Last updated on October 31st, 2022 at 12:56 pm
Have you ever wondered why people use suicide grip on bench press?
You’ve probably noticed this yourself on a regular basis whenever you’re at the gym.
Some people bench with their thumbs completely wrapped around the bar, whereas others use a thumbless (suicide) grip.
You may even have heard stories of the great Arnold Schwarzenegger using suicide grip on bench.
And I guess if it’s okay for the big man then it’s fine for the rest of us.
But, is using a suicide grip on bench press actually safe?
Or is this something you should avoid altogether?
Allow me to reveal all.
Table of Contents
Suicide Grip Bench Press
There are various reasons why people use suicide grip on bench press. Firstly, the suicide grip is much better for your shoulder joint, as it helps to minimise internal rotation of the shoulders. Furthermore, you should find it easier to align your wrists directly over your forearms, and therefore keeping your wrists in a neutral position. Plus, the suicide grip helps to activate the triceps to greater effect.
The Advantages of Suicde Grip on Bench Press
So, you would think that as so many people do bench with a suicide grip, there must be some benefits to doing so.
In fact, as I’ve mentioned, Arnie did use a suicide grip while benching, and many of us have tried over the years to mimic Arnie’s training style.
So, here are the main benefits to using suicide grip on bench press.
If you’ve been benching for any length of time then you’ll know that your shoulders play an important role.
Granted, the bench press is primarily viewed as a chest exercise, but there are numerous secondary muscle groups that also get hit.
And the shoulders are definitely one of the muscle groups.
In fact, I’ll go as far to say that there are few better exercises for hitting the front delts.
That being said, you may have also experienced your shoulders doing weird things whenever you bench, and perhaps you’ve even felt pain.
In truth, this all comes down to the fact that your shoulder joint can be placed in a fairly precarious position.
This ensures that your shoulders are a far safer position, while providing a solid base from which to bench.
Unfortunately, if you’re feeling bench press in your shoulders, this typically means that your shoulders have become internally rotated.
Your aim is to keep your shoulders externally rotated throughout your entire set.
Internal rotation of the shoulders typically leads to pain and injuries.
So, one of the main benefits of using the suicide grip is that allows you to tuck your elbows properly while benching, which also helps to maintain a better overall shoulder position.
Now, a lot of people talk about the suicide grip being better for your wrist health.
But, although I do agree to some extent, I don’t feel that the suicide grip offers that much of an advantage when it comes to maintaining a neutral wrist position.
Firstly, think about what your wrists are doing whenever you bench press.
And this is even more important when you’re benching very heavy loads.
Basically, you may notice that it’s difficult to maintain a neutral wrist, and your wrists generally tend to bend backwards.
The exact same can be said for an exercise such as the overhead press.
Unfortunately, allowing your wrists to bend backwards places them in a perilous position.
Plus, it actually works against you in terms of optimising bench press power.
Your aim should always be to maintain a neutral wrist position, therefore your wrists should be perfectly aligned over your forearms.
Now, I mentioned that I didn’t believe that the suicide grip offered that much of an advantage when it comes to having your wrists straight and aligned over your forearms.
The reason I say this is because it all comes down to where you place the bar in your hand.
You should always have the barbell resting on the meaty part of your hand.
This is at the base of your hand and almost an extension of the fleshy part of the thumb.
If you can keep the bar here then you should be able to maintain a neutral wrist position.
However, most people tend to bench while resting the bar on their fingers.
Unfortunately, this position will generally see the wrists bend back, thus leading to the potential issues I discussed earlier.
Better For Triceps
Okay, I’ve spoken of secondary muscle groups being stimulated during bench press, and the triceps are one of these.
In fact, bench pressing is a fantastic way to build your triceps, especially when you’re hitting very heavy loads.
Don’t believe me, just take a look at a powerlifter’s triceps, even though they rarely isolate their triceps during training.
The simple fact that using a suicide grip allows you to tuck your elbows closer to your body means that you’ll activate your triceps even more.
And less face facts, most of us want a great set of well-defined and muscular arms, and hitting the triceps more often is a great way to achieve this.
The Disadvantages of Suicide Grip on Bench Press
Now obviously, for as many advantages as there are for using a suicide grip on bench press, there are also numerous disadvantages.
So, I’ll cover these now.
The Barbell Isn’t Secure
The main disadvantage you’ll hear about using a suicide grip on bench press is the potential for the bar to slip out of your hands and literally crush you.
In truth, I personally only feel this may happen while you’re getting used to using a suicide grip.
What I mean by this is that initially it may feel uncomfortable and something that you’re not used to.
So, in effect, your mind may not be completely concentrated on the lift.
However, as with most things, the more you practice using a suicide grip, the more comfortable it will become.
Realistically, your thumb almost locks the bar in place, whereas a thumbless grip may see the barbell slip off the bottom of your hand.
This is also why it makes sense to bench press with a spotter, as you can “fail” at any time, whether you use a suicide grip or not.
You’re Not Activating Other Muscles as Much
I guess this could actually be viewed as both a positive and a negative.
Basically, when you wrap your thumb around the barbell you tend to squeeze slightly tighter.
This in turn will activate various stabilising muscles, such as your lats, shoulders and forearms.
Furthermore, keeping your lats tight and activated while you bench press will typically help you to perform the movement more efficiently.
This is especially true as you lower the bar back down towards yourself.
That being said, you could also choose to use a suicide grip so that you don’t activate these other muscles as much.
Your aim here is to isolate the pecs slightly more while you bench press.
Admittedly, the bench press will always be a compound exercise, therefore you will always stimulate other muscles anyway.
And, as I’ve said, activating your lats while you bench is very important.
So, this could be a reason to use a more traditional grip on bench press.
Be Wary of Elbow Tuck
Okay, I mentioned earlier how using a suicide grip actually helps you to keep your elbows tucked to your sides.
This is actually a good thing, as it provides additional support for your shoulder joint.
However, too much of a good thing can be a bad thing.
In other words, you don’t want to overdo it with elbow tuck.
If you have your elbows too close to your sides, this actually forces the shoulder into internal rotation.
And obviously this is something that you definitely want to avoid when benching.
So, while a suicide grip helps with elbow tuck, doing so excessively will cause you shoulder issues.
Pros & Cons of Bench Press Suicide Grip
So, as you can see, there are numerous reasons why people use suicide grip on bench press.
These are mainly to protect your shoulders and your wrist.
Your shoulders are less likely to internally rotate when using a suicide grip, and there is evidence that it also helps to keep your wrists in a neutral position.
Furthermore, a thumbless grip will also activate your triceps more, as your elbows are likely to be tucked further in towards your sides.
That being said, you should be wary of overtucking the elbows, as this will cause the shoulders to internally rotate.
Plus, the suicide grip means that the bar may not be entirely secure in your hands.
Finally, by not wrapping your thumb around the bar, you’re less likely to activate certain secondary muscle groups.
So, while many people may opt for a suicide grip on bench press, there are both advantages and disadvantages to doing this.
Regardless of grip there is another major issue that many people have, which you can read about now, is feeling bench press in your arms, especially your triceps.
Hi, I’m Partha, owner and founder of My Bodyweight Exercises. I am a Level 3 Personal Trainer and Certified Strength & Conditioning Specialist through the Register of Exercise Professionals, United Kingdom. I have been a regular gym-goer since 2000 and coaching clients since 2012. My aim is to help you achieve your body composition goals.