Even if you’re a relative novice to strength training, you’ve probably heard countless times just how crucial it is to get your form right. Perform a deadlift with a curved back or locked-out knees, for instance, and you might increase your risk of injury or struggle to achieve your fitness objectives. But your alignment and posture aren’t the only aspects of exercise form you should keep in mind.
How you hold or grip a weight is also very important because it can influence which muscles are targeted, says Allison Tenney, a certified strength and conditioning specialist in Austin, Texas. Discover more about the key distinction between a pronated grip and a supinated grip, plus when to use each.
Pronated Grip vs. Supinated Grip, Defined
Put simply, a pronated grip is an overhand grip, and your palms will generally face away from your body, says Tenney. (The exception: deadlifts and bent-over rows, during which your palms will face your body.) “You can use a pronated grip for basically every exercise — it’s really the go-to,” she explains. “But you’re going to want to use them specifically for most of your ‘pressing’ exercises.” For instance, you might use a pronated grip to perform a chest press, shoulder press, or barbell back squat. And in the latter instance, a pronated grip plays a key safety role, as it allows you to firmly grasp the bar and keep it racked — not sliding off your back, she explains.
On the flip side, a supinated grip is an underhand grip, with your palms typically facing toward your body, says Tenney. (Again, your palms will face away from you during deadlifts and bent-over rows.) You’ll often use the supinated grip to tackle certain “pulling” exercises, such as bicep curls or inverted rows, she adds. That said, some exercises can be performed with either grip, including pull-ups, lat pull-downs, and bent-over rows. Depending on which grip you use, the exercise can target different muscles.
When to Use a Pronated Grip or a Supinated Grip
While it may be safer to use a pronated grip rather than a supinated grip in certain situations (think: squats and lunges with a barbell back-racked on your shoulders), most often, you should simply choose the grip style that helps you achieve your fitness goals.
During Pull-Ups and Chin-Ups
The exact muscle groups a pull-up most heavily targets all depends on your grip. If you’re performing a traditional pull-up with a pronated grip, “you’re going to be engaging more of your back and core muscles and targeting your lats and your rhomboids,” says Tenney.
However, a pull-up — which utilizes an underhand grip — will stimulate your chest muscles and arm flexors to a greater extent, research indicates. Both exercises can be beneficial additions to your fitness regimen, so when deciding between the two, take into account the specific muscles you wish to focus on that particular day.
During Lat Pull-Downs
Just like pull-ups, utilizing a prone grip during lat pull-downs appears to activate the muscles of the latissimus dorsi more than a supine grip, according to research published in the Strength and Conditioning Journal. In case you didn’t know, the lat muscles aid in maintaining proper posture and enable you to extend and rotate your shoulder and arm, as stated by the Cleveland Clinic. So, if you desire to correct your slouching, performing lat pulldowns with a prone grip could bring you closer to achieving that objective.
In general, using a prone grip may be most advantageous when engaging in deadlifts, according to Tenney. “You want to engage those lats because the exercise requires a significant amount of force,” she explains. “If you switch your grip, you won’t be able to engage them as effectively, which means you won’t be able to lift as much weight.”
Once you progress to heavy lifting and find that your grip strength becomes a limiting factor (i.e., you are strong enough to lift the weight but your grip starts to weaken after a few repetitions), consider using an alternate grip, with one hand prone and the other supine, suggests Tenney. “When you have a prone grip and your grip strength starts to diminish, your fingers begin to unravel, and you drop the bar,” says Tenney. “With alternating grip, it allows you to maintain a better hold on the bar, preventing it from slipping and enabling you to continue increasing the weight.”
The Takeaway On Pronated and Supinated Grips
Both supinated and pronated grips can assist you in achieving your muscle-building goals, and one grip style is not inherently superior or easier than the other, according to Tenney. “They both have their place in your strength program—it depends on the specific exercise and your goal,” she says.
That’s why it’s important to incorporate both grips into your workout routine. “Varying your grip can significantly enhance your workout and strength gains by diversifying your approach,” says Tenney. “If you consistently use only one type of grip, you will continuously target the same muscles. Variety adds excitement to life, so it’s beneficial to mix things up and vary your grip.”
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