You’re Deadlifting With The Wrong Grip To Build Strength & Resilience

If you’ve been strength training for long enough, chances are you’ve been dogmatically taught to only barbell deadlift with a mixed grip. Not only does the alternating hand position utilizing one underhand and one overhand grip place you at a higher risk for shoulder, biceps and elbow injuries during your pulls, it may actually be limiting your strength development and ability to generate authentic power.

Here’s why I do NOT program the mixed grip with my athletes and general fitness clients, and even recommend that my powerlifters and barbell sport athletes spend a vast majority of their deadlift volume using the double overhand grip to build strength, symmetry and resilience against injuries.

The Problem With The Mixed Grip For The Deadlift

The most common problem with the mixed grip deadlift is the vulnerable position it places the underhand side into at the shoulder girdle. As the shoulder externally rotates and hand supinates to achieve the underhand grip, the shoulder is thrown into a more forwardly protracted position.

This forward shoulder position in combination with a supinated hand position places increased stress through the biceps group, especially the long head of the biceps that crosses the front side of the true shoulder joint aka the gleno-humeral joint.

While deadlifting in the power and strength schemes that involves heavy loading is hugely advantageous to forge coordinated full body strength, the mixed grip creates an instant “weak link” in the kinetic chain. This weak link commonly shows up at the underhand side shoulder and elbow, and even has the ability to alter the pillar’s ability to recruit synergistic torque and tension throughout the entire kinetic chain. This setup is a huge player in the incidence of biceps tendon injuries in the sport of powerlifting.

It’s clear that some athletes thrive on asymmetries, especially on the powerlifting platform just due to the sheer popularity of this hand position in competition to increase totals off the floor. But it’s important to differentiate between training and competition, even for athletes planning on entering meets.

Training provides athletes and lifters the opportunity to strengthen movement patterns, improve weak links and enhance the neurological effects of compound movements. This is why even our athletes competing and focusing on powerlifting do NOT use the mixed grip routinely in their training and pre-meet prep.

Placing your training volume predominantly in your “strongest” position aka the mixed grip, leaves little room for peaking and progression, and can actually limit authentic strength development. As our athletes come closer to peaking for a competition, we do re-implement the mixed grip, but do so knowing very well that we improved the double overhand deadlift first to provide true symmetrical strength and power development that will have a better chance being transferred into that athlete’s movement library for the long term.

Here’s how we perfect the double overhand grip for barbell deadlifting, and why it should be the go-to hand position for general fitness clients, veteran lifters and strength athletes alike.

Deadlifting With The Double Overhand Grip

The double overhand grip not only provides a more symmetrical setup for strength athletes that are predominantly training to improve their totals, but also for the average lifter who has goals of getting progressively stronger while staying resilient against injuries.

While the double overhand grip is going to be “weaker” than it’s counterpart, the mixed grip, for most lifters, this is actually an advantage once again to cleaning up weaknesses and preventing injuries. There has been a lot of research showing the correlation between a person’s grip strength and their full body strength capacity. Simply put, the stronger we can build an athletes grip, the higher their strength and power potential will be.

With more programming and movement variations geared towards improving grip strength in coordination with peak tension and stability throughout the pillar (shoulders, hips and core functioning together), we can limit loads that would otherwise be moved with heavy compensation patterns and loss of positional authority at the spine, pelvis, shoulders and hips. This self-limiting nature of the deadlift and other compound movement patterns make damn sure that building strength is not only adding poundage to the bar, but rather something that maintains proper biomechanics, feel and function of movement.

To get started with the double overhand grip, check out the simple test to determine your optimal grip width setup. Here’s a step by step to perfect your overhand grip setup:

  • Place your feet hip width apart
  • Extend your arms down to your side with straight elbows
  • Extend your thumbs towards the sides of your thighs
  • Contact your thumbs on the lateral side of your thighs
  • Take the distance between your two index fingers
  • This distance is your theoretical overhand grip width

Cueing The Double Overhand Grip For Deadlifting

Once you determine your theoretical starting overhand position for the deadlift, feel free to alter it slightly by going a bit wider or more narrow to enhance the feel of this movement. Customize this hand position to your body, and remember that a small change in your grip width for the double overhand position goes a long way.

If you are having trouble maximizing your grip during the barbell pull, a powerful cue to tap into the “irradiation effect” of the upper extremities and hands during deadlifting is achieving a co-contraction between the pecs and lats. Many times we cue our lifters to “stay tight at the lats” but this can be difficult to fully achieve without also thinking about the tension through the pecs.

Because both the lats and pecs are big dynamic movers of the shoulder in addition to being powerful stabilizers of the shoulder and thoracic cage alike, it would be negligent not to tap into the power of the pecs. Simply cue your athletes to squeeze BOTH the pecs and lats as hard as they can. You’ll quickly see that the shoulders will centrate more authentically moving into slight internal rotation, while also depressing to place all the scapular stabilizers and small intrinsic muscles of the shoulder blade and gleno-humeral joint. This is the perfect position to pull from to maintain integrity of the pillar even under heavy loading.

Use this setup and cue, and remember, squeeze the barbell as hard as you can, stay tight through the shoulders and drive up explosively to build pain-free strength with this deadlift setup!

About The Author

Dr. John Rusin

Dr. John Rusin is an internationally recognized coach, physical therapist, speaker, and writer. Dr. John has coached some of the world’s most elite athletes, including Gold Medalist Olympians, NFL All-Pros, MLB All-Stars, Professional Bodybuilders, World-Record Holding Powerlifters, National Level Olympic Lifters and All-World IronMan Triathletes.

Along with his impressive coaching accolades, Dr. John and his innovative methods have been regularly featured in some of the most widely regarded media outlets in the industry like Men’s Fitness, Shape MagazineTestosterone Nation, and to name a few.

Dr. Rusin is the leading pioneer in the fitness and sports performance industries in smart pain-free performance programming that achieves world class results while preventing injuries in the process. Dr. John’s methods are showcased in his 12-Week Functional Hypertrophy Training Program that combines the very best from athletic performance training, powerlifting, bodybuilding and preventative physical therapy to produce world-class results without pain and injuries.