Thumbs up or down?

The workout of the day has a movement that will require hanging from the bar and you start to think about putting gymnastics grips on, how you will break up the reps or how to scale them to make for a better workout. We run these things through our head because we’ve experienced something in the past that makes us consider them. Do you ever stop to think about the way you’ll grab the bar though? Will your thumb be over the bar or will it wrap under the bar? Most people don’t think about this and it’s usually because they haven’t been told that there’s a difference between the two. 


How we grab the bar does matter and the use of the thumb can play a big part in your pull-up power and efficiency. Wrapping the thumb under the bar and getting a full grip does not only help keep your shoulders in better position, but it also aids in generating more power in your movement. The thumb under approach makes it harder for your shoulder to internally rotate at the bottom of the movement, or in simpler terms, keeps your armpits from turning out and your shoulders from turning forward while in the hanging or swinging portion of the movemnets. This is ideal because when our shoulder is in a better position, we are able to generate more rotational force through the joint (Torque) as well as avoid injuries that are common when the shoulder internally rotates. An ideal shoulder position also helps load the muscle’s elasticity, fascia and then joint at the hang. All are key in force generation as we complete the movement.


We grab a bottle of water. Full thumb wrap. We climb a rope. Full thumb wrap. We perform ring rows. Full thumb wrap. We do ring muscle ups. Full thumb wrap. So why do we not see the thumb wrap approach when hanging from the bar more often if it can help us? There are a few simple answers. It’s not as comfortable on the hands, especially if you have smaller hands. If you have bad shoulder mobility, it will expose it. You didn’t know it made a difference. You have no thumbs.


Next time you perform a hanging movement, use your thumbs if you haven’t been already. See if you can feel the difference. Start small performing only a few reps with the use of the thumb under the bar until it feels more comfortable. You can always go back to not using the thumb if you don’t like it as long as you are not sacrificing movement quality.