Different grips play different roles when grabbing bars. For maximal deadlifts there’s the switch grip option. For bench press and shoulder press you can choose to not wrap the thumb around. Even pull-ups have different choices! Thumb around or thumb over? For each, much of the decision is based on personal preference. However, there is no debate about the grip necessary to perform the Olympic lifts (snatch and clean & jerk). If you are looking to set new o-lifting personal records, you must employ the hook grip.
Grab your thumb. That’s about as simple as I can put it. Wrap your thumb around the bar like normally, but instead of letting it rest on the top of your index and middle fingers, tuck it underneath. Depending on the size of your hand you’ll be able to grab anywhere from the fingernail of the thumb to the base of the thumb. Those with especially big hands may even be able to get parts of their ring fingers around the thumb.
The hook grip is to the Olympic lifts as the switch grip is to the heavy deadlift. You just can’t lift super heavy, or high rep, without it. During a standard, non-hook grip, the thumb isn’t being utilized. For a slow lift like the deadlift, or light cleans and snatches, that isn’t a big problem. Anything close to 1RM levels though and the thumb is vital to maintaining grip on the bar.
It Hurts Though!
You’re definitely not wrong about that. The biggest problem with the hook grip is its awkwardness. Much like anything we aren’t used to, it’s going to take time for you and your hands to adjust. Mike Burgener’s (renowned Olympic lifting coach) best advice for getting past the discomfort and pain? “Get over it”. Those words are straight from a man dealing with some of the best lifters in the world. You aren’t the first person to experience pain in the hook grip and you definitely won’t be the last. The same way the benefits gained from a WOD are well worth the pain and exhaustion, so too are the heavy loads lifted by utilizing the hook grip. Once you’ve torn a few times and the skin has had a chance to callous over it’s not so bad anymore.
The best way to ease your hands into the hook grip is at lighter weights. That means every time you are warming up and going through the class progressions you have to be diligent about practicing the hook grip. No exceptions!
Small hands are a definite disadvantage to hook gripping, but they aren’t a death sentence. You can always try using a smaller bar. The more you can get your thumb around the bar, the better. As with lifting shoes and flexibility though, don’t let using a small bar be an excuse not to work on forearm strength. The stronger your forearms and grip, the less painful the hook grip will feel on a big bar. Consider using a big bar for all non-Olympic Lifting movements, or perhaps reserving the smaller bar only for higher rep Oly workouts. In my experience, the hook grip is usually okay for a single rep using the big bar. If you couldn’t already tell, I have small hands…
My hook grip’s saving grace is Rock Tape. I got this little trick from Jeremy when he started doing tons of Olympic lifting. His thumbs were taking a beating and so he started using Rock Tape. It works like a charm! The flexibility of the tape allows you to wrap the entire thumb, knuckles included, and still maintain full mobility. It is far better than regular athletic tape and I highly recommend buying some.