Learning the Hook Grip
by Caitlin Friedhoff
CPT, USAW L1
Want to know a secret that all good Olympic lifters use to pick up heavy weight? They hook grip the barbell, every one of them. Imagine you’re in mid set of a 5×5 heavy hang clean set and you start to feel that bar inevitably slipping from your fingers, especially after the explosive 2nd pull. What’s happening? Well, your grip is failing and your forearms are so fatigued they literally cannot force the muscles of the hands to grip the flying barbell any longer.
Know the feeling? I think we and all do and the good news is that there is a quick fix. First and and most obvious is just to become caveman strong, but more technically based we can lift smarter by using the hook grip technique for a stronger, longer lasting grip on the vertically moving barbell.
What is it?
It is the grip technique used for Olympic lifting pulls such as the clean and snatch where the athlete places there thumbs underneath their fingers, creating a “hook”. It can also be employed for the deadlift and carries, but for the purposes of this blog we will focus on the Olympic pulls.
Who is it for?
Any athletes who really wish to maximize their cleans and snatches. If you have smaller hands, it may not feel as power or comfortable. I suggest you incorporate some of the acclimation points at the bottom to see if it makes the most sense for you. Make sure you give it a chance, though. It will feel very awkward at first, regardless.
How do I do it?
Place the webbing of the hand between the thumb and index finger against the bar. First, wrap your thumb around the bar and then your fingers over the top of your thumb as well as the barbell. You are basically sandwiching the thumb between the bar and fingers.
Why is it beneficial?
By gripping the bar this way you can simply lift heavier while keeping your hands on the bar. The hook grip creates a natural sling with your hands and mitigates the backwards rolling of the bar out of the fingers (very similar to what the mixed grip does during deadlifts). Not only will this grip prevent the bar from slipping but it will also relax the grip and the muscles of the forearms to a certain point. This is good!
If we have too tense of a man handle on that barbell we tend to focus more on pulling that weight with the arms rather than letting the forces of the hips and legs to do the heavy work.
An extremely tight grip is a reason reason we see athletes pulling too soon on the 2nd pull of a clean or snatch. The mind knows that the grip is weak and upon forceful extension it will most likely fly from the hands, causing an early muscle pull of the arms and the hips babying its ability to reach full extension with speed and force.
With the hook grip the mind has a tool to help it overcome these obstacles and is able to focus more energy on a quick turnover of the elbows and the sheer explosiveness of the movement through the legs and hips.
As the bar travels vertically into the receiving position you want to release the hook grip to allow for greater flexibility on the catch. This will take practice.
Ow! That Hurts My Thumb!
This technique is going to feel unnatural and very uncomfortable at first on the thumb. However you will adapt to it over time and it will benefit your Olympic lifts in the long run, especially when that barbell gets heavy! Here are some tips on acclimating the thumb:
- Hook grip hanging from pullup bar. Perform 3 sets of 10 second dead hang.
- Build up slowly. My thumbs hurt me for about a month once I started incorporating hook grip. This will pass. I suggest that you use the hook grip for warm-ups only on an unloaded barbell. Stick with this for a week or two. Next week, alternate days you use it in the workouts. The next week alternate between sets. And finally, once your thumbs have established a tolerance, don’t ever clean or snatch without it.
- Athletic tape. You can also use tape to help alleviate the friction on your thumbs. There are two types, elastic and non-elastic tape. If you are using non elastic tape do NOT tape over the joint.
Stay consistent and practice! If you never use hook grip on the lighter weights first, your thumbs will absolutely hate you if you try and use it on heavier lifts. Take some time to learn the hook grip and watch your PRs get smashed.
Caitlin Friedhoff is a certified USA Weightlifting Coach at Performance360 in San Diego, CA. She has seven years experience as a coach and trainer, as well as experience as a former NCAA athlete.