Different Kettlebell Grips for Different Drills

(an Excerpt from Return of the Kettlebell)

In any overhead kettlebell exercise you should position the handle in such a way that the heel of your palm under your pinky is loaded and your wrist is not bent back. Once that is taken care of you have two different grips, parallel and diagonal, to choose from for different exercises.

In the former you are gripping the center of the handle and the handle is parallel to your fist. The parallel crush grip is essential for strict military presses. Not only does crushing the handle up your strength through the phenomenon of “irradiation” (see Power to the People!), the pressure on the thumb pad activates the mechanoreceptor or “button” responsible for recruiting your biceps. Surprisingly, the biceps is very involved in strict presses: the long head flexes the shoulder, or raises the arm. Which is why powerlifters walk around with big bis, without dishonoring themselves with curls.

The above does not apply to push presses, tempo presses, and jerks. These drills use the legs and/or the rib cage to start the movement, do not need the biceps’ help, and only need strong triceps to finish the lift. Thus gripping the handle or loading the thumb pad is not necessary. With this requirement out of the way you now are able to load the triceps “button” on the heel of the palm even more. It is accomplished by gripping the handle unevenly, with the thumb touching the corner, and making the handle sit diagonally across the palm with the weight resting practically on the wrist. Now you don’t have to grip the handle at all and may passively fold your fingers.

In addition to relaxing the biceps, which are more of a liability than an asset in push presses and jerks, further fortifying the triceps, and sparing the grip, it is worth using the corner grip for your push presses and jerks for the purpose of disassociating these quick lifts with your presses.

In the good ole’ days when Olympic weightlifters still pressed, Soviet specialists warned about a possible negative skill transfer between jerks and presses. The latter demanded relaxing the arms and the former insisted on tightening them. Get the two confused, and you are weak in both lifts.

A kettlebell lifter has the luxury of different grips that will help him to keep his strict press and push press/jerk skill sets separate. A slightly different rack will help as well.

As for other exercises, keep your fist closed to connect the load to your biceps and get a more comprehensive stabilization for your shoulder in get-ups and windmills. You don’t have to crush grip the handle as hard as you do in presses though. Do crush in bent presses, as you need the extra “guy wire” of the biceps for stability in this heavy lift.

Snatch with a parallel grip. The diagonal grip encourages the kettlebell and the lifter’s body to go into a spin, which forces the girevik to be less explosive. Open your hand when you do high rep snatches, as in the Enter the Kettlebell! Rite of Passage. But do grip the handles when locking out your double snatches for extra control and stability.

Order the Return of the Kettlebell book and DVD set