When it comes to weight lifting, not paying attention to how you're holding the bar can not only be dangerous, it may even be holding back your overall results. That's because maintaining the same exact grip on the bar every single time you lift works your muscles the same exact way, over and over again. "Varying where and how you hold the bar can rechannel your efforts to different fibers within the same muscle group," says Wayne Westcott, Ph.D., fitness research director at the South Shore YMCA in Quincy, Massachusetts. "The end result can leave you with a more thoroughly-worked muscle that has no choice but to grow larger and stronger." To get more results from your basic routine, keep in mind these finger-altering alternatives from Wescott.
Pull-ups and Lat Pulldowns
Normal Grip: Hands wider than shoulder-width apart, palms facing away from you.
The variation: If you find your biceps tire out before your back muscles, try wrapping your thumbs on the same side as your fingers so that your hands "hook" the bar instead of grab it. This variation makes it harder for the biceps to get involved and can be used with any pulling exercise for the back.
Normal Grip: Hands about 12 inches apart, palms down towards the floor.
The variation: Flip-flopping your grip so that your palms are up changes this move from a pushing exercise into a pulling exercise, and places extra stress on the outer head of the triceps muscle. Since this section of the triceps muscle lies along the outer edge of the upper arm, hitting it can make your upper arms look larger from every angle.
Normal Grip: Hands slightly wider than shoulder-width, palms facing your knees and feet.
The variation: Altering the distance between your hands can make the exercise affect more muscle fibers than usual. A wider grip works the outer pectorals whereas a closer grip hits the inner pectorals (plus the triceps). Incorporating all three variations into one workout can help you target your entire chest in one machine.
Barbell Biceps Curl
Normal Grip: Hands shoulder-width apart, palms up.
The variation: Widening your hand distance can make your arms a lot bigger by stressing the fibers along the top of the biceps. To add even more size, leave your hands shoulder-width but reverse your grip 180 degrees so that your palms face down. Curling with this grip strengthens the forearms, your grip and a broad, flat tendon that lies underneath your biceps called the brachialis anticus, which pushes against the biceps as it grows, making your upper arms look ever larger.
Normal Grip: Hands spaced 6 to 8 inches apart, palms facing down.
The variation: Exchange the short straight handle for the long bar attached to the lat pulldown machine. Grab it with your palms facing down, hands spaced about shoulder-width. This variation develops more width throughout the back while working your posterior deltoids, the rear head of the shoulders that most people neglect.
Fitness expert Myatt Murphy, C.S.C.S., is the author of the best-selling books, The Body You Want in the Time You Have
, Ultimate Dumbbell Guide
and co-author of The Gym Bible