Like learning to hookgrip the barbell (next week!), thumbs around a pull-up bar or barbell is frustrating to learn, but the benefits of both these skills far outweigh the painful transition period. Would you snatch the barbell without your thumb wrapped around it? It’s possible, but it largely reduces your ability to grip, reduces the amount you can lift and is extremely unsafe. What is the difference between lifting a barbell around your body and lifting your body around a bar? Nothing!
Here are 7 reasons why you should get your thumbs around the bar:
BECAUSE YOU CAN! Unless you’re a gymnast on the uneven bars, you don’t have to worry about a super thick bar to hold onto. Even though I have the tiny hands of a seven year old, I can comfortably wrap them around a bar.
SURFACE AREA! Thumbs around applies more hand surface area to the bar. More hand equals more grip.
SAFETY! The reason we have opposable thumbs is to maximise our grip strength. This ensures improved stability and therefore safety when we are swinging on the bar.
LAT ACTIVATION! When performing pull ups, bar muscle ups or toes to bar you should be attempting to push down on the bar rather than pulling yourself up. Having your thumb around the bar allows you to get your entire hand further over the top of the bar. Having your first knuckle over the bar allows you to push down on the bar rather than pull. If your first knuckle is facing back it only allows a pull, more specifically a bicep initiation of the movement rather than a lat initiation. Engaging the bicep first pulls the thoracic spine into extension which in turn limits the range of motion of your shoulders.
REDUCE INJURY! Don’t underestimate the use of your little old pinky. Applying your pinky knuckle further over the top of the bar ensures the shoulder is externally rotated therefore engaging and stabilizing your shoulders. An externally rotated shoulder equals an active and less compromised shoulder position, therefore reducing the risk of injury.
HAND TEAR REDUCTION! The goal is to reduce hand tears by reducing friction on the bar. The only way to reduce friction is to stop your hands from sliding around the bar. Once your hand is set with a wrapped thumb and knuckles facing up you can set and forget your grip. It’s somewhere between a finger tip grip and a false grip that you find the right balance.
STRONGER GRIP! With your thumb wrapped around the bar you will be able to increase the amount of volume you can do. Attempt to get your thumb over the top of your first two fingers. This will lock you in and make sure you can stay on the bar for a lot longer.
The best way to implement a movement change is gradual. Start with doing your first few swings or pull ups with your thumb around and slowly increase that effort each training session. It will take a couple weeks until you’ll be able to complete a workout with the new grip, and maybe even a couple months before it starts to feel comfortable and become an automatic action.