Improve Your Lifts (& So Much More) With the Hook Grip

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Jen Wirth | September 11, 2017 | no comments |

Improve Your Lifts
(& So Much More)
with the Hook Grip

Or, How I finally tried Hook Grip after I lost a bunch of natural strength recovering from a serious injury…

By, Coach Jen Wirth

Several times over the years people, fellow athletes, other trainers, and coaches have talked to me and around me about using the Hook Grip on certain lifts. I heard the chatter at the time, and I remember trying the Hook Grip one or two times. I remember it hurt. And I remember shrugging and thinking, “What’s the point of it anyway?” and going back to holding the bar the way I had been, the normal way. With my thumb wrapping around the bar and around the outside of my fingers.

I had been holding the barbell this way for years, and until just a couple of years ago I was one of the strongest people at the gym … not women … people. The gains I’ve made in CrossFit over the years have been phenomenal for me. I could talk about them to you all day. Don’t worry, I won’t take up too much of your time.

Want to know what never gets old?
Doing Pullups.

Here’s the thing: I don’t think I’m a lazy athlete, particularly. I don’t think I’m consciously resting on my laurels, I’m just still riding the high of being able to throw over 100# over my head, doing handstands and handstand pushups, double unders, doing PULLUPS. Ahhh, pullups. I’m still riding the high from that one 8 years later. Want to know what never gets old? Doing Pullups & Feeling Strong.

Nothing anyone said could convince me to try the Hook Grip, until I was ready to be convinced; until the knowledge was something I really needed. And that time finally came for yours truly. Since I started CrossFit I had always gotten consistently stronger over time, for almost nine years my strength was going in one direction and I had no complaints. Only recently did I feel what it was like to lose strength, which is what happened after I injured myself and had to take a minimum of 2 months off from working out.

Now I’m coming back from that injury and I’m nowhere near as strong as I used to be… Here’s an example: 65# Snatches used to be no big deal at all, no problemo, you know? Nowadays, 65# is a total no go for me … with a regular grip. Good news though: I recently discovered that with a Hook Grip its a totally different story.

What is the Hook Grip, you ask?

Hook Grip is a way of holding the barbell (or Kettlebell, dumbbell, or anything, for that matter, that you don’t want to drop). You pin the first knuckle of your thumb (your thumbnail) to the bar underneath your pointer finger and your middle finger. Most people’s thumbs are only that long. The ring finger and the pinkie grab directly onto the bar.

Online all the major Oly lifting coaches I checked with know about and encourage the use of the Hook Grip, but no one seems to know where it started or who it was that thought to use it first.

This made me think, ‘Really, who did the first Clean? For that matter, Who did the first Push-Up? Who invented the Squat?’ As I’ve started to use the Hook Grip, it has struck me that it is another natural functional movement that people have probably been using since the dawn of time, because it’s useful. And for some, like yours truly, the dawn of time was just a couple months ago.

I felt like I’d been walking around
with my head in a bucket.
Scott Simonson made me feel better.

At Wildcat CrossFit, it turns out, I am way late to the Hook Grip party. Pretty much every experienced athlete I talked to since I started writing this article has been using the Hook Grip for at least a year. When I realized this I felt like I’d been walking around with my head in a bucket. Scott Simonson made me feel better.

“I was late coming to that party too.” Scott said. “I see a difference more in Oly lifts than with Deadlifts, but I notice it really helps me keep my back straight for the whole lift and it is a good reminder to keep my shoulders active.”

Right on, Scott. This is what I experienced too.

Most athletes who use the Hook Grip use it for the portion of Olympic lifts that take place between the floor (or the hang position) and the shoulders for the Clean; and between the floor (or the hang) to overhead, for the Snatch. Some athletes, like Scott, also use it for Deadlifts.

It is also handy for bar hangs, and Farmers Carries. While trudging along with my Kettlebells on a 200m Farmers Carry recently, I struck up a conversation with Carly Quinn. I asked if she had ever used the Hook Grip for Farmers Carries. Carly said, “Yeah I started using Hook Grip for Farmers Carries about a year ago.”Right on Carly.

