Last updated on March 8th, 2023 at 11:58 am
Are deadlifts literally killing your hands?
Don’t worry, it’s a common occurrence, but not one that you have to live with forever.
Here’s why deadlifts hurt your hands and what you can do about it.
The main reason deadlifts hurt your hands is because of an incorrect grip. There is a tendency to hold the bar in the palm of the hand. However, this will typically lead to either the skin just below the fingers getting pinched or caught by the bar, or all the pressure being applied to the calluses on the hands.
Where Are You Placing Your Hands on The Bar?
Your grip plays an important role in all pulling exercises, and I’ll cover various grips in just a moment.
However, grip and hand position is especially important when it comes to the deadlift.
As the deadlift is typically the most weight that you will pull with a bar there is a tendency to get as much of the bar into the hands as possible.
Initially, this seems like a practical solution.
Surely, the more surface area of the hands that are wrapped around the bar, the better you can expect your grip to be?
Unfortunately, while this may be true, this is what’s causing you so much discomfort when you deadlift.
Calluses are a natural part of lifting weights.
And in reality they should be welcomed rather than avoided.
However, the way you grip the bar during deadlifts (or any other pulling exercise) could be applying more pressure to the hands.
I won’t go into detail here about calluses and how to manage them, as I have spoken about this when discussing pull ups, and the same principles apply.
Nevertheless, deadlifts will hurt because of where you are placing your hands.
If you grab the bar with the palm of your hand, as soon as you apply tension the bar will automatically move further down the hand.
It is at this point that the bar rests firmly on your calluses, thus applying a great deal of pressure.
When your hands are “soft and weak” this will hurt like hell.
Change Your Hand Position
The trick here is to place the callused part of your hands on the bar.
Then as soon as you apply tension the bar will once again automatically move further down the hand, but this time to the fingers rather than directly on your calluses.
I will admit that this will take some getting used to, but over time it will feel more comfortable and your deadlift numbers will improve.
Okay, it’s probably not what you want to hear, but your hands will toughen up and adapt over time.
Plus, your calluses will build up (with adequate maintenance), and you can then use them to your advantage.
Here’s Mark Rippetoe with a perfect explanation of how to manage calluses and where to grip the bar.
Change Your Deadlift Grip
Your grip is the biggest limiting factor when it comes to deadlifts.
Let face facts, your back and legs are far stronger than your grip.
However, if your hands hurt during deadlifts it may be time to play around with the type of grip you have on the bar.
The most common grips used during deadlifts will be the overhand grip, mixed grip, and hook grip.
The Overhand Grip
The standard overhand grip will see your palms facing you as you grip the bar, while your thumbs rest on the fingers.
This is the “weakest” grip.
With that said, this is probably the best grip in terms of building both grip and forearm strength.
I can guarantee that you will pull more weight with an overhand grip while deadlifting than you will with barbell forearm curls.
So, if you want to build bulging forearms I would recommend overhand grip deadlifts over more specific forearm-focused exercises.
However, when it comes to deadlifts the overhand grip will definitely limit how much weight you can pull.
The Mixed Grip
The next step is to typically try the mixed grip.
So, one hand has an overhand grip and the other an underhand grip.
It is generally better to have your more dominant hand in the underhand grip position.
You will immediately notice that this grip allows you to pull more weight in the deadlift.
Now while this is great, I wouldn’t recommend allowing the mixed grip to become a permanent feature with your deadlifts.
Simply put, you will be using slightly different muscles when using a mixed grip, and over time this could lead to muscle imbalances.
The Hook Grip
Finally, with the hook grip, which is where the thumb is actually placed against the bar and the fingers wrap over the top of the thumb.
For most of you this will feel extremely uncomfortable at first.
However, for those who are serious about deadlifting, this is typically the grip they end up with.
There are various other grips as well by the way, but let’s not overcomplicate matters for now.
If deadlifts hurt your hands it may be time to change your grip and see how that feels.
Should You Deadlift With Straps and Gloves?
If deadlifts hurt your hands the immediate reaction is to protect the hands and try to alleviate the pressure from them.
A couple of the best ways to achieve this will be to either deadlift with straps or gloves.
Now there are two completely different schools of thoughts here.
I’m not saying either one is right or wrong, but they are merely two opposing views.
I don’t wish to sway the debate either way, although I have my own preference.
There are those who will say that if you’re hands hurt when you deadlift then this may lead you to avoiding the exercise altogether.
