Your body changes when you challenge it in different ways. When you first started weight training you probably felt these changes right away, but after a while most people reach a plateau. Increasing the number of reps and then upping the weights works for a while, but those heavier loads place more stress on your joints. Did you know that something as simple as changing how you grip the bar might be all the challenge you need to get push you off that plateau? Different grips can also help you avoid or work around injuries. Some grips are better than others for certain muscle groups and many exercises can be made more sports-specific simply by changing the grip.
Overhand (pronated) grip
The overhand grip is useful when you want to keep a fixed spacing between your elbows. It’s probably the most common grip you’ll see in the gym. The hand goes over the bar and, in most cases, the palms are facing away from you. It’s the most natural grip for squats, chin-ups and bench press.
Underhand (supinated) grip
The underhand grip is often used when you want to keep your elbows fixed at shoulder width. It is the most natural grip for barbell biceps curls. Changing from an overhand to underhand grip usually makes the exercise more difficult. Using an underhand grip for shoulder press places more emphasis on the front of the shoulder and turns the exercise into a military press. Changing to an underhand grip for chin-ups or lat pulldowns takes the emphasis away from the scapula region and into the biceps. However changing to an overhand grip for biceps curls makes the forearms work harder.
Alternate (mixed) grip
An alternate grip is a mix of overhand and underhand grips. Powerlifters use this grip for deadlifts because it reduces the tendency for the bar to roll off their fingers when lifting heavier weights. The alternate grip is also used for commando, or cliffhanger) pull-ups. The mixed grip forces one arm to work harder than the other, so this style of pull-up is sometimes used as a step between the two handed and one handed pull-up.
Hammer (neutral) grip
The hammer grip is when the palms face each other and is a popular alternative to the underhand grip for dumbbell bicep curls, though it can also be used for chin-ups. Hammer curls involve more of the wrist extensors than regular bicep curls, so rotating the dumbbells from an underhand to hammer grip after the biceps have fatigued should allow you to push out a few more reps.
One handed grip
Most muscle groups are asymmetrical when it comes to strength, so muscle failure is difficult to achieve with two handed exercises. One handed exercises are a good way to make sure both both sides of your body have had a thorough workout. Start the set with your weaker side and then move quickly onto your second side.
Cables, ropes and rings allow users to rotate their grip mid set. This is a useful grip for certain sports such as gymnastics and sailing because it allows athletes to make their weight training more sport-specific.
Most gyms have a range of specialised bars to hit particular body parts from different angles. EZ bars and triceps bars are great tools for giving a new dimension to arm training. If you’re training for a specific sport where grip strength is important, look for ways to mimic that grip in your training. For instance, a roped cable row is better for sailing training than a standard handle.
Varying the grip width
Grip width often comes down to personal preference or the requirements of the sport. Powerlifters use different grip width depending on their individual strengths. A bench presser with powerful shoulders is better off with a wide grip, though the narrow grip favours lifters with strong triceps. Long-backed squatters are better suited to a wide grip because it allows them to have the bar lower down their back. However, a wide grip is not suitable for people with rotator cuff injuries.
Tight or loose grip?
Always grip the bar in such a way that you won’t drop it, but loose enough to work the muscles you want to work. Tight grippers tend to have good biceps, but less spectacular backs. Loosen your grip for pulldowns and rows.
Spice up your workout a little by trying a few different grip types. Remember that changing the grip position is likely to change the difficulty of the exercise, so stay safe by dropping your weights for that first set.