone drop a deadlift with a hook grip (provided their hands were big enough to get two fingers onto the thumb). Don’t fall for this. I’ve seen plenty of lifters drop hooked deadlifts. What’s more, I’ve seen a lifter drop a mixed grip deadlift, then over some months switch to a hook. The hook was more secure for a few years, then they started dropping them again. The lifter then switched BACK to a mixed grip and stopped dropping them again!
That said, if you can use a hook and it’s more secure for you, then go for it. But don’t automatically assume it will be because magic.
What ACTUALLY works for grip?
The ONLY thing that we found to help improve the deadlift grip in any sort of dramatic way was to basically hold on to heavy barbells for longer. If you use a mixed grip in competition, then you need to hold with a mixed grip too. Specificity is king all the time, but for grip, its super king.
So doing extra grip holds sounds easy enough, but to set up a bar in a rack just for some additional grip work is time consuming. And if you’re like us, you’re pushing the volume anyway, so there isn’t much time for stuff like that. So when developing our grip program, we had this constraint in mind. We wanted to hold on to some heavy barbells, but not waste a lot of setup time.
The primary idea was to just hold each work set of deadlifts that you do. You’re already gripping it for some time during the set, so just hold for an extra 5 seconds on the last rep. Since you’re probably deadlifting heavy anyway, that’s some quality grip work.
The trouble becomes that if you’re the kind of lifter who has grip problems, you probably can’t hold the last rep for 5 extra seconds. You need something that can get you close to that, so the heavy holds can do their part. For this, we added lighter holds. After your last set of deadlifts, reduce the weight to about 50% of your 1RM. Then pull the bar for one rep and hold it for 30 seconds. Repeat for three sets. If you complete all three sets of 30 seconds, increase the weight next time.
How this progresses
If you have bad grip problems, you might be unable to do the heavy 5 second holds at the end of each working set. Try anyway. Don’t go air-dropping barbells, but hold on until it’s slipping, then follow it down. Make sure to do the 30 second holds at the end of each deadlift workout though! These will be critical.
In a few weeks as the weight on the 30 second holds gets heavier, you’ll notice that those 5 second holds start to improve. We’ve had some people drop the lighter holds at this point and they do continue to improve with just the heavy holds. But for best results, keep doing them both.
If you have small hands, a smooth bar, or both, grip may be a problem for you. And depending on your circumstances, it may always be there to some degree. But you CAN do something about it. It’s not fancy. It just works. Dropping deadlifts is incredibly frustrating, but it’s one frustration you can work yourself out of.
|About the Author
Mike Tuchscherer is the owner and head coach at RTS. He has been powerlifting since 2001 and since has traveled all over the world for competitions. In 2009, he was the first man from USA powerlifting to win a gold medal at the World Games – the highest possible achievement in powerlifting. He has coached over a dozen competitors at the world championships, a score of national champions, and multiple world record holders.