The best way to increase grip strength for Deadlifts is to use white knuckling, chalk and the mixed grip. Squeeze the bar hard until your knuckles turn white. Use chalk to absorb sweat. Grip the bar with one hand facing up, one down. For extra grip work, do static holds.
Don’t Deadlift with straps. They cover a weak grip instead of strengthening it. Don’t use gloves, they make the bar thicker and harder to hold. Don’t use grippers, they build different grip strength that won’t increase your Deadlift. White knuckling, chalk and mixed grip is all you need.
A strong grip is crucial for Deadlifts because if you can’t hold it you can’t lift it. The stronger your grip, the longer you can hold on the weight. This means less failed reps on StrongLifts 5×5 and a bigger Deadlift. Increasing grip strength for Deadlifts also builds your forearm muscles.
Here are the simplest, most effective ways to increase your grip strength for Deadlifts.
Wrap Your Thumbs Around The Bar
Don’t Deadlift with a thumbless grip. Wrap your thumbs around the bar so they overlap your fingers. Your fingers need thumb support to keep your hands closed while the weight pulls down to open it. Without help from your thumbs, you’ll fail to keep your hands closed faster. The bar will open your hands, roll to the top of your fingers and you’ll lose the bar. Deadlift with a full grip by wrapping your thumbs around the bar.
Some people Deadlift with a thumbless grip to “feel muscles” more. But the best way to feel muscles more is to Deadlift heavier weights. Deadlifts are a full body exercise. Every muscle works when you Deadlift heavy. The thumbless grip limits how heavy you can Deadlift. It challenges your grip but not your legs and back muscles. Use the full grip, stop worrying about feeling and focus on adding weight. More strength is more muscle.
Grip The Bar Low Hand
Deadlift with the bar low in your palm, close to your fingers. Don’t hold it mid-palm. If you grip the bar mid-palm, skin will fold between your fingers and palm. The bar will press on these skin folds as well as the meat, bones and nerves under it. This pressure can be painful and force you to relax your grip. The bar then slides down and opens your hands. You may lose the weight because you Deadlifted with the wrong grip.
Gripping the bar mid-palm can also result in torn calluses. Your hands form calluses where the skin folds to protect against the pressure of the bar. More skin folding is more calluses. The bar traps bigger calluses more easily than small ones. Eventually you get a torn callus that bleeds. This isn’t cool because now you have to skip Deadlifting until it heals. It isn’t smart either because a proper grip prevents torn calluses.
Grip the bar right on top of your biggest calluses. Between the base of your fingers and your palm. The goal is to avoid skin folding at the base of your palm when you grip the bar. Less skin folding is less calluses, smaller calluses and a more comfortable grip. Hold the bar in the crease between your fingers and your palm. Then close your hands and wrap your thumbs around your fingers to achieve a secure grip.
Gripping the bar low hand will feel weird at first. But it’s not less secure. The same amount of thumb overlaps your fingers whether you grip the bar mid-palm or low hand (check it). You just have to get used to Deadlifting with the new grip. Stick with the low hand grip, be patient and you’ll never go back to gripping the bar mid-palm. Because you’ll have less calluses, smaller calluses and less discomfort causing you to relax your grip.
Use White Knuckling
Grip the bar as hard as you can until your knuckles turn white. The tighter you grip the bar, the less it can move in your hands. Gravity pulls the bar to the floor and out of your hands when you Deadlift. If you grip the bar loose, it will slide down your hand, your hand will open and you’ll lose the bar. Squeeze the bar tight so it can’t move in your hands.If your knuckles turn white, you’ll have a stronger grip for Deadlifts.
Gripping the bar tight also increases strength. Try this: squeeze your biceps with an open hand. Now make a tight fist and do it again. Which way can you squeeze your biceps more? Right, with a tight first. This is hyper radiation - gripping the bar tight engages your arms and shoulders more. These muscles contract harder if you Deadlift with a tight grip. White knuckling increases grip strength but also overall Deadlift strength.
