Lift With Purpose

Lift with a purpose, lift intentionally. 


Have you ever wondered why you perform barbell rows with an overhand grip, but someone else may perform the same exercise using an underhand grip? Have you ever wondered which way is actually correct? If you haven’t questioned things of this nature, then you are just going through the motions when lifting. Instead, we should lift with purpose and this starts with knowing WHY and how your body position specifically your hand placements and grip affect the muscles being targeted.

Each hand placement and grip serves a specific purpose as it controls the primary muscles targeted in whatever movement that is being performed. A subtle change in how you place your hands on or grip a dumbbell, barbell, or cable can make a huge difference in which muscle(s) is being used. Therefore, it is imperative that you understand the influence of these subtle changes in order to have a sound rationale behind every movement you do and ultimately, lift intentionally.

First, let’s discuss the 4 main grips:

1. Overhand (pronated): your palms face away from you when gripping the bar.

  • Typically used during pull movements such as chin-ups, lat pull downs, or rows.

2. Underhand (supinated): your palms face forward/palms up.

  • Typically used during barbell bicep curls.

3. Neutral grip: palms face each other.

  • Used when performing hammer curls

4. Mixed grip (alternative grip): one hand is placed under and one hand is placed over.

  • The stronger hand is usually placed over and the weak hand is placed under

  • Typically used for deadlifting heavy loads

Applying these grips to various lifting movements:

Barbell rows:

  • Supinated/ underhand grip

With this grip, you activate more of your biceps due to the action of the biceps flexing the elbow and supinating the wrist. Because of the involvement of the biceps along with the back muscles such as the lats, you are able to row more weight with this grip.

  • Pronated/overhand grip

With this grip, you get less biceps recruitment and activation, and the focus is shifted to the back muscles primarily the rhomboids and lats. Therefore, you are not able to row as much weight.

A similar concept applies to pull-ups and chin-ups.

Chin-ups vs pull-ups

Have you ever wondered why you are able to do more chin ups than pull ups?

  • The reason for this is that chin-ups utilize a supinated/underhand grip which allows you to activate your biceps as well as your lats. However, due to the underhand grip, the focus is shifted away from the back muscles. On the other hand, a pull up uses an overhand (pronated grip) and targets primarily your lats.

Neutral grip pull up

  • This position keeps the shoulders in a natural alignment

  • A good option if you are coming back from a shoulder injury or have a history of shoulder injuries.

Push ups:

Narrow hand placement:

  • shoulders are better supported in this position

  • Good option for someone with shoulder injuries and/or a history of shoulder injuries.

  • Increased triceps activation

Wide hand placement:

  • This hand placement puts the shoulder in a less stable position, so it is not a good option for someone with shoulder injuries and/or a history of shoulder injuries.

  • Increased pectoralis major activation

Shoulder Exercises:

Overhead press with Narrow overhand grip:

  • focuses primarily on the front part of the shoulder, the anterior deltoid as well as the triceps.

  • This is the better option if you have shoulder injuries as it puts your shoulder in a more natural position.

Wide grip overhead press:

  • focuses primarily on the middle part of the shoulder - medial deltoid.

Neutral grip dumbbell front raises:

  • focuses on the anterior deltoid

Lateral raise:

  • This movement can be performed with a neutral grip. However, if you are experiencing shoulder pain or have a history of shoulder injuries you may want to perform this movement with your wrist supinated (palm facing forward) and thumbs up, as if you are about to empty a can. This hand placement will focus on the rotator cuff musculature.

Bicep Exercises:

Underhand (supinated) grip:

  • Increased isolation of biceps

Neutral grip:

  • curling using this grip is known as a hammer curl

  • works more of the brachioradialis (muscle of the forearm) more than the biceps.

Deadlifts: one of the best compound exercises ever. There are so many different variations and hand placement options to choose from!

Overhand grip:

  • forces you to keep the bar close to your body.

  • requires the most amount of grip strength so you will definitely feel the burn in your forearms 🔥.

  • Because of this, when you use this grip while deadlifting HEAVY, it is not unlikely that you will feel capable with your lower body but will fail due to your grip strength.

Mixed grip:

  • Allows you to lift heavier loads and your grip is less likely to fail on the lift.

  • The downside to this grip is that muscular imbalances can develop if you don’t alternate which palm is up and which is down.

Now that you know how the various grips and hand placements affect movements, be sure to shake up your routine and give the different grips/hand placements that you don't normally perform a try.

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