Last week there was a lot of conversation around the hook grip, so I figured it was about time for a re-visit...
A couple of years ago one of our members watched Big Tony and Coach Sarah do the WOD "Isabel" (30 Power Snatches For Time @ 135/95 lbs) unbroken in a little over one minute... which means to say they didn't let go of the bar once. This person was astonished and asked me, "How the hell did they hold on to the bar for all 30 reps?!"
My answer was two-fold, "Well, they've both spent 15+ years getting really freakin' strong. And, perhaps even more so in this specific case, they both have a solid hook grip on the bar."
Then Tony chimed in, with the most humble tone you could imagine when saying something so jarring, "Yeah man, the hook grip. It's so easy to hold on the bar with a hook grip. It's like you're cheating."
I'm not sure I would go so far as to say it's like you're cheating, but I'm also not as strong as Tony is, so I've never held on to thirty 135-pound snatches in a row, heh. But oh man when you need that hook grip on some heavy and/or high rep cleans or snatches, and you've got the technique of it down, it feels pretty damn close to holding on to the bar with a strap:
The hook grip is a bit uncomfortable at first, and can put some stress on the thumbs, so newcomers often disregard it and go back to just holding the bar without it. The problem with that is once your strength and fitness has progressed to a point where the weights are heavy (and/or high rep) enough to require a hook grip, you will have trained yourself to lift without it - and will then have a really difficult time trying to implement it by changing your old habits. It's like trying to tell a fairly high-level tennis player who has smacked their forehands with an Eastern grip for their entire playing career to switch to a Western grip. Good luck with that. The only difference is that in tennis there are examples of high level athletes having success with both grips (although very few use an Eastern grip anymore), but in both Olympic-style weightlifting and CrossFit the top level people ALL use the hook grip - there is no alternative. Well, other than not being able to hold on to the bar.
Part of the thumb discomfort eventually goes away once your hands adjust to the grip, and the soft tissue around the thumb adapts a bit to accommodate the position. We never want your thumbs to be in actual pain (which is why we have new athletes ease into it), but we do want you to know that the annoyance of the grip does fade over time.
The discomfort can also be mitigated by taping your thumbs. There are many different ways to tape your thumbs for hook gripping, and different athletes have their own preferred tape and wrapping methods, so you may have to find what works best for you. The greatest CrossFitter on earth, who also happens to be a pretty darn good weightlifter as well, tapes his thumbs the way I teach most people to - it's simple, quick, and doesn't require a lot of tape:
And on that note...
WOD for 06-17-16:
2 Power Snatches + 2 Overhead Squats:
5 Sets of (2+2)
Power Snatches @ 115/80 lbs