The sport of Olympic Weightlifting include two lifts: the snatch and the clean & jerk. In each lift, we accelerate the bar as we lift it and pull ourselves under the bar. One problem that can occur is that the bar slips in our hands as we try to accelerate it up. It may not actually come out of your hands, but it may slip just enough to prevent you from effectively accelerating the bar, which means the bar won’t come as high and you won’t be able to get under it. Boo!
Think of it this way. You’re wearing roller skates and holding on to a 1917 Ford Model T with 20 hp, top speed of 42 mph, and 33 second 1/4 mile. The driver hits the gas, and you hold on without an issue. Fast-forward 100 years, and you find yourself holding on to a 2017 Corvette Z06 with 650 hp, 0-60 in 2.95 seconds, and a top speed of 198 mph. The driver hits the gas, and you have no chance of holding on. Granted, you probably don’t want to be holding on to a car that will be doing 60 mph in under 3 seconds, but that’s besides the point.
This is just what happens when you try to clean or snatch a heavy bar. You may be able to deadlift it without an issue, but if you try to accelerate the bar up, it slips in your hands. What’s the solution? The hook grip.
The hook grip allows your to get a stronger grip on the bar by wrapping the thumb around the bar and wrapping one or more fingers around the thumb. Why does this give you a stronger grip? I think of it like trying to climb a rope vs. trying to climb a rope with knots in it. The thumb acts kind of like a knot that we can hold on to, and prevents the bar from slipping. Every single top level lifter uses this grip, and you should, too. Try it for a month, and you’ll never go back.
There are a few things you should know about the hook grip.
- It hurts (at first). Your thumbs will hurt from smashing them against the bar and maybe from being stretched out a little. This is uncomfortable, but your thumbs will adjust in a matter of weeks.
- It can be difficult if you have small hands. That’s also true of a regular grip, but it is even tougher with the hook grip. I did some research to see what top weightlifting coaches say about this. The answer? Make it work. Even if you can only get part of one finger on your thumb, it is the strongest grip. The top weightlifters in the 120 lb weight class probably have pretty small hands, but they still use the hook grip.
When should you use the hook grip? Any time you’re trying to accelerate the bar (ie snatch and C&J). This could be during heavy lifting or during a workout. The hook grip is not necessary pressing (OHS, push press, etc). The one grey area is deadlift. While you’re not accelerating the bar, it will increase your grip strength. If you are unable to use a mixed grip, it is a good option. However, very few people lose their grip on a deadlift using the mixed grip and the heavy weight can cause added smashing of your thumbs and possible over stretching of the connective tissues in your hand. My advice is to stick with the mixed grip sans hook, unless you start to have issues.
Finally, I know it’s awkward. I know it feels like it could never work. I know that it hurts. Give it a try. I also know that it will significantly increase your max lifts.