The Deadlift: Hook or Alternate Grip?

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In keeping with the theme of my last post “The Squat: High Bar or Low Bar?”, I figured I’d throw in my two cents on another commonly debated topic in the internet strength and conditioning world.

The alternate grip, and the hook grip are the two most common methods of hand placement when performing the deadlift. Like the high bar/low bar debate, there are those who advocate one method primarily, to the exclusion of the other, each claiming that one method is better than the other.

I think, and this may surprise you, that it does not fucking matter what grip you use nearly as much as the consistency with which you deadlift, the progression of weight on the bar or repetitions performed, and the intensity with which you train.

Maybe I’m as bad as they are, because I think that those points are the “one true way” to succeed, and that everything else is wrong.

Last time I checked, the purpose of the deadlift was to build strength and muscle that would help you in whatever pursuit, athletic or otherwise, that you chose as your mission.

One common “point” that is made by those that advocate the hook grip is that the use of the hook grip has more “carryover” to the clean (this is like the notion I presented in my last post about how the high bar squat somehow carries over better to the Olympic lifts). While it’s true that a person is not going to do a clean with an alternate grip, this reminds us that these people are forgetting the purpose of deadlifting, lifting weights that are flat out impossible (for them) to clean or snatch, in the interest of becoming stronger.

(I’ll add that these are usually the same people who train in a gym with jerk boxes, rows of platforms built into the floor, barbells that cost more than a high grade Vegas hooker, and expensive, colorful bumper plates, who do the same “power clean plus front squat” and call it a “clean”. It amazes me the amount of money that some of these places put into building out a high-tech, Olympic Weightlifting facility (almost always on a loan), and then the absence of one client or instructor in the building who can actually perform a fucking clean or a snatch correctly.)

Strength has a much larger “carryover” to Olympic lifting than where a bar sits on your back in the squat, or how your hands are positioned in the deadlift.

I’ve heard quite a few asinine arguments as to why certain methods are superior to others (mostly from those who were either internet forum dwellers, CrossFitters, or both), but none were as ridiculous as one that I witnessed, and that I know has been imparted on thousands, at a CrossFit Level One “certification”. This one, made by a high ranking member of their organization, absolutely took the zone-friendly cake.

I vividly recall him standing before a group of wide-eyed individuals who had each shelled out over a thousand dollars to receive this information, squatting down with a piece of PVC pipe held at mid-shin in a hook grip and saying:

“Now see? I’m in a hook grip here. Am I going to deadlift, or am I going to do a clean? The thing is you can’t tell. That’s why the hook grip is superior, because it is so much more like the clean”.

This ruined me.

All this time I’d been thinking that I’d be able to fool others around me in the gym into thinking that I was about to clean when setting up my deadlift with an alternate grip. Just that quickly my dreams had been destroyed. I hated him, and yet I loved him at the same time for showing me the error in my ways.

Ironically, over the years I found the opposite to be true when visiting or observing CrossFitters in action. Often times I would see one of their type setting up for what had to be an easy clean and jerk, based on the load on the bar, only to discover that they were, in fact, about to attempt a PR deadlift. (Still waiting on the 600lb deadlifters that are produced from CrossFit programming only, who deadlift just two or three times per year for a max as we were all promised years ago. That is not a typo or exaggeration. That was an actual statement).

Another ridiculous attempt at a point that the hookers make is that the alternate grip “takes the grip out of the movement”. First of all, that’s also precisely why the hook grip is done in the first place. If they want to make grip strength the limiting factor in their deadlift training, they should always use a double overhand grip. Hell, they should soap up the bar first, or do their deadlifts immediately after giving their life partner a baby oil massage then.

The alternate grip still miraculously requires you to actually hold a heavy barbell in your hands. Do you mean to tell me that if you pick 500lb up off of the ground and lift it to waist level that there is no grip strength involved?

You’re holding 500 fucking pounds in your hands!

Then there are those who say that you should do double overhand on all but your working weight set(s). “Why?” is all that comes to mind when I hear that.

They argue that this allows the grip to be trained during the warm ups and that they “save” their “assisted” grip for the big work. I say that this is akin to sitting down in front of some fine internet porn and bitch slapping the hell out of “yourself” until you’re “just about there”, and then switching to a more conventional stroking technique.

It just doesn’t make sense.

The only time in history I have heard a valid argument for a necessary change in grip on a pulling movement was when Dante Trudel, of DoggCrapp fame, and one of my many unofficial “mentors” over the years, said that he switched his grip from alternate to double overhand on the rack pull when he grew afraid of a biceps tear due to repping out loads in excess of 800lbs regularly. Instead he switched to a double overhand grip, purposely limiting the load he could use, and increased the rep range for the movement.

That makes sense.

Unless you’re moving loads like he was, I highly doubt you have a bonafide “need” to use a particular grip on these movements.

Those that condemn the use of straps on the deadlift are no better. They again say that the use of straps takes the grip out of the mix. I say that’s precisely why I use them.

What do you think is stronger; your grip, or your glutes, spinal erectors, lats, and everything else that makes up the primary musculature behind the deadlift?

Damn right the grip is the “weak link”. That’s precisely why it needs to be helped out a bit so that the stronger, harder working muscles can actually get exposed to a stimulus that will make them grow?

Are you learning yet that no one that is actually strong makes these kinds of statements?

Look, I don’t care whether you hook grip, alternate grip, strap up, or soap up a fat bar when you deadlift. I just ask that you remember that the underlying purpose of deadlifting is to make yourself stronger for whatever reason you chose to make that your mission. Ask yourself which method you think is most conducive to that purpose, and go with it.

And next time you find yourself wanting to argue one of these points, try soaping up and using the bitch slap technique that I described earlier. At least the outcome will be positive for you.

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