Use Gym Chalk
Gym chalk increases grip strength by absorbing sweat. Hot weather or a hard Deadlift set cause sweaty hands. This weakens your grip because the bar will move and slip out of your hands. Even if you have a strong Deadlift grip, chalk will improve it by increasing friction. I increased my Deadlift by 20kg/45lb almost overnight by using chalk. And I can Deadlift more weight with chalk than without. Use chalk to increase your grip strength.
Chalk also reduces the size and amount of calluses you get from Deadlifting. When you grip the bar, the skin of your palms folds. Gravity pulls the bar down which puts pressure on your skin folds. Your skin builds calluses to protect itself against this pressure. Chalk fills your skin folds which make your palms smoother. Less skin gets trapped under the bar if you Deadlift with chalk. This results results in less and smaller calluses.
Chalk is not the same as baby powder. Powerlifters put baby powder on their legs to reduce friction. But they don’t put it on their hands because that weakens your grip. Magnesium carbonate is the chalk you need. It’s the same chalk gymnasts and rockclimbers use. But it’s different from boardchalk. If your gym doesn’t allow chalk, get liquid chalk. It increases grip strength for Deadlifts without leaving traces.
Here’s the gym I recommend to increase grip strength for Deadlifts. I do not recommend eco chalk balls because they don’t fill up skin folds like gym chalk does.
Switch To The Mixed Grip
Grip the bar with one hand facing you, the other facing away. Grip it like you’d grip baseball bat. The mixed grip increases grip strength for Deadlifts by putting four fingers and one thumb on both sides of the bar. With the normal grip you have eight fingers on one side of the but only two thumbs on the other side. That’s why your thumbs always fail to hold the bar first, before your fingers give out.
The mixed grip also stops the bar from rolling out of your hands. With the normal grip, the bar always rolls towards you because both hands face you. With the mixed grip the bar also rolls to you for the hand facing you. But for your hand facing away, the bar rolls away from you. This doesn’t stop gravity from pulling the weight to the floor. But it stops the rotation. That’s how the mixed grip can add 20kg/45lb to your Deadlift.
Most people face their dominant hand up for the mixed grip. I’m right handed and have Deadlifted mixed grip-style for years with my right hand up and left hand down. Since 2014 I grip the bar the opposite way after a small injury I had in my right arm. Grip was weaker at first but it’s now equally strong. It doesn’t seem to matter which hand you face up when Deadlifting with the mixed grip. Only consistency matters.
You don’t have to switch which hand faces up on each set. Some people recommend this to avoid imbalances on the spine and shoulders. But you shouldn’t use the mixed grip for every set, only the heavy ones (more on this below). If you Deadlift most sets with a normal grip as I do, you’ll be fine. Plus skilled Olympic Lifters rarely switch which legs goes forward on Olympic Jerks. They do it one way and their body adapts.
Switching the hand facing up is less effective for increasing grip strength for Deadlifts. My friend and world champion powerlifter Mike Tuchscherer explained it like this: switching the hand facing up on each set gives it half the practice. Putting the same hand up every time gives it full practice. Specific practice is better for increasing grip strength and protects that arm better against injury. Deadlift with the same hand up all the time.
The best way to avoid biceps tears from Deadlifting mixed grip is to keep your arms straight. Never Deadlift with bent elbows. Never jerk the bar off the floor or try to lift it with your arms. Grip the bar tight but relax your arms at the same time. Let them hang. And let your stronger legs and back lift the weight off the floor. If you keep your elbows locked from start to finish, you won’t tear your biceps.
Keep the mixed grip for your heavy Deadlift sets. Deadlift with the normal grip on all your warmup sets except the last one. This will train your grip without doing extra grip work. If you’re concerned with imbalances, using the normal grip on most sets will minimize this. Once you can’t hold on the weight anymore with the normal grip, switch to the mixed grip so you can keep adding weight to your Deadlift.
Do Static Holds
Hold the weight at the end of your set for ten seconds. Don’t lower the weight immediately after Deadlifting your last rep. Hold it at the top while keeping your knees and hips locked and your lower back neutral. Grip the bar tight while letting your arms and shoulders hang. After holding the bar for up to ten seconds, lower it to the floor. Static holds are the simplest and most effective way to increase grip strength for Deadlift.
