Since September is pull up month here at Primal Fitness Pittsburgh, I’m going to take a look at grip position and the differences between the variations.
First the basics-Overhand grip(Palms away from you) is a pull up. Underhand grip (Palms toward you) is a chin up. A neutral grip is with your palms facing each other. Generally people are going to be stronger at chin ups than pull ups because of increased bicep recruitment and a slight change in overall leverage.
So which one is better? That’s a matter of opinion, but I prefer the overhand pull up grip for the majority of my work. I’ll supplement with neutral and chin up grips on occasion, but I like focusing on pullups. Whichever main grip you focus on, just be aware of overuse injuries and elbow tendonitis from high volume work. Warm up, stretch those forearms and vary your grip just enough and you should have no problems.
Now a little discussion on actually gripping the bar. There is a thumbless grip where your thumb aligns on the same side of the bar as your hand and along your index finger. The other grip is the wrapped hook grip, where your thumb goes around the bar and touches or sits atop your index or middle finger. When doing chins or neutral grip, it’s extremely natural to wrap your thumb when gripping, however when it comes to over hand pull ups the thumbless grip becomes more of an option for many people. We’ll take a closer look at each one next and review the pros & cons.
Thumbless-This grip is fairly easy and comfortable for most people. It is the one I most often use for pull ups. (However after researching this article, I am going to change that) It can allow people with a little less grip strength to hang on the bar a little longer, but it doesn’t do as much for increasing grip strength. Which should always be considered because you can never really have too much grip strength.
Thumb over hook grip-This is where you grab the bar with a full grip and wrap as much of your hand aroun the bar as possible. It feels solid, but for some it can take a little getting used to. An additional aspect of this grip is making sure your pinky finger base is aligned atop the bar. This forces a slight external rotation of the shoulders and allows you to engage and protect them better. It can feel slightly awkward at first if you are not used to it, but after some playing around I think it is a stronger position and will allow for building more strength over the long term. It should also really build that steel trap grip that everyone desires(or at least you should desire, as poor grip strength can drastically limit your overall strength)
There are some other alternative grips for increasing grip strength. You should be aware though that often times using these grips, especially at the beginning will reduce the overall number of reps you will be able to do.
Towel-Looping a towel over the bar and squeezing the 2 ends together as you hang under the bar to do your pull ups. This is very challenging. Ease into this grip variation or your forearms will be screaming mercy the next day.
Fat bar-As the thickness of the bar increases, so does the difficulty and demands implemented on your grip. Sometimes wrapping a towel around the bar to increase thickness can be used in a pinch where no access to a fat bar is available.
Fingertip/ledge-certain climbing wall gyms will have a specialized board for doing pull ups with only your fingertips. Building this strength is imperative for rock climbers. (and anyone wanting to go far on American Ninja Warrior) You can get creative and use any ledge to simulate this grip position.
Give these hand positions and grip variations a try in your pull up programming and see your grip and overall pulling strength increase! If you need help with your pull ups, email us at firstname.lastname@example.org and we can meet up to discuss your pull goals. Don’t forget! We have our online pull up coaching program starting October 5th! For more information, email email@example.com!