Here’s Why Deadlifts Hurt Your Hands & How to Fix it

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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?

Jim Wendler, Powerlifter and Coach: "Deadlifts will hurt your hands, especially when you're starting out. Don't let that scare you; it's part of the process. Work on grip strength, use straps when needed, and keep lifting."

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.

You Call Them Calluses, I Call Them Trophies

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.

💪 Deadlift Grip Strength: A Key to Success 💪
Grip’s Role Grip is critical for deadlift success. It directly impacts your ability to control the bar and lift heavier weights.
Grip Options Multiple grip options exist. Each has its own strengths and weaknesses, and the best choice can vary depending on individual preference and strength.
Double-Overhand Grip Double-overhand grip is strong but uncomfortable. It might not be feasible for everyone.
Mixed Grip Mixed grip offers a good balance. However, be aware of potential stress on shoulders and elbows.
Hook Grip Hook grip is strongest and most secure, but painful at first. Mastering it offers long-term advantages.
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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

Jon Pall Sigmarsson, World's Strongest Man: "It hurts when you first learn the hook grip, but you need to learn to deal with pain. If you want to be strong, you have to be able to handle it."

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.

Louie Simmons, Powerlifter and Coach: "The deadlift is all about grip. If you can't hold the bar, you can't lift it. Invest in grip training, and you'll see your deadlift skyrocket."

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?

A Person Applying Weightlifting Chalk to Their Hands

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.

Are Deadlifts Also Hurting Your Wrists?

Wrist pain from deadlifts is actually a fairly common issue, but it’s usually one that can be addressed with some adjustments to your form, grip, and possibly incorporating some accessory exercises to strengthen your wrists and forearms.

When you’re performing deadlifts, your wrists should be in a neutral position, aligned with your forearms. 

If your wrists are bent or you’re gripping the bar incorrectly, this can lead to unnecessary strain. 

Ensure that you’re not over-gripping the bar or allowing it to roll towards your fingers; instead, the bar should rest securely in the base of your palms. 

Strength coach Mark Rippetoe emphasizes the importance of grip strength and wrist position in his teachings on the deadlift. 

He advises lifters to focus on gripping the bar tightly without allowing the wrists to flex or extend, which can help mitigate wrist pain.

Another factor to consider is grip style, which is something I alluded to earlier.

Here’s a quick recap:

If you’re using a mixed grip (one hand over, one hand under), this can sometimes lead to uneven stress on the wrists. 

While a mixed grip can help with grip strength on heavier lifts, it might be worth experimenting with a double overhand grip or using hook grip as you work on your form and build up your grip strength. 

These alternatives can help promote a more balanced development and reduce strain on your wrists.

Matt Morano, Strongman and Coach: "For those struggling with grip, farmer's walks with heavy dumbbells are a fantastic drill. It builds overall grip strength and endurance."

Strengthening your grip and forearm muscles can also play a significant role in preventing wrist pain during deadlifts. 

Simple exercises like wrist curls, reverse wrist curls, and farmer’s walks can be effective in building up these areas, making them more resilient to the demands of deadlifting. 

Arnold Schwarzenegger, has spoken about the importance of comprehensive strength training, highlighting that a stronger grip can support better performance in compound lifts like the deadlift.

Lastly, make sure you’re warming up properly before diving into heavy deadlifts. 

A good warm-up increases blood flow to your muscles and tendons, making them more supple and less prone to injury. 

Incorporating wrist stretches and forearm mobility exercises into your warm-up routine can help prepare your wrists for the load to come.

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.
  • Ensure your wrists are aligned with your forearms to avoid wrist pain dfrom deadlifting.

Ever wondered how much it’s possible to pull from the floor? Then check out my article about how rare a 600lbs deadlifts is.

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