Static holds increase grip strength by increasing time under tension. Holding the bar for ten seconds at the end of your set doubles how much grip work your hands get. The weight becomes easier to hold in your hands when you Deadlift because you’ve practiced holding it for twice as long. Ten seconds may be too long to hold at first. Hold as long as you can, try to hold longer next time and your grip strength for Deadlifts will increase.
I’ve put a quick guide together with the grip training I’ve used to Deadlift 225kg mixed grip and 5x160kg double overhand. It’s a simple grip training routine that doesn’t take more than five minutes in the gym. You don’t need to get extra equipment or do more exercises. If you’d like to donwload this simple grip training routine, share this article below to get access.
Stop Deadlifting with Straps
You’ll never build a strong grip for Deadlifts if you use straps. Straps are a band-aid solution for a weak grip. Instead of increasing grip strength they keep it weak while covering up the weakness. If you use straps for every Deadlift set and every exercise, your grip will weaken because you never challenge it to hold the weight. This increases dependency on straps. The more you use them, the less you can Deadlift without straps.
Some people don’t care because they Deadlift to build muscle. But looking strong without being strong lacks substance. If you’re muscular, people expect you to have a strong handshake too. They expect you to be able to open a jar. They expect you to be strong. And you can be strong and muscular at the same time. Besides, straps will hurt muscle gains in your hands, wrist and forearms because you don’t challenge them.
You could Deadlift with straps and train your grip separately. But this isn’t time-effective. You can increase your grip strength without doing extra exercises or spending more time in the gym. Do Deadlifts, Barbell Rows and Pullups without straps. Let the weight challenge your grip. Your grip will become stronger over time without doing extra grip work. Less time in the gym is more time for friends, family and hobbies.
When you Deadlift without straps, you know YOU lifted the weight. You didn’t receive outside help to Deadlift it. You lifted it yourself. Lifting with straps can often feel like when the spotter touches the bar during the Bench Press. Whether you had all the reps or not, it feels cheated because you had outside help. Powerlifting competitions don’t allow straps because they also want you to Deadlift the weight yourself.
Straps are useful for exercises where you can’t use a mixed grip. Barbell Rows don’t work with a mixed grip. Dumbbell Rows is only one hand so you can’t use the mixed grip. When the weight is too heavy to hold despite white knuckling and chalk, use straps. But don’t use them for every set and exercise or you’ll weaken your grip. For Deadlifts use the mixed grip, drop the straps and lift with your bare hands.
Stop Deadlifting with Gloves
Gloves decrease grip strength for Deadlifts by making your bar thicker. The bigger the diameter of the object in your hand, the harder to hold it. A thick bar is harder to grip than an Olympic bar because less thumb overlaps your fingers. Gloves don’t turn Olympic bars into fat bars. But they do increase its diameter. I have a 28mm and 30mm bars. 28mm is easier to hold. Drop the gloves and you might Deadlift 2-3 reps more.
Most people wear gloves to avoid calluses. But calluses are a natural byproduct of lifting. Your hands build calluses to protect against the pressure of the bar. Without calluses, gripping the bar hurts. That’s why your hands hurt when you start lifting, you don’t have calluses yet. That’s also why they hurt if you resume after a long break, you lost the calluses. Lifting bare hands will always hurt if you use gloves instead of growing calluses.
Deadlifting without gloves doesn’t mean building big, ugly calluses. Some take pride in this. But the bar traps big calluses. If one tears and bleeds, it will force you to skip Deadlifts until it heals. Better is to limit the size and growth of calluses. Grip the bar low in your hands, use chalk and shave your calluses every week with a pumice stone. You’ll never have soft baby hands again unless you quit lifting. But your hands will look clean.
If you Deadlift with gloves in a gym, be warned serious lifters will frown on you. Overcoming discomfort is key to success in the gym. You have to push your boundaries to get stronger and build muscle. This won’t always feel pleasant. Gloves send a message that the bar hurting your hands is too much discomfort for you. You’ll be judged as a “newbie” and less “manly”. You may not agree with this, it’s how people think.
