In order to tax one/more muscles of the upper body and to make it bigger and stronger, the trainee needs to hold some sort of resistance (free weight resistance or resistance from a machine) with his hands and lift it up using the appropriate movement and technique. While this is the very principle of weight training (adaptation of the body to external stimuli) and nothing much needs to be said about the same, much indeed can be said about how the weights are actually held. Just like the many different movements, there are many different ways to actually hold the weight, and each one of them affects the targeted muscle group in a slightly different fashion. Such many different ways are called grips.
In this article, I will be discussing the different types of grip variations for many different movements/exercises, and how each one of them affects the muscle group. Sit back and have a read.
As mentioned, grip is how a trainee holds the weight. The various different types of grips can be primarily classified on the basis of the following two factors:-
- Direction of palm w.r.t. torso.
- The distance between the palms w.r.t. shoulder width.
1. Grip variation on the basis of palm direction w.r.t. the torso
On the basis of palm direction w.r.t. the torso, there can be three different grip variations, as discussed below.
- Underhand or supinated grip: In this variation, the palm is under the bar/handle when the arm is hanging by the sides; and of all the fingers, the thumbs are farthest from the torso at all points on any movement. This is possibly the most common grip that is used when doing curls (barbell/dumbbell curl).
- Neutral grip: In this variation, the palms are always facing the torso. Such a grip is used when doing exercise like hammer curls.
- Overhand or pronated grip: This is the exact opposite of supinated grip; the palm is over the bar/handle, and the thumbs are closest to the torso at all points of the movement. An example would be the kind of grip used when doing bench press.
2. Grip variation on the basis of the distance between the palms w.r.t. shoulder width
On the basis of the distance between the palms w.r.t. shoulder width, again there can be three different grip variations, as discussed below.
- Narrow grip: The distance between palms is less than shoulder width.
- Normal grip: The distance between palms is the same as shoulder width.
- Wide grip: The distance between palms is more than shoulder width.
Grip combinations and their implementation on various movements
In order to develop a muscle properly and fully, one needs to hit it from every angle. By incorporating a variety of exercises in the training routine and adding to it the variations in grip and their combinations, it is possible to do so.
So how does it work? Simple: every muscle has different heads and/or regions, and depending on how a movement is done, it stimulates some portion of the muscle in a different way. So when you change grips, the emphasis shifts to a different head or to a different region of the muscle group (though the entire muscle is working for the movement). Lets not waste any more time and examine the effect of grip variations on the various movements.
Even though the bicep might look like a single lump of muscle, it actually has two heads (hence the term bi-cep): the long/inner head, or the short/outer head. The inner head is mostly responsible for the thick look when seen from the front, while the outer head runs on the outside of the arm, and is responsible for the bicep peak when flexed.
- Pronated grip barbell curl: For the most part, this works the outer head of the bicep and the forearms.
- Supinated normal grip barbell curl: In this, the trainee holds the bar with a supinate grip and at a shoulder width, and curls the bar. This is by far the most widely used barbell curl technique, and works the inner head of the biceps to its fullest, with some emphasis to the outer head.
- Supinated narrow grip barbell curl: In this, the trainee holds the bar with a supinate grip and at a width less than the shoulder width, and curls the bar. This works the outer head of the biceps, with some emphasis on the inner head also. The more narrow one goes, the more emphasis shifts on the outer heads.
- Supinated wide grip barbell curl: In this, the trainee holds the bar with a supinate grip and at a width more than the shoulder width, and curls the bar. This technique works the inside of the biceps.
Since dumbbells are independent weights, the variation in grip only happens w.r.t. alignment with the torso. There are two variations in grip when doing dumbbell curls: supinated grip and neutral grip.
- Supinated grip is how the traditional dumbbell curls are done. Just like barbell curls, this impacts the outer head.
- Neutral grip dumbbell curls a.k.a. hammer curls are done with the two palms facing each other, and the curl looks similar to the strike of a hammer (hence the name). This curl hits the outer head of the biceps really hard, with some emphasis on the inner head.
Pull ups and chin ups
Pull ups target the back muscles primarily, with biceps working as a secondary group. Talking about back, this is possibly one and the only region where a lot of factors need to be in place, in order for it to develop properly. The lats, the primary muscles of the back need to be trained for thickness (for getting that 3-D strong look), for width (for that upper body V-taper when lats are flared), and for length (the insertion point of the lats above the waistneed to be as low as possible, in order for it to be complete).
Pull ups primarily target for the width of the lats. The pull ups are done with a pronated grip, and the wider the grip goes, the more emphasis shifts for the wideness of the lats.
Chin ups are always done with a pronated, shoulder width grip. Chin ups primarily assist in the development of the length of the lats.
Rows are exercises that add thickness to the back, for getting that rounded look that symbolises power. Now, barbell rows can be done with a pronated or a supinated grip, both work neck-to-neck with no major deviations in the end results. One can pull more weight with a supinated grip though, since it engages biceps more.
Any form of bench press is always done with a pronated grip, so no variations are possible on that front. The variations are made on the basis of how wide the grip is.
- Normal grip bench press: This grip width is the standard form of bench press. In this, the barbell is grabbed at a shoulder width and pressed up and down. This is the reference variation.
- Wide grip bench press: In this variation, the barbell is grabbed at a width more than the shoulder, and is pressed. This puts more emphasis on the outside of the chest, place where the chest muscles insert into the shoulders. This can be quite straining on wrists though, because of the unusual inward rotation of the wrists.
- Close grip bench press: As is evident, the bar is grabbed at a width less that shoulder width, and is pressed. This is less of a chest exercise and more kind of a tricep exercise. When pecs are consciously engaged, it puts some stress on the inner pecs also, place where the pecs insert into the sternum.
The saying will never get old: In order to ensure complete and continual development of the skeletal musculature of the body, one needs to target each and every muscle from all aspects of it. Variation in grip is one of the best (if not the best) ways to ensure that all heads and all aspects of a muscle group get equal attention in partial isolation, and hence grow to their full potential.
That’s all about the various grip variations fellows, let me know your feedback and/or opinions in the comments section below…. Peace!