Confessions of a Former Over Gripper

Let me start this by saying, there is no “right” or “wrong” way to grip a pull-up bar. There is, however, a grip that creates more shoulder stability and provides more safety during the swinging motions.

If you would have asked me in the past about how to grip a pull-up bar, I would have been adamantly opposed to using a “thumb around” grip. I could have given you every reason why “thumb over” was better: “I have small hands,” “I can feel my lats more,” “It doesn’t rip my thumbs,” “I get a bigger swing.”

That was until someone asked me, “could you climb a rope with that grip?” This got me thinking…Why, in every other movement that I train do I use a thumb around grip, but when it comes to bar hanging movements, I use a thumb over grip? It took me taking a step back and committing to the thumb around grip to truly see the benefits.

Here are the facts on the thumb around grip:

1) A thumb around grip creates more shoulder stability.

Wrapping your thumb around the bar engages muscles in your forearm that creates a chain effect all the way up your arm. It forces your shoulders to stay more externally rotated and thus more stable. Yes, for most of us this will decrease our swinging range of motion. My argument would be that a tighter bow will shoot an arrow further. It will also be a tool for most of us to learn about and fight against overcompensation. If you have rock hard lats, your shoulders always tend to hurt and you have trouble pressing a bar overhead, you might be overcompensating with your lats over your shoulders. Remember balance should always be the key.

2) A thumb around grip creates more torque.

Back to the bow and arrow reference. A tighter bow will shoot an arrow further. More torque will lead to better kipping movements. Creating more torque is essentially improving the effectiveness of the lever system. By increasing the torque we create we hypothetically create more efficient pulling motions.

3) A thumb around grip is safer.

You know those videos you see where people fall off the bar during a kip? Re-watch them and let me know what grip they are using. I would guess it is almost always a thumb over grip. A thumb around grip is a stronger grip, period. Also back to point 1. More stability means you are using your muscles more to hang, not just relying on your tendons and ligaments to keep our shoulder in place. If your shoulders always hurt on hanging motions, I would challenge you to commit to this grip for a month and see how your shoulders feel.

4) A thumb around grip will get you stronger.

Grip strength is an underrated, but extremely important part of overall strength. I don’t care how strong your posterior chain is, if you cannot keep a grip on the barbell during a heavy deadlift, you will not lift it. The thumb around consistently trains your grip for literally every other grip you do. Ring muscle-ups, rope climbs, oly lifts, deadlifts, farmer carries, will all improve by training your grip! Don’t miss the opportunity to improve because it is uncomfortable.

Here are some quick tips:

1.) Keep your knuckles facing the ceiling.

For me this was the number one reason I used a thumb over grip. It made it easier to point my knuckles to the ceiling and thus made the lever system easier (Fig.1). This will take strengthening the position but forcing your knuckles to face the ceiling, while your thumb is around the bar (Fig.2) will give you all the previous benefits as well as shorten the distance you have to pull. Even it if it a few centimeters, those add up on Angie! Do not be lazy with the thumb around grip (Fig.3) or you will miss the big advantages!

2.) Start with a hang

I am not asking you to change your entire pulling mechanics right this second. Start by hanging on the bar with a thumb around grip. Eventually move into kip swings. Then to kipping pull-ups. Slow and consistent progressions will lead to long lasting results.

Here is a final fact: If you have not been using this grip, it is going to suck. It is going to feel bad. It is going to feel weaker. You are not going to like it.

But you didn’t like hook grip at first. The first time you put on a pair of grips, it was miserable. When you learned that your hips had to go below parallel during a squat it was really hard. But overtime you learned that all of these things can drastically improve your performance during training. I would venture to say that the thumb around grip will do exactly the same thing.