by Charles Poliquin Iron Magazine
When it comes to getting bigger and stronger, there is more than one way to grip a bar. One of these ways is with a semi-supinated grip, also known as a neutral or parallel grip, so that your palms face each other.
Variety is essential to making progress, and by simply changing the positions of the hands you can provide a new stimulus to the muscles. As a bonus, a neutral grip often feels more natural and as such may be easier on the joints. To keep your training going stronger and longer, give these neutral grip variations of these popular exercises a try.
Neutral Grip Overhead Press. The overhead press is a great exercise for packing on muscle mass to the shoulders and triceps. The standing log press enables you to perform the exercise with a neutral grip, and is a popular event in strongman competition. By the way, the world record in the log press is edging close to 500 pounds, with the current record being 490 pounds/222.5 kilos by Zydrunas Savickas.
To properly perform a standing log press, you have to lean backwards slightly to avoid hitting your chin. This technique may cause discomfort in those with a history of back pain. To get around this problem, simply perform the exercise with dumbbells using a neutral grip.
Neutral Grip Bench Press. The bench press is unquestionable the most popular upper body exercise in the Iron Game, but overuse of a pronated grip can cause shoulder issues — and many individuals find the supinated grip awkward. Two great types of neutral grip bench presses are the Football Bar bench press and the log bench press.
The Football Bar offers several different grip angles, one being a neutral grip. Thick-handled variations of the Football Bar are available for even more of a challenge. As for the using the log press bar for bench presses, for safety reasons it should be performed in a power rack starting with the bar resting on safety supports set at chest height.
Neutral Grip Row. One of the issues with bent-over barbell rows from a standing position is that too much neural drive expended to maintain good posture. As such, the lats and other upper body pulling muscles don’t receive an optimal training effect. Further, the range of motion is restricted when the bar touches the chest.
One-arm rows performed with a neutral grip allow you to brace your upper body with your other arm, thus allowing you to devote more effort to the upper body muscles. It also enables you to perform the exercise through a greater range of motion than a barbell. Of course, rows can also be performed on a low-cable unit with neutral-grip handles, which also provide a greater range of motion.
Neutral Grip Bicep Curl. Neutral grip curls, also known as hammer curls, are performed like dumbbell curls except the hands remain in a neutral position. This is a valuable exercise for the arms because they increase the work of the forearms, and weak forearm development can affect the growth of the biceps. If you are structurally balanced, your neutral grip curl should be 15 percent greater than your supinated grip curl.
Neutral Grip Triceps Extension. There are several possible variations of the lying triceps extension. Using dumbbells with a neutral grip gives you a greater range of motion than a barbell because the weights travel alongside your head.
Neutral Grip Chin-up. Changing from a pronated or supinated grip to a neutral grip changes the work of the elbow flexors. The medium neutral-grip chin-up is usually your strongest grip. This variation increases the work of the elbow flexors and should be performed with the grip about 22 to 24 inches apart. A narrow, neutral grip increases the work of the shoulder extensors and should be performed with the hands about six to eight inches apart (a v-handle usually works for this exercise). It is considered an advanced exercise.
Neutral Grip Front Squat. The front squat is a great lower body exercise, but many individuals cannot keep their elbows up during the lift due to flexibility issues. You can bypass this problem by using a safety squat bar that has parallel grip handles, or by using lifting straps and holding the straps with a neutral grip.
What you do is hook the straps around the bar at shoulder width, or whatever position you find most comfortable. Position your shoulders under the bar and hold the straps with your palms facing each other. How high up you grab the straps is determined by your flexibility, such that those with extremely poor flexibility will have more space between the bar and their hands. Now lift the weight off the squat racks and start squatting. You’ll find that using straps in this manner enables you to keep your elbows high without discomfort.
Neutral Grip Deadlift. The deadlift is a great exercise for building overall size and strength. By using a hex bar, you can perform it with a neutral grip.
The hex bar is a hexagonal-shaped barbell with handgrips placed near the inside collars of the bar. The hexagonal shape allows you to perform the exercise while standing inside the encompassing bar. This enables you to perform the lift in a more upright position, which in turn increases the work of the legs. This type of barbell was created more than 30 years ago and was inspired by the “trap bar” developed by North Carolina powerlifter Al Gerard many years earlier.
Because of the design of the hex bar, the lift is performed with the center of the barbell in line with the hips – in contrast, with the straight barbell your legs get in the way. Your hands are positioned at your sides with a neutral grip.
Neutral Grip Squat Jump. The hex bar is a superior tool for performing squat jumps. A study published in 2011 in the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research found that the biomechanics of a hex bar jump more closely resemble the jumping that occurs in sports. With a hex bar you can jump higher and produce greater force and power than you can with a straight bar. As a bonus, the hex bar jump will also develop the traps as you shrug during the jump.
Neutral Grip Shoulder Shrug. The hex bar, trap bar, dumbbells and many types of shoulder shrug leverage machines enable you to perform shrugs with the arms at their sides with a neutral grip.
As opposed to dumbbell shrugs, a straight bar provides a much smoother motion because there is no friction from having the weights sliding up the legs. Perform the exercise in a power rack with the barbell set across the pins. You can then brace yourself with your free hand against one of the power rack posts, which will allow you to keep your torso in an upright position.
Variety is the key to success in strength training, not just to give our muscles reasons to grow and get strong, but also to ensure that your joints can stay healthy longer. This article provided several ideas to train many of the major muscle groups with neutral grips, so give neutral grip training a try and change for the better.