Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Some Thoughts On Grip, Deadlifts, & Health

I've had some back issues so, with exercise selection being a little limited, I've decided to spend more time on grip work over the past few weeks. The other day, I was doing one-arm deadlifts on a 2" vertical bar - I had ZERO strength in the movement. I didn't get it. It wasn't just bad; it was I've-suddenly-lost-100lbs-on-a-lift-bad. "OH, HEEEELLL NO!" I thought to myself as I tried to psyche up for another go at it...

Then, I came to my senses and called it a day.

A suddenly weak grip (or anything else for that matter) probably does not mean you have a weak grip. It probably means that something else in the chain is faulty and the grip is a symptom of that weak link. In my case, my bad lower back was inhibiting my grip from holding onto the v-bar. Why? Because if my hand had allowed me to hold onto 200 pounds that day, I would have... and I would have screwed up my back worse in the process.

The hands are very interesting in the strength and conditioning game - as I mentioned Extremity Training - The Missing Link, when weak or injured, the extremities can hinder progress very quickly, and can also be an excellent window/gauge to overall health and preparedness.

In a 2004 PLUSA Video Magazine, Brian Meek, a (then) 58 year-old 700lbs+ deadlifter, took viewers through a deadlift workout. He and his training partner used an overhand grip with straps every set. In this workout, Brian and his partner, did moderate intensity deadlifts for reps and assistance work. He had this to say on the subject of deadlift training and straps:
We wear straps because we don't want our wrist and grip strength to hinder our back and strength development we get from it. ...It's my experience and my belief that very few deadlifts are missed because of grip strength because people can take out of the rack a lot more than they can ever deadlift without a grip problem. It's just that your grip is a manifestation of a weakness somewhere else... so we use straps.
He went on to add that he believed using straps aided in the prevention of lower back and bicep injuries when deadlifting. He didn't elaborate on that, but why might that be true? Because if your efforts are placed on maintaining your grip, they might not be on maintaining proper body alignment, or tension in the lats and triceps - and if those things go wrong in a heavy deadlift, they can (potentially) go really wrong.


Adam said...


Straps in training makes sense for most people. Your average guy in the gym doesn't care about grip that much. No reason for him to cut his row or pull down set early over hand strength.

The idea of straps saving the back for pulls- maybe. When someones grip goes they will flex forward trying to recover it...I could imagine someone moving to a shit leverage position trying to save a pull rather than simply allowing it to go.

Whats up with your V bar? Hitting 200 now? Nice work man.

Matt said...

Insightful Post!

Made me think of an off topic question...

What are your opinions of grip width enhancing tools such as fat gripz?

From what I hear it may increase muscle activation and recruitment... Any truth behind this?

Boris said...

Agreed Adam - thanks for stopping by! 170lbs right now on the 2" v-bar. I'd like to hit 200 before summer.

Thanks Matt. I don't know about recruitment - I know guys like Cressey, etc mention these things and these days I usually get about 3 sentences into abstracts or even articles and then my middle-age-onset-ADD kicks in... IMO, as a variation to keep things interesting it's probably great. It's all about what you want to do. Kind of like squatting on a Bosu - sure it's harder, but is it a goal?

Matt said...

Did Brian Meek pull with a hook grip or mixed grip when he went without straps?

Boris said...

I'm pretty sure Brian Meek pulls with a mixed grip in meets.

Peter said...

Hmm...I tend to take it the other way. If you can't grip it, don't lift it.

I can understand the use of straps, but if your grip is failing you one day with something it can usually, is it really such a good idea to bypass it? I can see bypassing it for an injury, or bypassing it to give your grip a rest, but I figure a sudden grip weakness is a sign of something else and you need to pay attention.

That's just me. I'm not close to Brian Meek's league in lifting. But I try to assume my body knows more than my training plan does, so if it says "stop" I should probably actually stop.

It's an interesting thought though . . .

fawn said...

I've been told (can't remember who) that gripping is extremely taxing on the nervous system when training deadlift. Because of this (must have been someone I considered reliable) I have trained all assistance DL movements with straps, which seams to work great, quicker recovery time. Any thoughts on this?

Also, Brad Gillingham and most of the guys at Jackal's Gym pull with a double over-hand hook grip. I have seen Brad pull 881lbs with a hook grip, those guys also train with straps. I asked Brad about his DL grip and training, his reason was because you can damage your thumbs from too many pulls with a hook grip. Also, grip wears out in training before it does in competition.

Interesting, great message.

Boris said...

Hi Peter,
I don't think anything you've said is in disagreement w. the post. The hands/core/extremities can reflect general/distal strength or weakness, or they can cause it.
Whether you should (or could) "bypass" it with straps or not would depend. Your body might not be telling you to stop - it might be telling you to re-evaluate your plan. For example, with some of my lower back issues, I have been able to do hyperextensions, strict RDLs for high reps (w. straps), etc. and they've been therapeutic.

Hi Fawn,
Except for a few very short-lived spurts, I've never been big into grip training, so I can't really speak to how it combines with other training. But, IMO, if you are training your DL hard, you have to be careful about a lot of other things - the DL is just that taxing.
Grip work for PLers is like ab work for PLers - it's good, and never doing it is a mistake, but a little goes a long ways and it's easy to get carried away with it.
I'm just thinking aloud here now, but some light wrist work and hand/finger extensor work, or light gripping on a big glob of Silly Puttys would be some things that unless you overdid it, might actually help recovery and stress.
Interesting about Brad G. - OLers don't seem to have any compunctions about using straps in training either.

Matt said...

This is a pretty good article about grip training for the deadlift imho:

I wonder when the biggest risk of a bicep tear is. On a heavy single or when doing reps. I have considered switching to straps and then hook grip on max attempts because a torn bicep gives me nightmares.

Boris said...

You know I always like Diesel Crew and Wendler's stuff. I think it's a pretty good grip training primer. Honestly, for Jim, I wonder if simply adding some axle DLs (which are going to be very light for a WS guy) as assistance work would have served the same function.

Jim's a smart guy, and I could be all wet, but losing grip w. 585 for a guy who's posterior chain was probably capable of pulling another 100-200lbs might be because of a (relatively) weak grip, or it could be something else. Inflexible shoulders/t-spine and bad positioning can make it feel like the bar is always wanting to twist out of your hands. He certainly mentioned weight gain and for thick, thick guys (without big hands), paw padding doesn't make holding on any easier.

...fwiw, I would've gotten that numbness checked out professionally even if it wasn't the cause of his grip issues.

Bicep tear is a nasty looking injury - I don't know the answer on that one. I think that doing some full rom bicep work (like chins, rows, curls) is always a good idea. Flexing the tris as you set up and reach for the bar is something I've recommended to some people and that seemed to clear up some of the achey biceps they got while DLing, but I'm not sure.

Don't have the answers, but those are some thoughts. Thanks for the link Matt!

Peter "Fucking" Baker said...

Boris, I think if your grip goes out one day, you could either stop using it, and switch it up to a staggered grip, or call it. If I use strictly an OH grip, I will get better at it every session I deadlift if I don't force to go beyond. Plus, I never wanna wear straps because I would have to go by them. Another good thing to ease into would be a hooked grip for deadlifting.