YOU SHALL NOT SNATCH, or, Thoughts on the Absolute Necessity of the Hook Grip
By Noah Abbott
Lately my coaching comrades and I have been noticing a strange phenomenon. Normally conscientious and dedicated Crossfit padawans, attempting the two toughest things we do at the gym—the snatch and clean, without the use of a hook grip. While we talk about the hook grip in Foundations, I think it may be prudent to inject a bit more philosophical and theoretical gravity into its use, to ensure that it is used every single time you Olympic lift, until you are so comfortable with it that you will feel weird doing anything else.
What is the hook grip and why do we use it? It is simply a method of gripping a barbell, or anything of roughly barbell diameter. To secure your hook grip, follow these steps:
1. Open your hands as wide as possible and push the bar deep into your palm.
2. Wrap your thumb around the bar as far as you can.
3. Tightly grab your thumb with your index and middle fingers and pull it further around the bar, while your
ring and pinky fingers hold onto the barbell.
The hook grip is as old as time immemorial. American weightlifting legend Tommy Kono says that when he started lifting (roughly 1945 or so) he used the hook grip, which he had seen in a book. That legacy has continued, and EVERY SINGLE competitive Olympic lifter in the world, universe, and likely in uncharted galaxies uses the hook grip. So you should too. Need more proof than every gold medal won at every Olympics, ever? Ok, fine, here goes:
1. The hook grip is strong as hell. You are basically turning your hand into an Organic Lifting Strap (extra hipster cred for sustainability!). Want a test? Go hang from a barbell with a normal grip, then try using a hook grip—which do you want to bet lets you hang longer. In fact, you will probably quit from thumb discomfort before your hook grip actually fails. This is a test, so please don’t actually use a hook grip to do pull-ups, unless it's to win a bet.
2. The hook grip allows you to accelerate the barbell with loose arms. Since the grip is “passive”—the bar is held by the friction caused from the weight of the barbell clamping your thumb into your fingers—you can secure a rock solid grip on the bar without contracting the muscles in your forearms. Loose arms translate to better pulls. Ever have a coach correct your early arm pull or tell you to “whip your elbows faster?” You can’t do either of those without a hook grip.
3. The hook grip allows for proper rack delivery in the clean. This dovetails off the last point, but the passive and relaxed nature of the grip makes it easier to open your hands and deliver the bar to your shoulders with high elbows. People who don’t hook grip and squeeze the hell out of the bar end up with their hands glued fully around the bar, a bad rack position, and subsequently FAILZ.
Ok, so I’ve convinced you, right? Well, we still get lots of complaints about the hook grip, and since this ol Crossfit thing is a customer service business, we endeavor to satisfy your complaints, or at least confuse you enough that you drop the subject. Common gripes generally fall into two categories:
1. My hands are too small! No, they are not. Likely, you haven’t really shoved the bar deep enough into your palm, or gripped it tightly enough with your fingers. Halil Mutlu won three consecutive Olympic Golds, standing 4’11'' tall and beginning his career at 56KG (118 lbs), before beefing up to a scale shattering 62KG (136 lbs.) Dude was little, and his hands were tiny, and he hook gripped like a boss. Further, at the gym we have a range of barbells (33, 25, and 15#, or yellow, green, and white tape), which are smaller in diameter than the 20KG/45# bars. That said, they are generally 25mm diameter vs the normal 28mm, so they aren’t exactly toothpicks. Unless you are literally a baby—not a wimp, but an actual infant—your hands are just fine.
2. It hurts! Well, life is pain, anyone who says differently is selling something. Seriously, the wisdom of Wesley/T.D.P.R. aside, discomfort caused by the hook grip is temporary, and generally lessens with familiarity. Simply using the hook grip all the time will make the discomfort vanish, replaced by the sweet caress of PRs and resultant glory.
If you really feel tight and restricted, Greg Everett of Catalyst Athletics suggests you implement this stretch: Make a fist with your thumb tucked tightly inside and ulnar deviate your hand; that is, tilt your hand away from the thumb side. You should feel a stretch around the base of your thumb and probably a little up into your wrist as well. You can also flex the wrist from this position to get an additional and somewhat different stretch. So do that. If you want to be a real badass/masochist, deadlift with a hook grip—cleans and snatches will seem like a manicure after that.
Lastly, you can tape your thumbs before you lift, which should reduce some of the discomfort. Here’s Rich Froning talking in GREAT DETAIL about how to wrap tape around your thumb, which doesn’t seem too complicated to me, but then again, he’s the champ, and I write things on the CFSBK blog. Some people differ on their approach to taping your thumbs. The aforementioned Greg Everett, for example, says you should NOT tape over the joint, and instead tear a strip of athletic tape in half (after you’ve ripped it free from the roll, do not give Coach Fox an aneurism) and tape north and south of your thumb joint. This will allow your thumb to move a bit more freely than if it is taped like a big burrito, which Everett claims can lead to discomfort, or even a broken thumb. (I am highly skeptical of the broken thumb claim, but again, I have about 1% of 1% of his experience, or less.)
So, as per normal, I’ve covered a simple topic in exhaustive, pedantic, teeth gnashing depth. Not much left to be said, except for this: You know who wished he used the hook grip? This guy.
News and Notes
- Happy birthday, Mark C.!
- Uzef, Paul J., and Rob I. are all competing tomorrow at the 31st Annual USAPL New Jersey State Powerlifting Championship in New Brunswick. GOOD LUCK, STRONG MEN!