Guest Post by Dave Dellanave
I don’t watch a lot of TV, but when I am traveling I always turn the TV on in my hotel room and I swear to you the show MythBusters follows me around. Every time I flip the TV on, the two main characters, Jamie and Adam, are dissecting some new half-truth. I love the show because they savagely, gleefully test the validity of a wide range of myths, movie scenes, YouTube videos, and news stories — often leveraging explosions and destruction to put the term “indestructible” to the test.
Often, the ideas they explore turn out to be overstated. Such is the case with deadlifting being enough to train your grip sufficiently. Today, I will serve as your Jamie-Adam and dissect this myth.
The sad truth is, the barbell deadlift hardly trains your grip at all. Here’s why: The common “Olympic” barbell with a diameter of 1.1 inches is designed to be easy to hold onto — not hard. Unless you have freakishly tiny hands, your fingers are able to wrap all the way around the bar, with your thumb helping to hold your fingers closed. This takes stress off the thumb, which is the weakest link in the hand (you’ve got a 4:1 disadvantage compared to the rest of your hand), and prevents the thumb from getting stronger.
That’s not to say you should toss all of your standard barbells. You can actually improve your grip strength even when using this bar. In fact, here are a few ways that you can improve your grip strength so you never miss a pull because you couldn’t hang onto it.
Numero Uno: Never, ever pull mixed grip — until you absolutely have to. I cringe when I see someone warming up with 135 pounds and their grip is mixed (meaning one palm is facing them and one palm is facing away). Do all of your warm-ups, and even your lighter working sets, with a double-overhand (both palms facing in) grip. When you get to the heaviest sets, go ahead and switch your grip. You will find that over time, the amount of weight you can handle double-overhand creeps up. That way, even when you DO switch to a mixed grip, your hands are massively stronger.
Numero Dos: Do static holds with a weight that is challenging, but not so difficult that you can’t hold onto for at least five seconds. This can be as simple as holding the top of your heavier warm-up reps for 10 or 15 seconds. At first you will be shocked at how hard it is to hold onto the bar for that long, but quickly you’ll find that it gets much easier. Being able to hold onto a heavy deadlift is all about holding that hand clamped shut, even when the weight is trying to pry it open, and doing static holds is a great way to train that ability.
Numero Tres: As I mentioned above, the one-inch barbell doesn’t do much to strengthen the thumb. A quick and easy way to do that is pinch lifting with plates. Take two iron plates and sandwich them together with the smooth sides facing out. Put them between your feet with the hole facing you, with your thumbs closest to your body, and pinch the plates with your fingers and thumbs. You can either use one hand or two, and you can use different sizes of plates to change the weight and thickness. A pair of 45s will provide a good challenge for two hands for most people. A pair of 10s will provide a nice thin pinch width and you can always hang additional weight from the plate hole.
Bonus: If you’re willing to invest in a couple pieces of new, inexpensive equipment, use grippers. I recommend most people start with an IronMind Captains of Crush #1, along with a #1.5 or #2, depending on how much of a challenge you’re up for. Most men can’t close a #2 without some specific training. Once you have your grippers, you need to learn how to set a gripper. One of the myths surrounding gripper training is that you just grab it and try to squeeze it shut. That works fine with the toy grippers you get at Sportsmart, but not with serious grippers that will actually make your hands stronger. Setting the gripper allows you to get to a strong and repeatable starting position. Once you know how to set the gripper, I suggest two methods for good transfer to the deadlift. The first is doing sets of as many reps as you can from a parallel set. The second is to pinch a penny between the legs of the gripper and hold it until the penny drops.
With just a few little tweaks to your program, equipment you already have (for the most part), and a couple more minutes of work in your training sessions, you can build a ferocious grip that never lets you down.
Dave Dellanave is the author of the outstanding new program, Off the Floor: A Manual for Deadlift Domination. It covers every single thing you’d ever want to know about improving your deadlift and is one of, if not the most thorough manual ever written on the subject.
Click HERE to check it out.