Get a grip: how grip plays an important role in the snatch, clean, and deadlift
It’s right there in bold letters: our grip plays a crucial role in three barbell movements that are commonly programmed in high intensity functional training workouts: the snatch, the clean, and the deadlift. And when I say “grip”, I am of course referring to your hand placement on the barbell – something that directly impacts an athlete’s ability to successfully perform these compound movements.
In the snatch, a wider grip (far outside the shoulders) is essential for efficiently and securely lifting the barbell from the ground to overhead in one fluid motion. Similarly, during the clean (also outside the shoulders, but just so), a closer grip provides more strength and allows for an efficient turnover as the bar is lifted to the shoulders. In the deadlift, which requires the most hand strength, the grip (similar to the clean) serves as the primary connection between the lifter and the barbell; dictating the amount of weight that can be lifted and the overall stability of the movement. By understanding hand placement and grip technique, athletes can enhance their performance in these fundamental barbell movements.
Now, the width of your grip is an individualized aspect and factors such as body proportions, mobility, and personal preferences come into play when determining the most suitable grip width. Moreover, it’s important to find a grip width that balances stability, mobility, and individual biomechanics. For the snatch, holding the barbell in line with our hip crease with fully extended arms will result in a wider grip and this hand positioning will result in a shorter bar path and increase the efficiency of the lift by minimizing the distance the bar needs to travel. Your hand positioning affects your shoulder mobility and overhead stability through proper muscle recruitment which should promote better leverage, efficient power transfer, and a straighter bar path throughout the lift. A wider grip tends to engage the shoulder, upper back and chest muscles best and they contribute to stabilizing the barbell and maintaining control during the lift. Securing the bar with a hook grip enhances grip strength and bar control. It involves wrapping your fingers around the bar and then placing your thumbs underneath your fingers which helps prevent the bar from slipping during the snatch.
For the clean, the nuances of the hook grip and grip width have an impact on the overall execution of lifting the barbell from the floor to the shoulders in one smooth motion. The hands placed outside of the hips and shoulders should promote the best leverage for power and allow for proper shoulder mobility and a comfortable position to receive the barbell in the front rack position. If the grip is too narrow, it may restrict the ability to achieve a proper rack position with the elbows high. The grip width in the clean influences muscle recruitment patterns during the lift and emphasizes various muscle groups that impact the distribution of force throughout the body. Positioning the hands outside of the shoulders tends to engage the lats and upper back musculature more actively in the pull and enhances upper body strength and stability in the front rack position. Grip width indirectly affects the muscle recruitment in the lower body during the clean by promoting a more upright torso, which can better engage the quadriceps, glutes, and hamstrings. These muscles contribute to generating power during the initial pull and driving force through the hips.
Deadlift Grip (and why a mixed grip might not be for you)
Grip width in the deadlift is similar to the clean with even more emphasis on leveraging strength and stability as it covers the least amount of distance which allows athletes to lift the heaviest loads. Unlike the snatch and clean that require a pronated or overhand grip to facilitate optimal turnover, some athletes use the mixed grip, also known as an over-under grip, or a switch grip, technique in the deadlift. It involves placing one hand in an overhand (pronated) grip while the other hand uses an underhand (supinated) grip. This grip variation offers several nuances and benefits including enhanced grip strength and prevents the barbell from rolling out of the hands. With the mixed grip, one hand’s palm faces the lifter, effectively countering the other hand’s palm that faces away. This configuration creates a rotational force that helps prevent the bar from rolling out of the hands, especially when working with heavier weights. The mixed grip allows for better load distribution. With one hand in an overhand grip and the other in an underhand grip, the load is distributed unevenly, which can help counteract the rotational forces exerted by the barbell during the lift.
While the mixed grip provides benefits, it’s important to be mindful of potential muscle imbalances that may develop over time. The underhand grip can place more stress on the biceps and supinated forearm muscles of one arm, while the overhand grip engages the muscles of the pronated forearm. To minimize imbalances, some individuals choose to sacrifice some grip strength by opting for the overhand grip for more balance and some alternate the hand position between sets. Grip switching is another approach to address muscle imbalances by alternating the hand position between sets or repetitions. This can help with both arms experiencing equal stress and workload over time. The mixed grip is most suitable for an athlete that deadlifts at a competitive level where there are weight requirements to advance but advantages of the mixed grip may not be necessary for everyone, especially when lifting lighter loads for volume, during training phases that prioritize grip strength development or if your training goals revolve around longevity. In such cases, a double overhand grip allows for developing the hinge pattern while maintaining balance throughout the body.
All this to say, in barbell training, the grip plays a vital role in the snatch, the clean, and the deadlift. It directly affects efficiency, power generation, and overall performance during these lifts. A proper grip allows for better control, stability, and transfer of force from the body to the barbell. The snatch, clean, and deadlift are highly technical movements, and finding the optimal grip width and hand placement is crucial for maximizing performance and minimizing the risk of injury. It is important to recognize that training these lifts should revolve around individual training goals and athletes with different body proportions, strengths, and aspirations may require slight variations in grip width and technique to suit their specific needs. Whether aiming for balance, power, or technique improvement, paying attention to the grip is essential to optimize results and progress towards individual goals. Consulting with a knowledgeable coach or trainer can provide valuable insights and personalized guidance to help athletes achieve their desired outcomes.
And when we tell you to move your hands in any of these lifts… I’d listen 😉