This Farmer’s Carry was turning out to be a bear. I usually never have to put the weights down, and so far I’d rested 3 times. I put my Kettlebells down and re-gripped them with the Hook Grip. Let me tell you, the Hook Grip really helped me get back to the bay door without putting those weights down again.

The Hook Grip and Olympic Lifts

One of the first workouts I ever used Hook Grip during Oly Lifts was a 10 minute EMOM during a HAM Squad workout back in mid-June (EMOM for 10 min of: 2 Clean Shrugs, 1 Power Clean (from floor) and 1 Hang Power Clean). I was afraid to commit to too much weight for 10 minutes.

I said to myself, “The heck with it. I’m going to try the Hook Grip for this workout and see what happens.
I’m curious.”

In the past 95# would not have been out of bounds for me on movements like this, but on that day, I decided to start at 65 and just see how things were going in this new body of mine.

I remembered in the back of my mind someone saying something about ‘Hook Grip’ and ‘makes your lifts stronger.’

I’m not sure why, but I said to myself, “The heck with it. I’m going to try the Hook Grip for this workout and see what happens. I’m curious.”

While the Hook Grip was slightly uncomfortable, it wasn’t unbearable. The first thing I noticed was that just because of the grip change, I could feel my shoulder blades pulling together behind my back. My posture during the lift was better, and the bar stayed nice and close to my torso after popping my hips and shrugging my shoulder. Just holding the bar this way reminded me to shrug my shoulders harder during the lifts. I was totally surprised at how easily the 65# bar flew up onto my shoulders!

Well, after I got over my surprise, I wound up adding 5# to each side during the Workout because I wanted the extra challenge (75# total). It was a surprisingly awesome turn of events. It had been awhile since I had felt like pushing it in the gym. It had been awhile since I’d felt like a badass. An extra bonus: No Boo-boos during this WOD: During and right after the workout my thumbs and webbing were pretty red, but I didn’t lose any skin or blister.

With the Hook Grip I shrugged way harder on the Power Cleans and Hang Power Cleans than I usually do. When I lifted in the past, I usually relied most heavily on my strong hips to get the job done. Fast hips were the key to my past lifting technique, no question about it. The shoulder shrug was a weak part of the lift for me, but as I keep saying, my lifts were already so strong.

The Hook Grip gave me the ‘strength’ to perform movements with weight that I just couldn’t manage with a regular grip. It gave me back some of my confidence in my athletic ability, and I am looking forward to continuing to use it as I continue to get stronger again. Now that I’ve tried it, I plan to keep using it.

Getting comfortable with Hook Grip can help you hold onto something securely. In an unpredictable universe, you never know when you might need it.

I talked to a couple of Wildcat Coaches who know a thing or two about lifting and have been using the Hook Grip for years.

I asked Marion Matos, personal trainer, seasoned powerlifter, and the Coach of Wildcat’s new powerlifting class: The Big 3, if she uses the Hook Grip for powerlifting.
“I don’t use it for powerlifting Marion said. “I use it for Olympic lifting and it does help, but it doesn’t help me for powerlifting at all.”

Coach Drew Hammond told me he uses Hook Grip whenever he does Cleans and Snatches. In an interesting caveat, Drew said he releases the Hook Grip and reverts to the regular grip somewhere mid-lift. “At some point while the bar is in the air, I release the Hook (Grip) so that by the time I catch a Clean or lock out a Snatch, I’m holding the bar with a regular grip at that point.”

In conclusion, the Hook Grip is another way of holding onto a bar that can have big impacts on your Oly lifting form. Hook Grip also makes your grip on the bar (or a rope, or anything else) strong and secure.
Getting comfortable with Hook Grip can help you hold onto something securely. In an unpredictable universe, you never know when you might need it. If you are looking for another highly useful tool for your tool belt, try the Hook Grip! Who knows, you might like it too!



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