The deadlift is one of the more simplistic movements performed in a CrossFit gym, but that doesn’t mean you won’t see variations in athletes’ approaches to it. One of the more common questions I get regarding the movement is hand orientation. Beginners will often curiously gaze upon others performing the lift with a switch grip, and rightfully so. I imagine much of the inner dialogue for the beginner including phrases like “do they know something I don’t?”, “is that how you’re supposed to hold it?”, and “will that help me lift more weight?”. The answers to these, and most other questions related to deadlift grip, depend largely on the athlete, their particular goals, and the workout at hand.
Double Overhand Grip (aka Regular Grip)
This is your standard palms-facing-your-shins grip. It’s the most natural way to pick up a bar. You use this same grip, at varying widths, for the clean and the snatch.
Switch Grip (aka Mixed Grip)
The switch grip involves one hand in the overhand position and the other in a palms-facing-out position. It is typically stronger than a double overhand grip because the contrasting positions make it more difficult for the bar to roll out of your hands.
Things To Consider
There are many factors to consider when choosing which deadlifting grip to use. The main ones, though, are:
- Forearm/grip strength
- The workout
- Comfort level
If holding onto a bar for sustained efforts with heavy weights is an issue for you, and you’re looking to improve your forearm/grip strength, you’ll want to stay away from the switch grip as much as possible. The double overhand position puts a much greater emphasis on the forearms. After a while of diligent double overhand work you’ll start to see the dividends in your high rep clean and snatch workouts where holding onto the bar for as long as possible is key. Most people don’t spend the extra time before or after class working on grip strength exercises, so getting that work in during your deadlift workouts can be super valuable.
If your workout calls for maximal loads you’ll definitely want to consider the switch grip. For some people, the difference between a double overhand max and a switch grip max can mean 30-50 extra lbs. The same can be said for workouts where the goal is max reps. The switch grip will lessen the load on your forearms, making holding onto a bar for long periods of time much easier.
Keep in mind though that it’s always a smart idea to leave the switch grip for the actual max lift or set. It doesn’t matter how awesome your grip strength is. Everyone can always use a little extra work. Try using the double overhand grip during your warm-up sets, changing over to the switch grip when absolutely needed. This will allow you to still get some much needed grip strength work in without compromising your forearms for your work sets.
For metcons, where the goal is speed, your choice of grip will mostly depend on the deadlift load for the workout. For anything “heavy” an athlete should always consider starting with the switch grip. This will save valuable time struggling with your forearms and dealing with letting them recover mid-WOD because you decided to try the double overhand grip. Skip immediately to the switch grip so you’ll have one less thing to worry about. Anything with “light” to “moderate” weights and athletes should start to factor in the amount of total reps required. A double overhand grip might seem completely doable when viewing a workout on paper, but 1oo reps of anything can breakdown even the strongest of athletes.
A particular workout’s movement combinations might also play a role. Let’s say you’ve got a workout that has 155#/115# deadlifts. Easy day, right? Wrong. Those deadlifts also happen to be paired with pull-ups and kettlebell swings. In short, this workout can, and should, be named “Forearm Death”. In that case, the weight of the deadlift shouldn’t matter at all. Switch grip is going to be your best option because you’ll need to do everything you can to try and save your forearm strength for the other movements.
You’ll also want to consider which is most comfortable for you. For me, the double overhand position feels the best. I already struggle mightily with proper hip and back positioning on the deadlifts due to mobility constraints; a switch grip, I find, further compromises my positioning. As a result, I only resort to switch grip under extreme circumstances (max lifts, super heavy metcons, high rep/moderate weight metcons).
Through time and experience with the deadlift, as well as becoming aware of your body’s particular needs, you’ll gain a better understanding of the situations and instances for using either grip.