Proper form and technique are key to a safe and effective workout. Incorrect weight training form can lead to sprains, strains, fractures, and other injuries.
Most weight training exercises involve a pushing or pulling motion. The way you grip the object you are pushing or pulling (such as a barbell with weights attached) can affect your posture, your safety, and your ability to lift more weight.
Depending on the exercise, your grip may also affect which muscle groups you’re working.
One common way to grip a bar is with an overhand grip. This type of grip has advantages and disadvantages, depending on the exercise. Some common examples of push-pull exercises that may use an overhand grip include:
An overhand grip is when you hold onto a bar with your palms facing toward your body. This is also called a pronated grip.
On the flip side, an underhand grip means that you grasp the bar from underneath, with your palms facing away from you. An underhand grip is also called a supinated grip or a reverse grip.
As the name suggests, a mixed grip involves gripping the bar with one palm facing toward you (overhand) and the other one facing away from you (underhand). The mixed grip is mostly used for the deadlift.
The overhand group is more versatile than the underhand grip. It’s often called the “standard” grip in weightlifting since it can be used for most exercises, from bench presses to deadlifts to pullups.
In certain exercises, an overhand grip can help you gain grip strength and strengthen your forearm muscles as you work out.
An overhand grip can also help you target specific muscle groups that wouldn’t be activated as much when using an underhand grip. This depends on the specific push-pull exercise you’re performing and your specific weight-training goals.
The deadlift is a weightlifting exercise in which you bend forward to pick up a weighted barbell or kettlebell from the floor. As you lower the bar or kettlebell, your hips hinge and your back remains flat throughout the movement.
The deadlift strengthens your upper and lower back, glutes, hips, and hamstrings.
The deadlift requires a strong grip because you won’t be able to lift a weight you can’t hold with your hands. Strengthening your grip helps you hold the weight longer.
The two grips commonly used for deadlifts are the overhand grip and the mixed grip. There is a lot of controversy in the fitness community regarding which type of grip is better.
Many people will naturally grip a deadlift barbell using an overhand grip, with both palms facing toward their body. An overhand grip helps build forearm and grip strength since you must keep the bar from rotating as you lift.
This type of grip is recommended for warmups and lighter sets. As you progress to heavier sets, you might find that you can’t complete the lift because your grip strength begins to fail.
For this reason, many professional weightlifting programs recommend switching to a mixed grip for heavier sets. The mixed grip is also recommended for safety reasons since it keeps the bar from rolling out of your hands.
As you increase the amount of weight you’re lifting during deadlifts, switch to a mixed grip when you can no longer hold onto the bar. You will be able to add more weight to the bar with a mixed grip.
Still, one small study found that using a mixed grip can lead to uneven weight distribution during lifting, and another study learned it can cause imbalances in muscle development over time compared to using an overhand grip.
To help combat muscle imbalances, switch hand positions on each set and use a mixed grip only when the weight is too much for you to lift safely with an overhand grip.
A pullup is an exercise in which you hold onto a bar and pull yourself up until your chin reaches above the bar, with your feet not touching the ground at all. Pullups target the upper back muscles. An overhand grip is considered the most difficult variation of the pullup.
Using an underhand grip during a pullup will work certain muscles more — primarily your biceps and your upper back. Gripping the bar underhand while pulling yourself up is often called a chinup instead of a pullup.
If your goal is to increase your strength, consider performing both pullups (overhand grip) and chinups (underhand grip) during your workout.
Another option is to do your pullups using two D-shaped handles. The handles allow you to grip the bar with an overhand grip and will rotate as you pull up until your palms are facing each other.
Pulling up with D handles allows for a greater range of motion and engages more muscles than a regular bar, including your core and forearms.
Another way to do pullups is by using a machine called the lat pulldown machine. This machine specifically works the latissimus dorsi muscles. The “lats” are the largest muscles of the upper back. You can use the lat pulldown machine with either an underhand or an overhand grip.
At least one study has shown an overhand grip to be more effective than an underhand grip at activating the lower lats. On the other hand, an underhand grip will help activate your biceps more than the overhand grip.
The squat is a type of push exercise in which you lower your thighs until they are parallel to the floor while keeping your chest upright. Squats help strengthen the muscles in your glutes and thighs.
You can perform squats without weights, or you can use a barbell to add weight to your squats. Usually the bar is placed on the upper part of your back and shoulders.
An overhand grip is the safest way to grip the bar during a squat. You shouldn’t attempt to support the weight with your hands at all. Your upper back holds the bar up while your grip keeps the bar from sliding.
Using an overhand grip during push-pull exercises can help strengthen your forearm muscles and improve overall grip strength.
It’s generally recommended that you use an overhand grip when doing push-pull exercises, such as squats and deadlifts, in order to get the most benefit and avoid muscle imbalances.
However, when doing deadlifts, it may be necessary to switch to a mixed grip when you’re lifting very heavy weights, since your grip strength may eventually fail with an overhand grip.
In other exercises, like pullups or barbell rows, your grip helps determine which muscle groups are being worked the most. Depending on your goals, you may want to vary your grip from overhand to underhand to target more muscle groups in your back, arms, forearms, and core.