Monday, February 16, 2015

Why I Hook... Grip, That Is - Coach's Corner

For the past few years, I've been working with the same coach and lifting partner. It's been a fun experience watching our own unique coaching and lifting styles develop, as well as those fun moments when we don't exactly see eye to eye.

One thing we don't see eye to eye on is Hook Grip.

For WEEKS, I left the gym with sore thumbs. Yes, other body parts too, but most immediately and notably - thumbs. No, they weren't working too hard. They were getting used to being pressed against the bar to enhance my technique.  Eventually, my fingers adapted and now, using the hook grip is completely 2nd nature. In fact, I have to remind myself NOT to do it when practicing my power lifting techniques. (Ever attempt to Hook Grip a 300lb deadlift? Ouch!)

Using the hook grip didn't just improve my control over the bar, but, for me, it also helped me keep the bar closer to my body on the way up, and increased my turn over. The change in my Clean and Snatch technique was an almost instantaneous improvement.

Over time, my coach decided that "Hook grip is stupid." That sent me on a fun little Google search to see how many people shared his opinion.

Now, he might be on to a revolutionary idea. I mean, it HURTS to get your thumbs accustomed to being stretched and squished against a iron bar with knurl. Men with decidedly small hands or limited thumb/wrist mobility find it a detriment to their grip and a even a limiting factor in their lifts.

After all, the argument for Hook Grip is a little weak, right? The main variations I've seen in the gym have their merits as well.

One version I'll call The Clamp.

The lifters using this don't attempt to wrap their thumbs around the bar at all.  They effectively use their hands if all of the fingers were fused together, squeezing the bar hard in order to keep a hold of it. These lifters have an incredibly strong grip. (Usually, this group that make muscle ups, pull ups, and levers look effortless.)  It's the only way I can see this working, so I'd venture to guess this will work for a special few. The argument for this style is that it allows for quicker adjustment to overhead movement (like going from the Clean to the Jerk). While that part of it makes sense, it seems to me like this is putting a lot more pressure on the forearms than is necessary - which feels like a waste of precious energy that could be directed elsewhere in the lift.  Most of the best coaches will say the arms/hands should act like hooks or ropes in the "pulling" portion of the lift, just hanging on to the bar while the rest of the body generates the power to move the bar off the ground. For what it's worth, I've never seen someone with this style of grip Snatch, but I may not have been watching closely enough (since none of my athletes practice this grip). I'll admit, this may have some function or speed related workouts (like Crossfit WOD work where the goal is to get as many lifts as possible in a limited period of time), but I can't see it allowing for maximum pulling efforts in competitive Olympic Weightlifting. I've tried it a few times and I just can't wrap my brain around it as a functional competitive grip.

Another version I'll call the Wrap Around. It was (naturally) the first style I learned when I started weightlifting.  For this style of grip, the thumbs are wrapped around the bar, but not tucked under any other fingers, as required by the Hook Grip. This requires less squeezing of the bar than The Clamp and would probably be my next choice for someone unable/unwilling to learn the Hook Grip.
 But, for me, I'm sticking with the Hook Grip
Well, I could fall back on 'my coach told me to', but I'm glad I've been faced with this question because it really let me examine the topic.
Why does every championship Olympic weightlifter in the world use this particular grip?
Because Olympic Weightlifting isn't a sport of kilos or pounds; okay, it is, but when it comes down to it - it's a sport of centimeters.
Hook Grip requires less 'squeezing of the bar' and less forearm engagement than the other 2 mentioned above. Forearm strength no longer becomes a limiting factor for a lift, since the hook grip allows for the forearms to be more relaxed in the pull, it allows for quicker, more effortless turnover. The less engaged the arms are, the easier it is to swoop the elbows under the bar.

Now- that said, I'm not advocating the hook grip for overhead movements like the Jerk and Overhead Squat (pictured above) . Some folks are able to keep their hook grip going overhead, and some aren't.  Every lifter finds what is most functional for them, in the long term. Me? Hook grip is like my hot sauce. I use it on everything - Clean, Snatch, and Jerk. I figure these lifts are complicated enough. Why add an extra grip change into the mix? 

But that's just why I hook....

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