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Grip Dynamics

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You wouldn’t think that the simple flick of your wrists could significantly impact the effectiveness of an exercise, but it can!

The way you grip a handle, dumbbell or barbell determines which muscles are targeted and how the force is applied. But many people pay little (or no) attention to how they interface with the weight, machine, handle or floor.

This is one of those instances where a little change can make a big difference to your results, so it pays to learn more about the best grip for the job.


Grip variations

There are four general grips that you can use when you train in the gym. The basic grips are:
1. Prone or overhand grip (palm/s facing down);
2. Supine or underhand grip (palm/s facing up);
3. Neutral grip (palm/s facing in or towards each other);
4. Mixed grips (one hand supine and one hand prone).

There are other ways you can vary your grip to shift the emphasis of an exercise. For example, you can apply the various grips in narrow, shoulder-width or wide hand positions on a bar or on the floor, which also impacts on the groups of muscles, or the movement arc or angle of the exercise.

Get creative with this metcon workout by trying some of the variations mentioned in this article.


Shifting force

The reason why a change in grip position can change the impact of an exercise is because our muscles don’t work in isolation. Whether you’re performing open kinetic chain (limbs are free to move, like a lateral raise), or closed kinetic chain (limbs are in a fixed position, like a push-up) exercises, a slight difference in hand position can change the impact of the exercise all the way up the movement chain.

For example, rotating your hand from a supine to neutral grip during dumbbell bicep curls will shift the emphasis from the bicep peak (the short head of the bicep brachii) to the forearms (brachialis and brachioradialis) and the long head of the bicep brachii. Similarly, the push-up can either focus more on the chest muscles with a wide hand position, or greater emphasis can be placed on the triceps (the muscles at the back of the upper arm) with a close-grip push-up.

More ways to take your muscle development to a new level.

Other exercises where a grip change shifts the focus of the exercise include:


Bench presses

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– A wide grip targets the major muscle of the chest (pectoralis major).
– A narrow grip targets the triceps.


Tricep extensions

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– A neutral grip rope tricep pushdown emphasises the side (lateral) head of the tricep.
– A supinated (underhand) tricep pushdown emphasises the inside (medial) and long heads of the triceps.
– A pronated (overhand) tricep pushdown emphasises the lateral and long heads of the triceps.


Shoulder presses

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– A narrow grip barbell shoulder press will emphasise the front aspect of the shoulder muscle (anterior deltoid).
– A wide grip barbell shoulder press will emphasise the outer (medial) aspect of your deltoids.

So next time you hit the gym for your workout, take time to consider the type of grip you are using. With a few simple adjustments you can target specific muscle groups in different ways, or better isolate individual muscles for a more focused workout.