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Ever do something in the gym that was both good for you and bad for you at the same time? Or have an exercise that improved your strength/physique, but then simultaneously caused problems? That’s what can happen with your deadlift grip. Something as simple as a deadlift grip might not seem like it could cause those sorts of issues, but the fact is that how you grab the bar can be responsible for how much you lift as well as cause imbalanced muscle development.
Before the pros and cons of different deadlift grip variations can be discussed, you have to know what they are and why they matter. When deadlifting, there are three ways you could grab the bar:
The first two are interchangeable based on personal preference, and are primarily used by powerlifters and strength athletes. This is because having one hand facing each direction lets you get a better grip on the bar and pull more weight without the use of straps. An over/over grip tends to be more popular with bodybuilders, as it hits the back the same way on both sides.
It might not seem like just having your hands facing different directions could really cause muscular imbalances, but the truth is that they can. In fact, try this – stand up right now with your arms down at your sides as if you were holding a barbell, both hands lightly clinched. Have your left hand facing back and your right hand facing forward.
Now switch the two so that your left hand faces forward and your right hand faces back. Did you feel the difference? The shoulder on the side of the hand that’s facing forward naturally wants to retract more. This results in the rear delt, trapezius, and upper back muscles on that side to be sort of “pre-loaded” and experience a harder contraction.
On the flip side, the shoulder on the side of the hand that’s facing back tends to roll forward a little bit. The side and front delt are loaded more, and much more effort has to be put into keeping that side pulled back in order to keep it at least in line with your torso.
If you regularly deadlift, and only use one grip style or the other, it should be fairly obvious that imbalances in the shoulder girdle could develop over time. Powerlifters don’t care as much as they’ll just do a little bit of extra prehab to minimize this, as pulling big numbers takes precedent, anyway. However, the bodybuilder or everyday gym goer should be much more concerned.
There are two ways you could solve this deadlift grip dilemma. The first would be to just perpetually use an over/over grip and call it a day. This won’t let you pull as much weight, but unless you’re entering a lifting competition, it really doesn’t matter. Either stick with weights that aren’t as heavy or just put on a pair of straps for your top-end sets.
Conversely, you could spend time alternating between over/under and under/over deadlift grips in training. One will always be more comfortable and allow you to pull more weight than the other. This is absolutely okay – stick with your preferred variation during your really taxing sets. However, during your warmup, moderately weighted, or even dynamic work, switch your grip so as to balance out your muscular development.
Both really are a simple solution, but that’s because this is an issue that really never needs to be a problem. Whether you just use straps with your over/over grip or just switch things up during training, there’s really no reason you shouldn’t be able to pull as much weight as possible and keep your shoulder girdle healthy.
If you enjoyed this article, read our write up on six deadlift variations to mix things up.