Irrespective of what side of the fence you sit on when it comes to straps and gloves, I think we can all agree that the deadlift should NOT be avoided.
So, some people will tell you that the use of straps will mean that your grip is no longer a limiting factor, plus much of the pressure on your hands is removed.
There will be people who say that wearing gloves will help to protect the hands, thus allowing you to continue to deadlift.
What Do I Think?
Then there are those who are opposed to any form of additional “support”.
And this is where I’m at.
I wouldn’t say I am completely against using straps or wearing gloves, but I would rather deadlift “naturally”.
I’m not going to get into the ins-and-outs of whether straps are good for the wrists and joints, that’s another article entirely.
Personally, I just don’t use them.
I can certainly see how straps will allow you to lift more weight, but for me it takes away from the exercise.
The deadlift will strengthen many areas of the body, and I include the hands and the grip in this too.
So, I would much rather deadlift without straps and continuously work on my grip and hand strength at the same time.
As for gloves, once again I’m not a fan.
I mentioned earlier than calluses are a natural part of lifting, and eventually they will become pain-free, as well as an asset to your lifts.
For me, if you’re going to wear gloves, then wear them from the very first time you ever touch a barbell and never lift without them again.
However, you’re missing out on so much by doing this.
Lifting weights will naturally make you stronger and tougher, and I think the hands form part of this deal too.
Plus, many people find that gloves make no difference if their hands are already hurting from deadlifts.
Have You Tried Chalk While Deadlifting?
I’m sure you’re aware by now that your grip causes issues with both how much weight you deadlift and the pain you typically feel in your hands.
I was actually against using chalk for a long time until I eventually tried it for myself.
Chalk is very different from using straps or gloves, so in my mind you’re still getting the full benefit of the deadlift.
I’ve spoken of the bar moving position in the hands as soon as you apply tension.
The same can be said if your hands are moist from sweat.
The barbell tends to roll about in the hands far more when they are moist.
Unfortunately, this could lead to the bar being gripped incorrectly once more.
Plus, it’s not unheard of for the skin to get pinched by the bar. Ouch!
This can lead to your hands hurting even more than before, and let’s not get into the potential to rip off calluses because you’re unable to grip the bar properly
Chalk will dry the hands prior to you lifting, thus allowing you to form a proper grip, and stopping the bar from moving around in the hands.
Do Your Hands Hurt Even More From Trap Bar Deadlifts?
I had to give a mention to the trap bar deadlift.
For me, this formed a huge part of my rehabilitation following a lower back injury.
The more upright upper body position allowed me to still deadlift, but with far less strain on the lower back.
Plus, I love how the trap bar deadlift allows for more quad activation too.
In fact, one of my favourite workouts is the 100-Rep Trap Bar Workout that I discovered a few years ago on T-Nation.
With that being said, the trap bar deadlift has caused just as much pain as pleasure.
I’ve found that the heavier I go with the exercise, the more it seems to literally rip my fingers to shreds.
You will generally find that the trap bar has handles that are smaller in diameter than a traditional barbell.
Plus, they also have non-rotating sleeves.
Unfortunately, this simply leads to your hands hurting even more when using this deadlift variation.
I typically find anything over a couple of plates on either side and I’m in hand-pain hell.
Applying chalk and concentrating more on a correct grip may work, but it will only take you so far.
The trap bar deadlift could possibly be the only time that I would advise you to try straps or gloves.
I haven’t gone there myself yet, but I’m yet to find a better solution.
Key Learning Points
- If you grab the barbell in the palm of your hand it will automatically slipp down to your calluses, which can be extremely painful.
- The “trick” is to grap the bar with callused parts of your hands so that when the bar moves in will rest on your fingers.
- Try different deadlift grips, i.e. overhand, mixed, hook, etc.
- Whether you use straps or gloves is a matter of personal preference. However, this won’t help too improve your “hand weakness”.
- Using chalk for your hands is a better option. This keeps you hands dry and stops the barbell moving around in your hands.
- Trap-bar deadlifts can be especially painful on the hands and fingers. This is one deadlift option where I would consider wearing gloves.
Are you ready for some more “deadlift pain”? Discover what I have to say about deadlifts hurting your knees and how to avoid this.
Hi, I’m Partha, owner and founder of My Bodyweight Exercises. I am a Level 3 Personal Trainer and Certified Strength & Conditioning Specialist through the Register of Exercise Professionals, United Kingdom. I have been a regular gym-goer since 2000 and coaching clients since 2012. My aim is to help you achieve your body composition goals.