Heavy Deadlifts start with a strong grip – it doesn’t matter if your arms and legs have the strength for Deadlifting heavier weights, if your grip can’t hold it, the bar will stay on the floor. A strong grip is therefore crucial for heavy Deadlifts.
As a 500lb raw Deadlifter at 165lb body-weight, here are the 7 quickest ways that I’ve found to build massive grip strength for Deadlifts.
1. Grip The Bar Correctly. If you Deadlift with the barbell in the middle of your hand, the weight is more likely to slide down and open it. Not only is the risk of losing the bar higher, you also get bigger callus from the increased skin folding.
Grip the bar correctly – not in your handpalm, but low in your hands and close to your fingers like in the picture below. This grip technique not only applies to the Deadlift, but also to other pulling exercises like Barbell Rows and Pull-ups (that means NOT on push exercises like the Overhead Press or Bench Press).
If you’ve Deadlifted with a wrong grip so far, it can feel uncomfortable at first to pull this way. Stick with it for at least 3 weeks so you get used to it.
2. Use White Knuckling. Meaning you grab the bar as hard as you can until your knuckles turn white. Here’s why: the bar is less likely to move in your hand, AND gripping the bar hard by itself boosts strength. So start gripping the bar as hard as you can on all exercises, not just Deadlifts, and don’t be lazy about it.
3. Use Chalk. Less callus formation, no more sweaty hands. It’s not uncommon to see a 30lb increase on Deadlifts just by introducing chalk. If your gym doesn’t allow it, get an eco ball (it leaves no dust). Best is to chalk up once the weight gets too heavy to Deadlift without it, because as Andy Bolton says:
The reason for generally not using chalk until my top weights is because I think it builds better grip strength.
– Andy Bolton, 1008lb Deadlifter.
4. Use The Mixed Grip. With the normal grip you have 8 fingers on one side of the bar, and 2 thumbs on the other side. So when your grip gives out, it starts with your thumbs. The mixed grip – one palm facing you, one facing away – puts 5 fingers on both sides which creates an instant strength boost: you’ll be able to Deadlift the weight that didn’t want to leave the floor with the overhand grip.
Which hand should be facing up? Elite Deadlifters Andy Bolton and Konstantin Konstantinov always pull with their right hand facing up. So do I because I feel strongest using this grip (I’m right-handed). So dominant palm facing up, weak facing down like Bolton in the picture below. Don’t waste your time alternating which hand is up on each set to prevent imbalances, just follow tip #5.
5. Pull More Overhand. Don’t start to Deadlift every single set using the mixed grip now that you’ve read tip #4. You should pull your warm-up sets overhand-style and only Deadlift using the mixed grip on your last heavy sets. Using the overhand grip as long as possible will boost your grip strength.
Personally I don’t use chalk until there’s 315lb on the bar. Then I chalk up but keep pulling overhand until I hit 375lb. Only when I’m past 400lb and my hands can’t hold the bar anymore will I start using the mixed grip.
6. Do Static Holds. Boost your grip strength by holding the weight at the top of your Deadlift for a few seconds. Let’s say your work weight is 285lbs on SL5x5 – pull all your warm-ups with an overhand grip, then use the mixed grip and chalk for 285lb. After you’ve finished your 5 reps, stay standing with the barbell in your hands for 5 to 10 seconds before returning it to the floor.
7. Stop Using Straps. Straps are an invaluable tool when your legs and back have the strength to Deadlift the weight, but your grip is the limiting factor. Yet if you use straps on every single set, on every single exercise, including your warm-up sets and even Pull-ups, your grip will remain weak, forever.
Use straps ONLY on your last heavy set, when you can not Deadlift the weight using the mixed grip and chalk. In all other cases: no straps, no gloves.
Don’t let small hands serve as an excuse. I might have big hands even though I’m only 5’8″, but one my past trainingpartners Tony had small hands and still managed to pull 400lb within a year of training. The fact is that any guy can accomplish a 400lb Deadlift, even if he has small hands, and without doing specialized grip work. Only at the highest level do details like hand size matter. Keep it simple.