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Rest Day

Alex C., and the hook grip in action

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.
4. ?????
5. PR 

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. 

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Reader Comments (20)

Saturday's Programming

EMOM 8 Minutes:
2 Deadlifts, not touch and go
Use 80% of your 1 Rep Max.

July 31, 2014 | Registered CommenterDavid Osorio

Anyone else signing up for the AM cycle of olys?

August 1, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterD

Great article as usual Noah - but I am concerned that you seem to have abandoned the fashion beat.

August 1, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterJay

6 am w. Nick and MeLo doing Thursday's workout.

OHS at (45 x 5, 65 x 5, 70 x 5, 75 x 5 and) 80# x 5. I wasn't sure what my heavy 5 would be, and I ran out of time trying to find it. I think I have more room to go on this one.

Annie Rx in 9:15. First time doing this workout. Took some time getting into the rhythm of DUs in the first set and maintaining them in the last set, but the middle sets went fine.

August 1, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterNeal P.

Great tips on the hook grip. It's still not a comfortable grip for me so I'll try those stretches.

6am with MeLo and Nick.

DL @ 275. I need to fully extend at the top every rep and make sure I don't lead with my hips.

Nice "vanity cash out" today. Fox has me ready to head to Rehoboth Beach today for 10 days! Back to CrossFit Lewes during my time away.

August 1, 2014 | Registered CommenterElliott

7am w/ nick and Melo. Did yesterday's work:

Overhead squats at 45-65-80-95-100. Missed depth on the fifth rep of the last set, so I did a sixth rep. Overhead squats are super intimidating, but I love practicing them.

Annie in 8:24. This is a pr for me. Doubles felt better than usual, but felt like I was in slo-mo on the sit ups.

August 1, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterLaura Mc

Okay, I have questions about the hook grip (and I use it all the time).

1. I suck at Oly lifts. It's a coordination thing in general, but I've noticed that a lot of the time, I have this death grip on the bar, which slows down my elbows. But point #2 suggests I should be able to release the bar *better* with a hook grip. What am I doing wrong?

2. Deadlifts. I know I'm one of the few people who does not switch to switch grip, even at max effort deadlifts. I'd like to keep riding the double-overhand grip thing as long as I can, but it is starting to hurt my thumbs on heavy 5s. Not enough to cause me to drop the bar, but not fun either. Is it time to start switch gripping at last?

August 1, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterStella

Hook grip FTW. Great article.

Seriously, use it for deadlifts,

August 1, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterSamir Chopra

Great post Noah.

I have those afore mentioned "baby hands". It takes me two trips to deliver a round of four beers, and even I can get my fingers around the bar enough to get both index and middle fingers over my thumb. However, the thumb stretches you mentioned are key for smaller hands on heavier lifts. I also tape my pinkies when doing Clean & Jerks to keep the bar from rubbing the skin off of them when going from a pinky-less rack to the overhead position.

However, I didn't know a hook grip could be used one-handed on a Rolex-less woman's forearm. If this were common knowledge, Die Hard 2 would've been a lot better.

August 1, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterChris Yun

DL today at 175#, exactly 80% of my 1RM. They felt heavy! Then did the suns out, guns out accessory work, with 30# dumbells. I love, love, love back off week. Love.

August 1, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterKH a.k.a. "Cage"

Very helpful article, Noah! I have child size hands (literally. child. size) and hook grip was just not cool when i first started SBK. I was only able to reach the edge of my thumbnail at first but now i can hold a full hook grip like the big kids do!! Thanks for the stretching and tape tips too!

August 1, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterBeccaWolf

Also, dear NickDowell, I miss you. I did 7AM to 80s tunes today, but at Flagship CrossFit in San Francisco (came on a business trip, staying the weekend).

Find 5 RM FSQ
45x5, 95x5, 125x5, 135x5, 155x5, 165x5

Then 3x5 @90% (150)

Metcon 6 RFT
6 clean pull 93 (Rx 95, no 1s available)
12 hand release pushups

August 1, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterStella

Also, good luck to Uzef, Paul & Rob!!

August 1, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterBeccaWolf

"Two trips to deliver a round of four beers" - the decline of western civilization in nine words.

August 1, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterSamir Chopra

Did tomorrow's work today
Deads at 355
60# DBs across all sets

I second Noah's views on the use of the hook grip. There is NO reason not to use it.

Also Alex C - great extension in that pic, but please wear shoes when weightlifting! More stable, safer, and they'll allow you to be more aggressive with your footwork.

August 1, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterFox

12pm with Melissa and Lady Fox.

Warm-up 1 was good. I was not sure about the DB thrusters so I started with 15# which was too light, then went to 25# which was too heavy, then went to 20#- could not finish them unbroken. So I guess it will be 17.5# next time.

Deadlifts - 255#. These were heavy but manageable. I need to remember to keep my chest up.

Accessory work- again I played around with the weights on the DB bench press. Went with 25#, 30#, 35#, 35#. The last set I broke up into 7,5. I liked doing these despite them being a little difficult to organize.

Pull-up club solo kipping swing practice afterwards with some helpful tips from MeLo. I would like to be able to do kipping pull-ups by the end of the year, so I am going to have to practice as much as possible.

August 1, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterCharlie

Good luck Strong Men!

Also- Noah- great piece. I especially love step 4. in the instructions on how to snatch.

August 1, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterCharlie

OG: Felt very snappy after a much needed day of rest.

(231, 242, 253)x3

Clean+Front Squat+jerk

Snatch DL

4 rds NFT
15 dips
5 chinups
5 pullups

Ab rollouts 3x10

August 1, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterJakeL

Anybody with experince on back spams?.. like how long does it take heal? Felt a sharp pain to my mid back half way through a squat..

August 1, 2014 | Unregistered Commenterdee..


yes. Ive had the same thing....I took some advil and lifted lightly the next day. The worst thing you can do is lay around and do nothing...move around. It will hurt a bit but it wont kill you.

August 1, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterJakeL

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