Stop Wasting Time And Money on Grippers
Grippers don’t increase grip strength for Deadlifts because they build a different type of grip strength. Deadlifts need support grip. They require the grip strength to keep your hand closed while gravity tries to open it by pulling the weight down. Grippers build crushing grip. This is the strength to close your hand against a resistance. The carry-over from grippers to Deadlifts is limited because it doesn’t build support grip.
Specificity is the key to increasing your grip strength for Deadlifts. You must train your grip the way you use it on Deadlifts. The only way to do this with grippers is by working on keeping the gripper closed. Don’t do quick closes and releases for reps. Close the grip and keep it closed for time. The gripper will try to open your hand like gravity does when you Deadlift. Keep it closed to increase your grip strength for Deadlifts.
But static holds are simpler and more effective to increase grip strength for Deadlifts. They’re more specific than grippers because they train your grip the same way you need for Deadlifts. They only take an extra 10 seconds after each set so you spend little extra time in the gym to increase your grip strength. You don’t need to buy extra equipment because you already have the bar. Forget about grippers and do static holds.
If you use grippers anyway, take it slowly. You’re gripping the bar on all StrongLifts 5×5 exercises. You’re also gripping in daily life. Daily gripper on top can result in imbalance of your forearms muscles. Stronger flexors (closing hands) than extensors (opening) can cause nasty elbow pain that can keep you from lifting. You don’t start out Deadlifting seven times a week. Don’t do daily grip work either. Give your grip time to recover.
Get a Better Barbell
You’ll have the best Deadlift grip with a 28mm Olympic barbell with sharp knurling and revolving sleeves. 28mm beats 29mm and 30mm because your thumbs cover your fingers more when you grip the bar. Sharp knurling is better than smooth because it gives you a better grip. And revolving sleeves are easier on your wrist because the plates can spin when you Deadlift the weight.
Bad gyms have cheap bars without knurling for Deadlifts. These bars will slip out of your hands even if you use chalk and the mixed grip. If the bar has fixed sleeves, the bar will spin with the plates, rotate in your hands and further weaken your grip strength. Cheap bars usually bend when you Deadlift heavy. It’s bad for your confidence to wonder mid-set if the bar is going to break in your hands. This hurts your Deadlift progress.
Invest in a quality Olympic Barbell. You’re using the barbell for every StrongLifts 5×5 exercise so it’s worth it. You’ll have a better grip for Deadlifts and you’ll feel safer with heay weights. A quality barbell isn’t cheap but it lasts a lifetime. Some options:
- Rogue Power Bar. High quality, best of the best.
- Troy Texas Power Bar. Handles 1500lb, center knurling.
- Cap Barbell OB-86PB. Tested at 1500lb, black, but not center knurling.
- Body-solid Olympic bar. If you want cheap, I wouldn’t buy it.
Don’t Let Small Hands Be An Excuse
Small hands make grip harder for Deadlifts because less thumb overlaps your fingers. Your grip is less secure compared to Deadlifters with big hands like me. You also get more calluses because small hands force you to grip the bar mid-palm. With big hands you can grip the bar lower to reduce skin folding and calluses. Small hands don’t give you much room to play with the bar position. They force you to grip it mid-palm.
The good news is that the size of your hands doesn’t matter until you reach an advanced level on Deadlifts. Any guy who does the work can achieve a four plate Deadlift. And that’s regardless of the size of your hands. Heck, there are women who Deadlift those same 180kg/400lb (and more). And women have smaller hands than guys. Just do StrongLifts 5×5 and you’ll Deadlift those four plates within 12 months.
The key is to grip the bar tight, add chalk and use the mixed grip to instantly have a better grip. Do static holds at the end of each set to increase your grip strength. Be consistent, be patient and don’t make excuses. Your grip strength will increase, and so will your Deadlift.
I’ve put a quick guide together with the grip training I’ve used to Deadlift 225kg mixed grip and 5x160kg double overhand. It’s a simple grip training routine that doesn’t take more than five minutes in the gym. You don’t need extra equipment or do more exercises. If you’d like to download this simple grip training routine, share this article below to get access.