Your Guide to Grips

Target different muscles by changing your hand position.

You might think the grip you use when lifting is just a matter of personal preference, but it has much bigger implications. “The placement of your hands basically controls where you’re going to feel the exercise in your body and what muscles you’ll be working,” says Brian Robbins, a Tier 3 trainer at Equinox Darien in Connecticut.

There are three elements that determine your grip: your hand position (overhand vs. underhand), your grip size (based on the type of weight you’re using, like a barbell or dumbbells) and your grip width (wide vs. narrow). You can manipulate these variables to target different muscles.

It’s important to switch your grip to prevent overuse injuries, says Scott Fournier, Tier 3+ trainer at Equinox Yorkville in Toronto, Canada. In the images below, he demonstrates several grip variations for five basic moves. Focus on properly executing one version at a time, starting with 3 sets of 10 to 12 reps.


DEADLIFT

Targets: back, glutes, hamstrings
To perform: Stand tall with a straight spine and feet hip-width apart. Hold a barbell with both hands, arms extended in front of thighs, palms facing back. Bend knees as you hinge forward from hips, keeping back flat and hips square, lowering upper body toward the floor and arms in front of shins. Press through heels and reverse movement back to start for one rep.

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Grip: Narrow overhand

Shifts focus to: traps and rhomboids
Keep in mind: This is the more shoulder-friendly grip of the three.



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Grip: Narrow over-under

Shifts focus to: traps and rhomboids
Keep in mind: It strengthens your hold on the bar and helps remove some of the strain so you could potentially lift more.



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Grip: Wide overhand

Shifts focus to: traps, glutes, hamstrings, and quads
Keep in mind: While this grip is less supportive for your shoulders, it allows you to get into a lower position, increasing your range of motion.



PUSH-UP

Targets: chest, shoulders, triceps, and abs
To perform: Start in plank position with palms directly under shoulders, legs extended behind you, toes tucked under, back flat, and abs engaged. With elbows close to your sides, slowly lower chest toward floor, and then press back up for one rep, keeping the body in a straight line throughout.

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Grip: Narrow

Shifts focus to: triceps
Keep in mind: The shoulders are more supported in this position, so it’s a good option if you’ve had shoulder issues in the past.



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Grip: Wide

Shifts focus to: chest
Keep in mind: The shoulder is less stable in this position, so avoid it if you’re coming back from injury.



PULL-UP

Targets: back, biceps, and abs
To perform: Grab a pull-up bar and hang at arm’s length, with core engaged, then tense your shoulder blades, squeezing them down and together, and pull through your arms to raise your collarbones to the bar. Pause, then slowly return to start. That’s one rep.

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Grip: Narrow underhand

Shifts focus to: biceps
Keep in mind: The closer together your hands, the more strain you put on your triceps. Plus, it requires more mobility because it stretches the lats more at the bottom of the move.



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Grip: Neutral, palms facing each other

Shifts focus to: forearms and grip strength
Keep in mind: This positioning keeps the shoulders in the most natural alignment, so it’s a good option if you’re coming back from a shoulder injury.



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Grip: Wide overhand

Shifts focus to: lats
Keep in mind: This positioning puts more strain on your chest.



BENT-OVER ROW

Targets: lats, biceps, posterior deltoids, rhomboids
To perform: Stand with feet shoulder-width apart, knees slightly bent, holding a barbell or dumbbells in front of you, with arms extended. Hinge forward from your hips, keeping a flat back and abs engaged, and then bend elbows straight behind you, lifting hands toward chest. Squeeze shoulder blades together and slowly return to start for one rep.

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Grip: Narrow underhand

Shifts focus to: biceps
Keep in mind: Like with other exercises, the narrow grip is easier on the shoulders.



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Grip: Narrow overhand

Shifts focus to: rhomboids, scapular retractors, lats, forearms, and grip strength
Keep in mind: Larger back muscles (like the lats) help support the shoulder joint, so this is a good option for someone coming back from a shoulder issue.



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Grip: Wide overhand

Shifts focus to: traps
Keep in mind: This is a more challenging variation that will increase the stretch on smaller, supporting muscles, Fournier says. Even if you lift less weight, you’ll feel it in new places.



OVERHEAD PRESS

Targets: shoulders and abs
Using dumbbells for this and other overhead exercises is ideal. “During overhead moves, there’s typically some rotation happening in the shoulder sockets,” Fournier explains. “Free weights allow your arms to go through that natural rotation.”
To perform: Stand with feet shoulder-width apart, holding dumbbells or barbell in hands, hands shoulder-width apart, palms facing out. Curl weights up to shoulders, then press arms overhead. Reverse movement back to start.

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Grip: Narrow

Shifts focus to: anterior deltoids and triceps
Keep in mind: You’ll need more mobility to do this variation. It’s the better option if you have shoulder problems since it puts the shoulder in a more natural position for pressing overhead.



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Grip: Wide

Shifts focus to: medial deltoids, traps
Keep in mind: This grip creates a larger stretch in the lats. It’s also harder on the shoulders, so avoid it if you’re coming back from injury or you’ve had shoulder issues in the past.





Photography: Gabor Jurina; Location: Equinox Yorkville