Variation Through Changing Your Grip

Variation Through Changing Your Grip

There are a million and one ways to add variation to an exercise. 

If you want to make a squat more quad biased, you can elevate your heels. 

If you're looking for a little more delt activity out of your presses, steepen the incline. 

Making a push-up more challenging can be as easy as slowing the tempo down or even elevating your feet. 

Subtle changes to execution can alter the intent drastically. 

For some reason, one of the more profound methods of adding in this variety seems to be an afterthought for most...

Whether it's the accompanying ego-bruise from needing to reduce the load or truly just an ignorance to the power of the technique, altering your grip from pronated to neutral to supinated and everything in between can create massive contrast between otherwise similar exercises. 

It's important to understand that changes to how you're holding a load isn't just isolated to just your hands/wrists—the rotation creates changing upstream that can affect your elbows, shoulders, and even upper back and neck!

Let's take a pronated grip for instance...the "overhand" orientation is going to force an internal rotation at the shoulder joint which will, consequently, result in a more flared elbow when pulling or pressing. Whether this is a bad or good thing will depend on what you're trying to do with the exercise. Typically, pronated grips will align more with the Rear Delts, Teres Major and Rhomboids when pulling and the Pecs and Anterior Delts during pressing. Obviously many other variables can factor into this generalization, but knowing how to mentally catalogue the outcomes of grip alterations can be a massively effective tool in taking more control over your training. 

Taking what we know above with pronation, what can we infer about a supinated grip? And what about neutral? Can we even hybridize our wrist orientation to reap the benefits of specific positioning without some of the downside effects?

Supination with Pulling/Rowing is going to recruit more biceps but also more lats (due to the more adducted upper arm). And a supinated grip with pressing is going to be more triceps and anterior delts (again, due to the upper arm position). 

Neutral grip rowing will be more lats/biceps than pronated but also allow for more rhomboids/traps/rear delts than supinated. And neutral grip pressing is going to place a high demand on the triceps/anterior delts/pecs but at the expense of magnitude and specificity of stimulus that you might get with a full pronated or supinated grip. 

However, hybridization is where the money is at! Our bodies tend to not work optimally under conditions of sharp right angles, so it would make sense that semi-pronated and semi-supinated orientations are going to allow for the most stimulation and output with the least potential for wear-and-tear damage stemming from unnatural load distributions.

Fortunately for us, equipment manufacturers are starting to catch onto this—lots of modern machines and attachments are moving away from the outdated models of straight bars/fixed grips and towards more joint-friendly angles or built-in adjustability. The outcome of this refined focus on the importance of biomechanics has birthed a revolution in the strength and conditioning world; one that favors nuance and respect for individuality. 

Adding variation to your training can be a powerful tool to stoke the fires of progression. But you don't have to completely change exercises to receive the benefits afforded by novelty. By introducing subtle modifications to your hand orientation and grip, you can deliberately alter the intent of a movement while retaining most of the familiar neural pathways.

Pronated, neutral and supinated grips each carry their own unique benefits and drawbacks—Taking the time to familiarize yourself with these applications and potential reservations can arm you with a powerful tool for optimizing your training. 

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