For all round muscular development and strength gains, grip position plays a big factor.
The ability of our shoulder and wrist to internally and externally rotate allows us to assume many different grip positions.
There are 3 main grip positions:
Supinated – Palm facing up, Underhand grip
Pronated – Palm facing down, Overhand grip
Neutral/Semi-Pronated – The palm facing inwards
We can also vary grip during movements by introducing rotating grips. Eg, Zottman Curls, Supinating Bicep Curls, DB Arnold Press, etc.
There is also the option to change the thickness and shape of the implement we are holding. Eg, Fat Gripz, Globe Grips, Pinch Grips, MAG Grips, etc.
As we can see, there are many ways in which we can change our grip position and requirements during exercises.
Why is this important and what are the benefits?
Firstly, we must understand the way in which we develop strength and use our muscles.
In a nut shell; Our ability, need or demand to use a muscle comes from our brain and nervous system. A muscle has something called a Motor Neuron. These Motor Neurons react to the electrical signals put to them by the brain. These electrical signals activate the Motor Neuron which then stimulates the muscle fibres of it’s muscle to contract. Each muscle will have a varying number of these Motor Neurons and each Motor Neuron on each muscle will control a varying number of muscle fibres.
These ratios between Motor Neurons and Muscle Fibres is very important for training.
If there is a low ratio between Muscle Fibres and Motor Neuron, this will indicate that dexterity is more capable. From a training perspective, this will mean that body parts with lower ratios will require more variation in exercises.
If there is a high ration of Muscle Fibre to Motor Neuron, this will mean that dexterity isn’t as capable. For training, this will mean that less exercise variation and more repetition is required.
Coming back to grip, the muscles of the hand have a very low ratio of Motor Neurons to Muscle Fibres. This allows us far greater dexterity and to perform more intricate movements. In general, most upper body muscles, especially those of the hand and arm, have lower ratios than the muscles of the legs. When training these parts, we need to think more about exercise variation and using different angles often.
Grip position is one the best and easiest ways to do this. Unfortunately, it is something which often isn’t done enough. Most people will always use the same grip position and thickness when performing most presses and rows. This is because if we constantly use that position and thickness, we will be good at it. On the other hand, we will not be as good with every other position and is why people neglect changing because they don’t want to have to reduce the weight.
For well rounded muscular development, strength and injury prevention, you need to be strong in every position. Doing this will activate different muscle fibres that aren’t normally and will stimulate improvements in strength and muscle mass. If you have plateaued with your Neutral Grip Chin-up, becoming stronger in a Supinated or Pronated grip can help break through the plateau. Using a thicker grip like a Fat Grip will have great benefits on your strength in rows and presses.
The same can apply for your leg training. You should aim to vary your stance width and foot position to get improvements in all positions. Although, dexterity and fine motor control isn’t as present in the lower body muscles so more repetitions on particular exercises should be the aim over time.
If you are a sports athlete then this will be great help for you. In the gym, things are predictable. You can control all the angles and how you are doing things. On a sports field or in a ring, you have less control. Your body will be pulled, thrown and battered into many different positions and angles. You want your body to hold up to all of these without breaking. If your shoulder is only strong in one position and very weak in another, then the risk of injury is higher, its just a matter of time until that position is exposed.
The key thing with your training is to keep your entire body strong in all positions, not just 2-3. Look to change your grip positions often to help improve on your strength and see better development through your physique. Initially, this may mean that you have to lighten the weight but in the long run you will see your strength numbers go up and up.