The dead lift is a weight-lifting exercise that's performed by stooping and then lifting a weight from the floor to hip level. It's one of the standard components of weight-lifting competitions and a foundational exercise for building explosive strength -- the ability to exert maximal force within a minimal time period. There are several hand position options for the dead lift, each with its own advantages and disadvantages. Your body type and personal choice may be the best determining factors of the best hand position for this weight-lifting exercise.
The dead lift is distinguished among weight-lifting exercises for utilizing the most muscle mass in a single move. The large muscle groups of the buttocks, hamstrings, lower back, hips, shoulders and forearms are all used in performing a dead lift. There are several variations of the dead lift, including the Romanian style dead lift, stiff leg dead lift, sumo-style dead lift, one-handed dead lift and a version named after Steve Reeves, Mr. America 1947.
Alternated and Pronated
Most dead lifts are performed using one of two hand positions: alternated or pronated. The alternated grip involves placing one hand facing forward and one facing backward. This position is recommended by Joseph Lee Klapper, M.D., author of "The Complete Idiot's Guide to Boosting Your Metabolism." Personal preference determines which hand faces which direction and may depend upon your dominant hand, with that hand usually turned backwards in what is known as the pronated position. The alternated hand position is also recommended by The National Strength & Conditioning Association Certification Commission. According to the Commission, the alternated grip improves your ability to hold the bar when heavier loads are used. However, some weight lifters prefer to have both hands in the pronated position. In this instance, wrist straps may help to stabilize the wrists for maintaining hold of the bar.
Reeves Dead Lift
The Reeves dead lift uses a unique hand position that is particularly strengthening for the hands. This wide hand position involves grasping the rim of the weight plates at each end of the bar instead of grasping the bar. The Reeves dead lift increases grip strength, but also increases risk of strain on the thumb and wrist.
A comparison study of muscle activity of double-pronated and alternated hand grips, conducted at the University of Kentucky, found that the left overhand/right underhand grip produced significantly more biceps activation on the right side, while the right overhand/left underhand produced significantly more activation of the left biceps. By contrast, the double overhand grip resulted in equivalent biceps activation at 60 percent intensity level and marginally more right biceps activity at 80 percent intensity level.