Grabbing a set of dumbbells is pretty simple: You grab the weights and go. But the barbell is a different beast. In addition to the bar itself, you need weight plates, clips and, in some cases, a squat rack or bench press.
Just when you thought barbells couldn't get any more complicated, you can toss a handful of different grips (pardon the pun) into the mix. But before you get frazzled, take a beat and consider incorporating a few new barbell holds — all described below — into your usual repertoire to improve your overall strength and performance.
The pronated grip (aka overhand grip) looks pretty much exactly as the name sounds. To hold a barbell with an overhand grip, grab the bar with hands shoulder-width apart, palms facing your body, Samuel Becourtney, physical therapist at Bespoke Treatments in New York, tells LIVESTRONG.com.
This grip is perfect for those who're new to strength training in general or new to using a barbell specifically and want to improve their overall grip strength, Mathew Forzaglia, New York-based certified personal trainer, tells LIVESTRONG.com.
It also helps you generate a lot of strength, making it an excellent exercise for heavy lifts like deadlifts, squats and barbell rows, Becourtney says. Plus, it'll help build your forearm strength over time.
"When deadlifting, you will only be able to hold as much as your hands allow in this grip, so this [grip] will really strengthen your upper back and forearms but also help focus on keeping your lats engaged," Forzaglia says.
On the downside, the overhand grip can lead to more forearm fatigue than other positions, Becourtney says. Especially if you're new to barbell exercises, this may cause you to pause or rest more frequently. But in the long term, developing this strength will be beneficial for your muscular strength and/or endurance.
- Pros: The overhand grip is a beginner-friendly barbell hold that's best for deadlifts, squats and rows and can help you build forearm strength.
- Cons: Lots of pulling movements with an overhand grip can quickly lead to forearm fatigue, causing you to rest frequently.
The supinated (aka underhand) grip is the exact opposite of the overhand — you grip the barbell with hands shoulder-width apart with palms facing away from your body, Becourtney says. But while the overhand grip is a fairly universal style of holding the bar, the underhand position requires more biceps engagement.
Because of this, using a supinated grip usually makes it easier to perform upper-body exercises like bent-over rows, since most people's biceps are stronger than their forearms, Forzaglia says.
While you may feel stronger with an underhand grip, this position can cause more tension in your biceps and the back of your shoulder, especially when you're lifting heavier, Becourtney says. So you won't want to do a ton of underhand-grip exercises back to back.
- Pros: An underhand grip requires more biceps activation, which can help you feel stronger as you perform your reps.
- Cons: You may start to experience more tension in your biceps and backs of your shoulders if you perform too many underhand-grip exercises back to back.
Also known as an alternate grip, the mixed grip involves one underhand and one overhand grip on the bar. Essentially, you'll grip the barbell with hands shoulder-width apart with one palm facing you and the other facing out, Becourtney says.
As with the underhand hold, the mixed grip can give you a stronger hold on the bar, since it incorporates biceps into the working muscles, Forzaglia says. This grip is ideal for heavier loads in exercises like deadlifts but can be incorporated into any pulling exercise.
But be careful: Over time, the mixed grip can potentially lead to muscle imbalances, Becourtney says. However, switching up which hand faces out and which faces in shoulder avoid this issue. It ensures both forearms and biceps are doing the same amount of work.
- Pros: The mixed or alternate grip is best used when you need to generate strength in your pulling exercises.
- Cons: If you never swap your alternate grip, using an alternate grip can lead to muscle imbalances.
A common hold used in Olympic lifting, the hook grip involves wrapping your hand around the bar, thumb inside your fist, Forzaglia says. That also means it's an inherently more advanced grip.
The hook grip is best for more explosive lifts like power cleans, push jerks and power snatches, since the thumb position helps to secure the bar to your fingertips, Becourtney says.
That means it can be a tough on your thumbs! After a while, you can start to lose feeling in them or you may even experience some skin tearing. However, wrapping some tape around your thumbs may help reduce the problem.
- Pros: An extremely secure and stable hold, the hook grip is best for more explosive movements, like Olympic lifts.
- Cons: With consistent use, the hook grip can cause pain in your thumb or some tearing on the skin.
To hold a bar with a false grip, you'll grab the barbell in the palm of your hand without the thumb wrapped around the bar, Forzaglia explains. Essentially, you'll keep your thumbs alongside your pointer fingers instead of underneath the bar.
Just like the hook grip, this one is a little more advanced, recommended only for more experienced lifters, Forzaglia says.
"It is a bit more unsafe, as there is a possibility of the bar rolling out of your hands when doing any pressing movement," he says. "I don't recommend this for any exercises besides bench press, and even then I don't usually suggest it."
Generally, you'll want to reserve the false grip for non-barbell exercises, like pull-ups, seated rows or lat pull-downs, he says.
On the plus side, this grip helps keep your wrists neutral and shoulders in a safer position, Becourtney says. It can also be advantageous for competitors that may need to perform an overhead press or barbell bench in their sport, as the bar technically has to travel a shorter distance from the floor to the air.
- Pros: A false grip keeps your wrists and shoulders in a safer position while using the barbell. Plus, this grip may give a competitive edge, as it minimizes the distance the bar has to travel from the floor to overhead.
- Cons: This is an advanced position and it may result in the bar slipping from your hands, which can cause injury.