Should I use chalk for deadlifts?

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Personally i think MOST people who want to get stronger SHOULD use chalk when deadlifting occasionally. Chalk serves to dry our hands out and make our grip on the barbell really strong and consistent – it does not LIFT or ASSIST with the lift at all, it simply DRIES our hands…

Here’s all you need to know about deadlifting with chalk!

Should I use chalk for deadlifts?

At a glance…

  • Chalk absorbs moisture from our hands and equipment increasing the friction in our grip 
  • It is therefore ideal for deadlifts where the bar will be heavily loaded and we’re reliant on our grip to complete the lift
  • You should start using chalk when your grip begins to limit your deadlift progress
  • Chalk can be messy so make sure to clean up after yourself. Some commercial gyms even ban it.
  • Chalk, straps and hook grip are all excellent ways to help manage your grip when deadlifting
  • It is not BAD for grip strength – chalk simply makes it easier to DEMONSTRATE your grip by removing moisture (or other lubricants) from the equation

Why do people use chalk in the gym?

Using chalk helps to improve grip on most equipment, with the downside of being quite messy.

Chalk is really absorbent therefore it can be used to dry your hand and therefore improve grip when working out in the gym. Even if you’ve not worked up a heavy sweat there will be moisture and natural oils building up on your hand – chalk serves to lock the moisture away and increase the friction and therefore grip you have on the equipment.

Even if your hands are bone dry chalk can be useful if the equipment has picked up any grease or moisture. This is really common in commercial gyms where loads of people use the same equipment and therefore multiple hands are touching it. It is also pretty common in garage gyms to where changes in temperature or humidity can trigger some minor condensation on the steel.

Improving grip can also reduce the chance of blisters or callouses from ripping (or forming). By locking in your grip there is less chance of the bar moving around in your hand triggering these friction derived injuries.

Is chalk good for weightlifting?

Yes  it is good for weightlifting- if you want to lift more weight you need to be able to hold on to it! Chalking up as the weights get heavy helps you keep hold of the barbell (or any other equipment for that matter) and will give you confidence to KEEP PUSHING knowing the chances of slipping are slim.

When should I start using chalk?

Firstly there is no correct answer to this – we are all limited at different grip strength levels and will sweat differently. As a general rule if you find yourself grip-limited in the gym then chalk is worth trying as the first step. Have you ever pulled a deadlift and had your grip pop open a little during the lift? Maybe time to start chalking up!

It can be a great tool to help us add weight (or reps) to exercises where we don’t want grip to be the limiting factor. For example as a non-competitive powerlifter pulling a heavy set of deadlifts is more about the loading in the back and legs rather than how effective my grip strength is so I will use chalk or straps to take that element out of the lift.

Typically I would expect to see chalk or straps when deadlifts get heavy (>3 plates or 140kg for a beginner working up for the first time). This is around the same point as we see other equipment come in to play such as weightlifting belts. Personally I found chalk was REALLY handy for doing chin and pull ups – from sets of around 10+ I find a bit of chalk for the first set really helps key my hands in to my chin bar.

As with all things in the gym there is no hard or fast rule to this so feel free to experiment. It is fortunate that chalk is both cheap and readily available – so it does no harm to try it out (sparingly) and see how you get on. 

Why do some gyms ban chalk?

One of the major downsides to using chalk in general is the mess it makes – both on the floor from over application or on the equipment itself. Chalk can jam up knurling of barbells and just generally make itself a nuisance sometimes. 

In a home gym this can be a frustration as you will increase the maintenance required to keep everything in good condition – wiping equipment, sweeping floors, mopping etc.

If you don’t workout at home you will find SOME gyms will ban members from using chalk, or at the very least expect everyone to clean up their own mess. If you attend a powerlifting focused gym they will probably be set up for chalk users but a more commercial ‘globo’ style gym will likely have harsher rules catering more to the mainstream gym attendee.

It’s good etiquette therefore to clean up after yourself by cleaning up any chalk spills and wiping down equipment after use and not give your gym any reason to want to ban the stuff.

Traditional vs liquid chalk

Traditional chalk is a powder and is usually bought in a bar or ball which is then broken up over time by rubbing it in your hands. Liquid chalk is available in a bottle and – unsurprisingly – is in liquid form. Squeeze a small amount on to your hands and spread it out and voila – it will dry in to a white chalky residue.

Liquid chalk is more expensive to buy but generally less messy due to ease of application. It is therefore the most likely to fly under the radar if you take it to a gym as you can discretely ‘chalk up’. Unfortunately if you only use sparingly (like most home users I suspect) over time the bottle WILL dry out and simply become powder. Traditional chalk is a bit cheaper but far messier.

The choice is – of course – yours to make. Personally I have gone with liquid chalk in the past however given the speed it dries up I think in future I will save the money and just buy a traditional chalk powder ball instead. Fortunately chalk is not banned in my home gym!

Chalk vs straps vs hook grip vs mixed grip: which is best?!

When performing deadlift rep work I prefer to use straps. There – I said it! They allow me to focus on the lift and muscle groups without the risk of grip strength coming int to he equation. Grip is not what I want to train when doing deadlifts and I am not a competitive lifter therefore I have limited need to get a ton of training without straps.

I used to lift mixed grip – and loved it – but i have moved away from it in recent years to either hook grip or straps. I prefer the symmetry of the lift with both hands ‘overhand’ and while the risk of injury when pulling alternative grip is low it is still not zero so I choose to avoid it all together now.

Hook grip is awesome once you get the hang of it. It is like some kind of secret weapon as it just feels normal but COMPLETELY locked in. The downside is it is hella-uncomfortable for much more than a low-rep set. I personally work hook grip only when gunning for a PB and usually for the top single (or set) only due to the discomfort between reps.

Chalk is unique in that it can be used with ALL of the above. A little chalk when warming up and my grip for the pre-strap sets is awesome and the bar is primed for using straps. Perfect.

So which is best? It’s personal choice – but for me a bit of chalk for every deadlift session, straps for rep work and the ability to hook grip heavy singles is perfect for my training goals.

Is chalk bad for grip strength?

Chalk is not bad for grip strength. It is a tool that removes moisture from your hand and allows you to better DEMONSTRATE your grip strength. It does not allow you to grip ‘harder’ or cheat the system.

A deadlift at any given weight WITH chalk might feel like a cleaner rep than one WITHOUT chalk – but this is because we are comparing two different things. With chalk we are performing a deadlift, without chalk we are performing a deadlift with a potentially slippery bar. Both are valid and acceptable ways to train – but the former is more likely to lead to a heavier overall lift (which may be your goal). Both will be hard and both will drive adaptations in our body over time.

Training grip separately (if it is important to you) is advisable rather than compromising other lifts – it is FAR easier to improve grip by doing something FOCUSED on grip itself rather than it being secondary to all the other muscle groups as it is in a deadlift. Personally I had awesome success with dead hangs from a pull-up bar and would recommend these to anyone wanting to improve in this area.

Conclusion

Chalk is a fantastic tool to help in the gym. It dries out any sweat and therefore makes the contact between our skin and the equipment awesome. It FEELS better lifting with some chalk so personally I think you SHOULD use chalk when deadlifting.

The downside is it can be a little messy – take care to clean up after yourself and make sure your equipment stays in top condition by wiping it down regularly!

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