Gripping a barbell isn’t rocket science. It’s something that you do without even thinking twice—even though you should be.
There are several different ways to grip a barbell, and each variation serves its own purpose to help you get the most out of your workouts and activate different muscles.
Jason Ferruggia, a California-based trainer and owner of the Renegade Strength Club, shared his tips on barbell grip variations and how to use them safely and effectively.
1. Overhand grip (aka “standard” or “prone” grip)
It’s safe to say that this is the grip that most people picture when they think of someone lifting. The palms face the body and the thumb is wrapped around the bar, falling just over the fingertips.
It sounds simple enough, but that doesn’t mean it doesn’t take fine-tuning to get it right. Ferruggia suggests making sure that your wrists are close to neutral, only bent back ever so slightly when you’re doing a pressing movement with this grip.
As far as versatility, the standard overhand grip is ol’ reliable. It works well for anything from bench press to bent-over row to standard pullups.
2. Underhand grip (aka “supine” grip)
Another common grip, underhand is essentially the opposite of the standard overhand grip. The thumb is engaged, but the palms face away from the body. (An easy way to remember supine vs. prone grip is that in a supine grip, you can cup your hands together, as if you were holding soup in them. Soup = supine. Silly, but it works.)
You’ve probably used this grip for barbell curls, but that’s not all it’s good for: “This grip is also great for bent-over barbell rows,” Ferruggia says.
To target the biceps more effectively, he recommends using a thumbless variation of this grip for biceps curls.
3. Mixed grip (a.k.a. “alternate” grip)
A combination of the first two variations, a mixed grip is exactly what it sounds like: one hand grips the bar overhand, while the other grips underhand. While it can help you get more weight up, Ferruggia warns that this technique can also be dangerous if you’re not careful.
“This grip works well for competitive powerlifters trying to deadlift as much as possible, but it can be risky otherwise because there is potential for biceps tears to occur,” he warns.
If you’re an experienced lifter, this grip is an option for shrug or deadlift variations, if you take care not to overly engage your biceps.
4. False grip
False grip is also known as suicide grip, but it won’t put your life in danger if you use it correctly. It’s similar to an overhand grip with one big difference—no thumbs.
Despite its unnerving nickname, experienced lifters often use this grip for pulling movements, and it’s a staple for gymnasts.
“This grip is too risky to use for bench press, but it’s good for overhead press because it helps guide the bar path more effectively,” Ferruggia says.
It can also be implemented during squats, but lifters who experience elbow pain should wrap their pinky fingers under the bar rather than over it, he says. No matter what, it’s important not to let your hands bend back too far.
5. Hook grip
If you want to get more weight up but your grip strength is holding you back, another option is the hook grip. This looks like an overhand grip, except the thumb is placed underneath the rest of the fingers instead of on top of them, so it’s between your fingers and the barbell.
With this technique, you’ll be able to lift more without the bar rolling off of your fingers for as long as you can keep squeezing your thumb. This grip can be painful, but as a man who was likely jacked once said, “no pain, no gain.”
“Double overhand deadlifts and Olympic lifts especially benefit from this grip technique,” Ferruggia says. It’ll help you grasp the bar more securely, too, which is important with Olympic barbell moves like the clean and jerk and the snatch.
The universal rule
No matter which grips you decide to use, there’s one thing that Ferruggia says is the same throughout.
“For any grip, you should be trying to crush the bar,” he says. The only exception is during squat, where this has potential to cause elbow pain.