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Fact checked by Kirsten Yovino, CPT Brookbush InstituteFACT CHECKED
June 20, 2023
For many lifters, the bench press is the star of their chest day workout.
But, before you opt for the traditional version, I'd like to point your attention to a less well-known but equally beneficial variation: the reverse grip bench press. While the standard bench press enables you to lift heavy, the reverse bench press is more shoulder-friendly and enables you to feel your pecs working even more.
It may look slightly intimidating and isn’t a common exercise you'll often see in the gym, but that is all the more reason to understand how to do it and the gains you are missing out on.
So, if you're ready to revamp chest day to make it even more effective, step one is to learn how to perform the reverse grip bench press, and step two is to start doing it!
Table of Contents:
In a nutshell, the reverse grip bench press is similar to a traditional bench press with one big difference: Your knuckles face toward your feet instead of your face.
Using a supinated grip, which results in your palms facing you, creates biomechanical changes to your body during the movement, shifting the part of your chest that the exercise primarily targets. In fact, the underhand bench press will target the upper chest much more than any other pressing variation, especially the traditional bench press.
The reverse grip causes your elbows to tuck into the sides more and increases the distance the bar will travel horizontally. Doing this allows you to touch the bar closer to your lower chest.
The reverse grip also emphasizes your biceps more than the regular bench press.
The reverse grip bench press does not come without its faults, and it can be challenging for the wrists and forearms, especially if you are an inexperienced lifter. As with any new lift, it will require a slight learning curve and mastering the form before adding heavier weights into the mix.
Your chest muscles are the stars of the show when performing the reverse grip bench press. But they're not the only ones hard at work. Let's take a closer look at the muscles worked during the reverse grip bench press.
Aside from the fact that your hands face different directions, several other things make these presses different. For one, the bench press targets more of the sternocostal head, whereas the reverse grip bench press targets more of the clavicular head.
It’s important to note that just because the reverse grip is more of an upper chest exercise, doesn’t mean it isn't also a lower chest exercise. The lower chest muscles will still be worked in both lifts, just slightly more in a traditional bench press.
The positioning of the hands and grip in the reverse grip bench also allows for a more extensive horizontal bar path as you lower down toward your lower chest. This, as well as the external rotation of the shoulder, can make this more shoulder-friendly than a regular bench press.
The underhand bench press also allows you to feel the pecs working much more during the press. Even though they are hard at work, it is hard for most people to feel their pecs contracting in a regular bench press because there are so many muscle groups at work while pushing a heavy weight.
The regular bench press can be more demanding on your shoulders, but the reverse grip can be challenging due to its increased need for wrist and forearm mobility. This means it requires slightly more coordination and body awareness to control this lift, especially if you are a beginner.
The last difference is how the arm muscles work during the two exercises. During the bench press, the biceps work to assist on the way up while the triceps work on the way down. The reverse grip provides a huge stimulus and uses the biceps to help on the way down, while the triceps get more activation during the pressing portion of the lift.
When it comes to choosing which one suits you, it will depend on your personal preference, weak points, and anatomy. If someone has shoulder pain during bench pressing, a reverse grip bench press may be best for you.
Also, the reverse chest press is an important exercise to include if you are lacking in the upper chest department. But if you are a competitive lifter looking to gain as much strength as possible, then bench press is your answer.
An important thing to note before starting the reverse grip chest press: It can be dangerous to hold the bar this way, and it does increase the chance of the bar slipping in your hands and falling if you aren't careful.
It may seem simple to flip your hands the other way, but there are some essential guidelines you need to understand before you do this exercise. Make sure to follow these critical setup cues, and always use a spotter until you are comfortable with the movement.
How to do the Barbell Reverse Grip Chest Press:
Master reverse grip bench presses by avoiding these common mistakes.
Why perform the reverse grip bench press? I'll give you five awesome reasons to start including it in your chest day workout.
The biggest benefit is this movement's ability to build your upper chest. Everyone has weak spots based on their genetics and training history, so if you see a hollow spot under your collarbone, it’s time to add the barbell reverse grip bench press.
