Highland Games Basics: Hook Grip

Highland Games Basics: Hook Grip

Now, I’ll admit, I’ve not been a “hook grip” guy my whole career; I fought it for years. Every time I tried it, my hand would instinctively light on fire. My thumb nail felt like it would surely tear off after only carrying the weight with a hook grip. I figured that this much pain wasn’t good for me. I, sadly, was wrong.

The year was 2010 and I was throwing at the Alaskan Scottish Highland Games in Eagle River, Alaska (duh). I was warming up in the heavy weight for distance when the weight just slipped out of my hand and I collapsed in a heavy heap of frustration. I, of course, did the thing we all do when we lose grip: looked at my hand. I’m not sure if I was looking for a hole in my hand or checking if a finger had failed me. It’s the same look baseball players give their glove when they miss a ball – an awkward look more of embarrassment than blame.

I shook my head and then I heard someone yelling at me across the field. It was one of my fellow competitors who happened to be the 2010 World Champion. Larry Brock, never one to mince his words, bellowed to me. “Man, if you’d get rid of that glove and start hook gripping that wouldn’t happen. And, you’d throw further.”

When I got home from this trip, I couldn’t forget his words and the words of Sean Betz, who had told me the same thing numerous times (if you didn’t know, Sean is also a World Champion).  I then decided I’d suck it up and start hook gripping the weights. Now, I’d like to tell you I’ve escaped the black thumbnail, lack of full range of motion, nerve damage, and pain; but, I’d be lying, and Jesus says that’s bad.  I will say, however, that when I begin hook gripping, my weights for distance starting clicking and really taking off in distance and consistency. In this sport, an ugly thumb is well worth it. 

So, how do you hook grip?

Tape Your Thumb

If you need a refresher on this one, go back and read my description on this piece (and pictures for those who don’t like to read directions). In short, to help with the grip and wear and tear on your thumb (you’re going to crank hard on it, so this protects your skin) tape that puppy up.

Hand Placing on the Handle

Now, this is where preference comes into the picture, as well as hand size. If you’re like me and have short fingers, you’re going to set the handle “deeper” into your hand so you can get more “bite” with your thumb. If you have long fingers, then you’ll have the luxury of setting the handle further down your fingers. Again, this is preference; I’ve thrown with plenty of guys who do both, and the underlying factor seems to be hand size and comfort (as if that's possible). Ideally, the longer you can have your hand the better, but find what “feels” best for you. If you’ve got sausages for fingers … well … hook deep, bro.

Thumb and Finger Dancing

Again, this is going to come down to hand size and comfort, but you want the thumb to wrap partially around the handle and (from the top knuckle up) to angle back towards your fingers. Some throwers like to change that angle of that thumb, but again, find what’s comfortable for you. I like to work that thumb towards the fingers, but angling down along the handle. And when it comes to how many fingers you get on the thumb, it works multiple ways. Again, preference. I know a good deal of throwers only have to hook the tip of their thumb; I can’t do that. Because of my finger size, I’ve got a good, healthy hook on the handle with my fingers. The more fingers you place on the thumb the greater pressure you have on bigger section of your thumb. Many of the throwers who can hook grip just the tip of their thumb lose their thumbnails because there is so much pressure on a small section of the thumb. I don’t believe either way is right or wrong, and your goal shouldn’t be to “keep your thumbnail,” as either way you’re gonna lose it, bruise it, or fuse it (I don’t know what that means, but it’s all I could think that rhymed).  You just need throw, throw, throw to find out what is natural for you. Let it become automatic.

D Handle vs Ring Handle

Depending on your region of the country (and world) you’re going to throw a greater number of one of the handles. In my opinion, don’t stress over the different hook grips you might have for each handle. In all honesty, it’s really the same. You can get more fingers on your thumb with a “D” handle, but the grip isn’t much different with a ring. Relax, and don’t change how you grip the weights based on a different handle. Your handle will settle in just fine, but know that, again in my opinion, the ring handle puts more pressure on your thumb, so while it might hurt a bit more, you’re still on target.

Do I Have to Hook Grip?

You don’t have to hook grip, but I would recommend it. I’ve only met a handful of top throwers that don’t hook grip, and those guys are just grip or throwing freaks (usually track and field guys). Also, the all-time top throws in the weights for distance were all thrown by throwers who hook grip (Spencer Tyler, Eric Frasure, Matt Vincent, Ryan Vierra, Gregor Edmunds, Francis Brebner, Matt Sandford, Sean Betz, Larry Brock, etc.).

And, if you ask me, those guys know a thing or two about throwing the weights; not bad company to be in.


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