Hooked On Deadlifting

I have powerlifted since I was 14 years old. That works out to 36 years. I am almost 50 years old and the one thing that really disappoints me over the past several years is my deadlift. Back in my “prime”, I pulled 515 lbs at 142lb bodyweight. I pulled 470lbs at 18years of age weighing 132lbs. And now, at 165lbs I am pulling 446lbs. So what went wrong?


As recently as three or four years ago I pulled a 500lb double in preparation for nationals. The day did not go quite as expected as a nagging back problem interfered with my meet and I only pulled 485lbs, albeit with a hurt back. This issue started a couple of years prior and finally progressed to the point that I could not pull sumo without injuring my lower back. So, I bit the bullet and started pulling conventional again. However, my conventional pull was never as good as sumo and my loss of enthusiasm for the deadlift resulted in a significant backslide on my numbers.


Over the past year I started training cautiously with a sumo stance again but could immediately tell that my lower back was not going to cooperate. It was time to try something radical, something I had heard talked about but never seriously tried: the hook grip.


I had known for years that my back gave me fewer problems when I used an overhand grip while warming up so I decided to take it to the next level. In 36 years of lifting, I had never trained this. I talked to some people who are more expert than me (Olympic lifters actually) to get some pointers and then started my training.


I was not very optimistic after my first training session as I could not even hold onto 315lbs for one rep. So I dropped the weight down and kept practicing. Finally, I was able to hold 315lbs with a hook grip but it REALLY hurt my thumbs. I was assured by other to give it time, so I kept at it. By thumbs toughened up, I perfected the technique and setup and just like that was able to pull a “recent PR” of 446lbs without any grip problem at all. The best part is that I have had no back issues at all. My confidence in my favorite lift is coming back. I know I will likely never be as good as I once was. But, as Toby Keith so eloquently stated, I hope to be as good once as I ever was.


So that is my story regarding my experience thus far with a hook grip. I am still a rookie at this but it does illustrate that no matter how long you have lifted you can always learn. My purpose in sharing this adventure is I know there are other Master lifters like myself who are limited by similar issues. I am sharing this to give some hope to those lifters. I have also started training younger lifters in this technique. The immediate benefit I have noticed is the speed off the floor significantly increases.


I think it is fair to say, that I am a believer in hook grip. In future articles, I can discuss the actual benefits that minimizes injury risk as well as some of the finer things I have learned about the technique. I encourage you to try this but be patient and realize it will take some time. If you are like everyone else, you will believe it to be impossible after the first attempt.