Which pull up grip: Thumbs OVER or UNDER?

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If you’re trying to maximise your pull up reps then I am sure you have considered which grip style works best for you – should you go for a pull up grip with your thumb OVER or UNDER the bar?! Here’s what you should consider…

Which pull-up grip: Thumbs OVER or UNDER?

At a glance…

  • I prefer thumbs over grip for controlled sets of 10-15 reps
  • Thumbs OVER puts less torque through the elbow and can be more comfortable for some
  • Thumbs UNDER is better for kipping pull ups or those more comfortable working their forearms more
  • A FALSE GRIP is when the hands are turned in – this engages MORE rotator cuff and shoulder throughout the range of motion
  • There is NO ‘proper’ grip for a pull-up – at the end of the day it is ALL personal preference. Try them all out and stick with the one that feels the best to YOU!

I prefer the ‘thumbs over’ grip

Sometimes referred to as a suicide grip, the thumbs over grip is – as it sounds – when the thumb goes over the top of the bar with the rest of the fingers.

By taking a pull up grip with thumbs over the bar it keeps the forearms and elbows in a straight line reducing the twist and therefore torque flowing through the joints.

PERSONALLY I find this much more comfortable and I’m able to knock out far more reps with a thumbs over grip versus a thumbs around.

The downside to a thumbs over grip is that it decreases forearm activation and general grip training. If these are important to you then a thumbs over grip when pulling up may not be for you…

If you kip your pull-ups however you may want to adopt the thumbs around grip which is safer in more ‘dynamic’ moves…!

How does a thumbs over grip compare to a suicide grip?

The thumbs over grip is also known as a suicide grip. This is due to the risks associated with a ‘thumbs over’ grip when pressing – bench or overhead press. When pressing this is a high risk grip as the bar can more easily slip out on to your head / chest / neck.

In a pull-up this grip does not have the same risk as the bar can not fall down on to you!

Thumbs over = tactical pull up

A ‘tactical pull up’ is done with:

  • A hollow chest position
  • Chest to bar at the top of the rep
  • Normal grip width
  • Thumbs over the bar

Therefore if you want to knock out tactical pull ups – go for a thumbs OVER the bar grip!

‘Thumbs under’ is the best for muscle ups

If you are trying to advance to muscle ups then a thumbs over grip is the best one to use. When performing a muscle up you will quickly transition from a thumbs-over pull up to the press on top of the bar. The more practice you have with this grip the better!

BUT should you wrap your thumb AROUND the pull up bar?!

Taking a standard grip would involve the fingers over the top of the bar with the thumb going under it. By doing this we engage the forearms and wrists MORE in the movement, but this CAN lead to agitation.

While I don’t get elbow agitation from doing them, I do find it harder to rep out pull ups with a thumbs around grip.

If you kip your pull ups – a method popularised by CrossFit – then a thumbs around grip is FAR more secure as it is less likely that you will jump or slip the grip off the bar with the thumb holding you in place at the top of the ROM.

One benefit of thumbs around is – as a result of the increased forearm activation – it is easier to keep your body under control and stop it from swinging wildly during sets.

What is a FALSE grip pull up?

Taking a false grip on the bar externally rotates the shoulder joint which keeps your rotator cuff engaged throughout the range of motion. It is used as a progression to muscle-ups and is an advanced grip unlikely to be useful for beginners or general trainees.

To do a false-grip pull up:

  • Push your elbows out wide – this will drive your pinkies to ‘lean over’ and push that side of your hand above the index finger side. Look at the back of your hands and your knuckles will be a 45 degree angle pointing up and OUT
  • Wrap your thumb UNDER the bar – take a thumbs around grip
  • Take a reverse HOOK GRIP – place your thumb on the NAIL of your pinky or ring finger. By latching on to the nail the friction should be higher and assist the grip strength
  • Note that a standard hook grip involves the ring finger on their THUMB nail


Ultimately the grip you choose to use when doing a pull or chin up is PERSONAL, but for me I find that using a thumbs over grip allows me to hit a few more reps per set. Try them all out and let us know which works best for you!

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