Remember that even though it focuses on your upper chest, it still activates all of your chest muscles, so it has a lot of bang for its buck.
You may not break your bench press record with this movement, but its unique positioning allows you to build a stronger upper body.
Most lifters realize that compound lifts should be the focus of their workout split, but let's face it, sometimes the same moves every week can get boring.
Adding the reverse grip bench press to your program can be a fun way to learn a new skill and movement and break up the monotony of knowing that every Monday you are heading to the gym to do a regular bench press.
As we mentioned, the change to the grip allows your shoulder to be externally rotated more, creating a safer bar path for your shoulders as opposed to the standard bench press.
Whether you are recovering from an injury and are working back to heavy bench pressing, have pain during bench pressing, or are just looking for movements that fit your body type better, the reverse grip bench press is a really safe option once you master the form.
If you have the patience to start light and progress slowly, this movement will do wonders for your grip and forearms.
In a world where most of our time is spent holding a phone or using a computer, it’s essential to train the grip in different positions.
Whether you're looking for more variety or don't have access to a barbell, I've got four great variations here so you can find the best fit for you.
Reverse grip dumbbell presses are an excellent alternative if the barbell version is too hard on your wrists. The dumbbells give your hands and wrists more freedom to move while still enabling you to benefit from the reverse grip.
How to do the Reverse Grip Dumbbell Bench Press:
Just as the incline press enables you to hit your chest differently than in the traditional bench press, the incline reverse grip bench press also enables you to target different chest muscles. For this barbell bench press variation, you will perform the same reverse grip movement but use an incline bench.
Doing this will increase upper chest activation even further2. This may not be your ultimate strength pressing movement, but it has serious potential for chest hypertrophy.
How to do the Incline Reverse Grip Bench Press:
Similar to the decline bench press, this variation will emphasize the lower chest more than the upper. It is a unique movement to target that area, but the position can be dangerous, so I recommend always using a spotter for this exercise.
How to do the Reverse Grip Decline Bench Press:
This is an excellent variation if you are slightly nervous about performing the reverse grip bench press without a spotter. When comparing the Smith machine vs free weights, the Smith machine provides the built-in spotter effect and allows you to control the movement to focus on your mind-muscle connection.
You may need to adjust your body position slightly since the Smith machine doesn’t have the freedom to move that a barbell would.
How to do the Reverse Grip Smith Machine:
Any exercise emphasizing the upper chest makes for an excellent alternative to the reverse grip bench press. Whether the benches are all full, your wrists are hurting during the movement, or you just want a different upper body pump, these variations are great options to build those pecs.
The reverse grip chest press is slightly challenging to modify, but some options exist. You can use an EZ curl bar instead of a straight one if you have problems with your wrist.
Another option would be to use dumbbells, which allows your hands to rotate more. If this move still feels uncomfortable, try some of the alternatives I suggested above, like the close grip bench press or chest dips.
The reverse grip bench press can serve as a warm up for your traditional bench press. Try using it as you pyramid up in weight and once you get into the heavier loads, switch to a traditional bench press.
It can also be used on the way down for back offsets after heavy bench pressing. After finishing your top sets, try doing 2 sets of 10-15 reps with a slow controlled tempo, focusing on a strong upper chest connection.
For muscular strength, try 3 sets of 8-12 reps. For muscle hypertrophy, try 3 sets of 12-15 reps and focus on a slow eccentric tempo. For muscular endurance or if you are recovering from an injury, try 3 sets of 15-20 reps with a lighter weight and moving slowly through the movement.
Lingering questions regarding the reverse grip bench press. Let's answer them!
When it comes to reverse grip bench press vs incline, the reverse grip is better for the upper chest. However, both exercises will improve your upper body strength.
It is perfectly safe if you follow the safety guidelines. Start with a light load you can handle, and use a spotter or safety pins.
It is a fantastic option for building your upper pecs and serving as a shoulder-friendly pressing movement.
It works both but does a much better job targeting the upper chest.
Most lifters will not be able to lift as much as they do with the traditional bench press.
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