It sounds simple enough, doesn't it? You just wrap your hands around a bar as tightly as you can and start your exercise. Not so fast. The way in which you grip your bar not only affect how easily and effectively you train a muscle, but also which part of a muscle get exercised.
And as with so many other deceptively and seemingly easy actions, a wrong grip can also lead to injury. It is very easy under warm conditions for sweaty palms to slip under the weight of a bar, in which case you may be lucky and the weight just drop. However, it can also cause your wrist to twist which can lead to a more serious injury. An incorrect grip can also cause strain on your tendons and ligaments which can also result in injury.
Before looking at the actual grip, it's important for you to understand which accessories can be used to assist you with your grip.
Hand And Wrist Support
The single most important necessity for supporting and protecting your hands and wrist, are your gym gloves. It helps you grip the bar more securely and tightly while preventing your hands from slipping. An added benefit is that it also protects your skin from the coarseness of the bar. This will help short-term conditions like blisters from forming and over the long term, help prevent the development of unsightly calluses on the palms of your hands.
A lot of people use wrist guards all the time when performing their workouts. I strongly disagree with this practice. Wrist guards are meant to support a weakened or injured wrist and prevent further injury. It is not meant to support a healthy wrist for a simple reason:
Your wrist muscles need to develop and strengthen with the rest of your muscles to cope with the stress of the increased weight put on them. Wearing wrist guards actually weakens your wrist by not allowing its muscles to grow and strengthen on their own. In fact, you create false sense of strength in your wrists that does not really exists.
I feel even stronger about wrist straps. The loop that fits around your wrist with the extended long piece of material that wraps around your bar, allows you to lift a much heavier weight than you will be able to without its assistance. Professional weightlifters use this all the time to lift extremely heavy weights. For normal gym use while getting in shape, this is completely unnecessary and potentially very unhealthy:
Your body hasn't adapted to the increased weight on its own yet. You put your body under extreme stress, especially your ligaments (the fibrous tissue connecting the bones). Under too heavy a weight you can cause serious damage to your ligaments. I honestly believe using wrist straps is simply too dangerous and unnecessary for what you are trying to achieve.
Gripping The Weight
The most important part of this article is to know HOW you should grip (wrap your hand and fingers around) a bar.
Imagine wrapping your hands around the bar like you would around the steering wheel of your car. Four fingers are curling around the bar and just touching your palms on the opposite side. Your thumb curls in the opposite direction over the bar before meeting and crossing over the front of your fingers.
(Your fingers and thumb should not cross over each other too far, as this can cause friction between your fingers and even lead to cramping as your hand is wrapped too tightly around the bar. This grip is normally a sign of using too thin a bar. On the opposite side of the scale you get a bar that is too thick. The thumb and and fingers do not even come close to touching at the opposite side of the bar. Therefore, you are unable to grip the bar properly and it can easily slip from your grasp during an exercise. Just keep this at the back of your head, as you will probably never have to concern yourself with this as almost all gyms make sure all the barbells and dumbbells they use are of the appropriate width.)
Grip the weight tightly, but not as tightly as you would grip the sides of your chair while watching a scary movie. It should just be tight enough for you to hold the weight without it being able to move around in your hand or able to slip from your grasp.
The reason for this is that gripping a weight too tightly will tire the muscles in your forearm out prematurely. As a result your grip may tire before the actual muscle you are training is getting tired, defeating the whole purpose of the exercise.
It sounds simple, but especially as a beginner at lifting weights, that is exactly how it should be. There is no reason you should even look or consider fancy and alternative grips used by some professionals and "celebrity trainers". You are not going to gain any advantage or get into shape any quicker.
Just as a matter of interest, you get a variety of grips like the "hook grip", "double overhand grip" and "the mixed grip". One grip I should mention and highlight though, is the "false grip" or "suicide grip". This grip is different from you normal grip, in that the thumb do not curl around the bar in the opposite direction as the other fingers, but curl alongside them around the bar to form a "cradle" for the weight to lie in. This grip is very popular with serious weightlifters doing exercises like the bench press, where it provides a mechanical advantage and allow the weight to better align with the wrist joint.
This grip is very dangerous and is not recommended. As you can see from the description, the thumb is not wrapped around the bar in such a fashion to secure the bar. As a result the bar can very easily slip from your hands with potentially very serious consequences.
I am not going to complicate things for you with more information than you need to know. The basics described at the top of the this section, is all you need to focus on for now. Stick to the basics!
General Grip Positions
With the actual grip out of the way, we can now focus on the grip positions. What I am going to describe is a general rule to be followed, with the emphasis on general. There are literally as many different grip positions as there are different types of bars and exercise equipment, not to mention the potentially different exercises that can be performed with each one.
Whenever you are unsure about how the grip a weight, remember the following. If you narrow all exercises down to their most basic form, you have 2 basic types of grips: Underhand and Overhand.
The underhand (supinated) grip describes holding the bar with your palms facing up. This type of grip is mostly used when a weight is curled up and towards you. The seated dumbbell curl is a good example of this grip. In general, underhand grips are associated with pulling exercises.
The overhand (pronated) grip describes holding the bar with your palms facing down. This type of grip is mostly used when a weight is pushed away from you. The standing triceps extension with a straight bar is a good example of this grip. In general, overhand grips are associated with pushing exercises.
A third type of grip that is used almost as often as the other two, is the "Inside Facing Grip". This grip is used whenever you perform an exercise with your palms facing inwards towards your sides. The bicep hammer curl is a good example of this type of grip. You are also often "forced" to use this type of grip when working on an exercise machine with the grips positioned close and parallel to each other.
The focus and aim of this article was to help you get comfortable gripping and holding the bar of a dumbbell, barbell and related exercise equipment. Additionally, you were also introduced to different grip positions to make it easier for you to know and understand when and why they are used.
I know this is just touching the tip of the iceberg. As I mentioned there are literally hundreds if not thousands of grip positions and a dozen or more grip types. There is no reason to confuse you with too much unnecessary information though.
You now know enough to be more at ease holding weights, and I trust this is enough to help you get going and make you feel more at ease in the gym environment and all its equipment.
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Until next time, take care and let me know if there is a specific new topic you would like me to discuss.