Strength training is key to building muscle strength, power, and size. Whether you want to build muscle to subtly boost your metabolism or get more muscle definition, strength training, using progressive overload, is your best bet. Aerobic exercise may boost your heart rate and burn calories but it won’t reshape your physique the way strength training can.
Yet it’s easy to get into a rut with your strength training. You may do the same exercises over and over again without changing your routine and that can slow the gains you get from training efforts. You don’t have to completely overhaul your routine to keep your gains going though. Varying the grip when you work with a barbell can make a difference too.
Types of Grips
There are two main types of grips you can use when strength training. These are the pronated grip and the supinated grip. Do you use both?
The Pronated Grip
A pronated grip, also known as an overhand grip, is where your palms face down or away from your body. This grip is popular with exercises like biceps curls, pull-ups, barbell squats, overhead presses, and bench presses.
What are the pros and cons of using a pronated grip? Biceps curls feel less natural using a pronated grip but there are some advantages to using this approach. Both supinated and pronated grips target your biceps, but pronated biceps curl also activates another muscle called the brachioradialis.
You may not be able to see the brachioradialis muscle because it’s buried under your biceps, but if you flex your arms out to the side while looking in the mirror, you’ll see it bulging up through the skin. Working this muscle strengthens your forearms.
Strengthening your forearms by using a pronated grip could help you if you play certain sports like tennis or volleyball where you need forearm strength. Plus, a pronated grip will improve your grip strength more than a supinated grip will.
But there are downsides too. With a pronated grip, the barbell is between your thumb and forefingers rather than resting on your wrists. This feels less natural than a supinated grip where the bar rests on your palms. Exercises, like biceps curls, feel more difficult with a pronated grip, meaning you’ll have to watch your form when you use this grip or lighten up on the weight.
What about other exercises? A pronated grip may feel more comfortable when you do a deadlift and it targets your lats more. You also may be able to use more resistance if you use a pronated grip when you do deadlifts.
A pronated grip also works well for:
- Barbell rows
- Lateral pulldowns
- Barbell bench press
- Barbell overhead press
A supinated grip is the opposite of a pronated grip. With a supinated grip, the barbell rests on your palms and your palms face up or toward your body. For many people, a supinated grip feels more natural, intuitive, and comfortable, making it possible to use more weight and that can theoretically lead to more muscle activation and muscle growth.
A supinated grip works well for:
- Barbell rows
- Barbell and dumbbell curls
- Lat pulldowns
One advantage of a supinated grip is it targets your biceps more than a pronated grip. So, if you’re trying to bolster your biceps strength, using a supinated group some of the time may be more beneficial than only using a pronated grip.
Mixed Grip and Neutral Grip
A mixed grip is where you grasp the barbell with both a pronated and supinated grip – one hand is pronated and the other hand is supinated. A mixed grip has the advantage of allowing you to lift more weight. But it can also lead to muscle imbalances if you don’t switch the grip for each hand often enough to balance things out.
If you’re using dumbbells, you can also use a neutral grip. For example, you use a neutral grip when you do hammer curls. With a neutral grip, your palms face each other. You can use a neutral grip anytime you hold a dumbbell in each hand. They work well for bent-over rows and exercises that use a trap bar. Hammer curls, using a neutral grip, also shift some of the focus of curls more toward the triceps. So, it’s a good grip if you’re trying to boost triceps strength.
Another advantage of using a neutral grip is it places less stress on your joint, something to keep in mind if you have arthritis. Plus, some exercises, like hammer curls, feel easier with a neutral grip. If you have weak wrists, a neutral grip will work well, as it doesn’t require as much grip strength, especially when you compare it to a pronated grip.
Like a pronated grip, a neutral grip works your forearms and it’s more comfortable and intuitive than using a pronated, or overhand, grip. You may discover you can lift more weight using a neutral grip, even more than with a supinated grip.
There is no right or wrong grip when it comes to lifting weights. If you feel more comfortable using a supinated grip or if one grip hurts your wrists or hands less than the other, then use that grip. It’s possible to enhance the results of your workouts by varying your grip when you exercise since you are shifting the focus slightly. The key to breaking out of plateaus and maximizing gains is to challenge your muscles in different ways once growth starts to stall.
A variety of grips allows you to work different parts of your arm muscles and hit them from various angles. It also means that you’ll be able to lift more weight during some exercises than others. That’s because different grips require you to contract your muscle fibers differently and recruit different motor units (the smallest contractile elements within a muscle).
So, if you’ve been doing biceps curls with a supinated grip for months, try doing them with a pronated grip and give your muscles a new challenge – or try a mixed grip or neutral grip to shake things up.
- Dickie JA, Faulkner JA, Barnes MJ, Lark SD. Electromyographic analysis of muscle activation during pull-up variations. Journal of Electromyography and Kinesiology. 2017;32:30-36. doi:10.1016/j.jelekin.2016.11.004.
- Kane PM, Vopat BG, Got C, Mansuripur K, Akelman E. The effect of supination and pronation on wrist range of motion. J Wrist Surg. 2014 Aug;3(3):187-91. doi: 10.1055/s-0034-1384749. PMID: 25097812; PMCID: PMC4117694.