So, you want to know, “Why Does My Hand Go Numb When I Bench Press?”
Out of all the potential stresses and strains that you may experience through bench pressing, a numbness in the hands is probably the last thing you’d expect.
However, if you have encountered this, you know exactly how real, annoying, and potentially, even how painful this is.
So, why exactly do you experience a numbness in your hand when bench pressing?
And how do you solve this?
Allow me to reveal all.
Why Does My Hand Go Numb When I Bench Press?
There are a couple of main reasons why your hand goes numb when you bench press. Firstly, this is typically caused by not keeping your wrists straight. As soon as you allow your wrists to bend, especially when benching with a heavy load, you cut off the blood supply to the fingers, thus causing numbness. Secondly, this could be a sign of a pinched ulnar nerve. This is most noticeable as a weakness or tingling in your ring and little finger, which can also cause issues with gripping the bar during bench press.
You’re Not Keeping Your Wrists Straight
When it comes to a numbness in your hand during bench press, or feeling something that you potentially shouldn’t during any exercise, this typically points to poor form.
There’s no two ways about it, the vast majority of the time you’re doing something wrong.
In fact, you can even attribute any injuries from bench pressing, or anywhere else in the gym, to poor form.
One of the main issues here is that we all typically look to progressively overload on a regular basis.
And so we should, as this is the best way to get bigger and stronger.
That being said, you should never sacrifice form, or your health, simply to lift more weight.
In fact, I’m not adverse to sticking to the same weight for a number of weeks simply to ensure that I’m “ready” to move onto a heavier weight.
However, I may still actually “progressively overload” during these few weeks without actually adding any weight to the bar.
This is best achieved through additional reps, additional sets, or reduced rest times.
Now, getting back to the numbness in your hands when you bench press, this will often be due to your wrist position.
However, as the load gets heavier there is a tendency to allow the wrists to bend backwards.
Not only does this put your wrists in a precarious position, it’s also likely to explain the numbness in your hand.
Basically, as soon as you bend your wrists back, especially while holding a heavy load in your hands, you are in effect cutting off and reducing the blood supply to your fingers.
And it is this that is the cause of your numbness.
Are You Holding the Barbell Correctly?
Realistically, this mainly comes down to incorrect placement of the barbell in your hands.
Yes, once more, it could be due to trying to lift too much (aiming to progressively overload before you’re ready).
That being said, many gym-goers actually get it wrong, in terms of where the barbell should be in their hands during bench press.
If you hold your hand out, palm facing up, in front of you now, you should be placing the bar in the heel of your hand.
This is the fleshy part of the hand, which is an extension of the thumb, at the bottom of your hand.
However, many lifters have the bar much higher up in the hand, typically resting somewhere on the fingers.
From this position it is extremely difficult to keep your wrists straight.
Plus, this is made even harder when you have a heavy barbell in your hands.
So, always aim to hold the bar in the fleshy part of the heel of your hand.
And don’t forget to keep your wrists and forearms perfectly aligned.
You’ve Pinched Your Ulnar Nerve
The second main reason for feeling a numbness in your hand when you bench press is due to a pinched nerve.
More specifically, the ulnar nerve.
The ulnar nerve is connected to a series of nerves known as the brachial plexus.
The brachial plexus starts at the neck and extends to the shoulder.
And the ulnar nerve literally “takes over” from the brachial plexus from here.
So, the ulnar nerve goes from the shoulder, runs down the inside of your arm, and then down the back of the forearm to the ulna.
The ulna is the bone located on the outside of the forearm on the same side as your little finger.
And the ulnar nerve actually spreads all the way down to your ring and little finger.
This also explains why you may occasionally feel a tingling in your ring and little finger, especially when you bench.
And just for your information, as the ulnar nerve runs under the elbow, whenever you hit your funny bone (which is never actually funny), it’s actually the ulnar nerve that you’ve hit.
Unfortunately, the ulnar nerve can be prone to getting “trapped” or “pinched” in various places along which it extends.
So, it’s not uncommon to feel numbness or even pain in your elbow, collarbone, or wrist, when the ulnar nerve becomes pinched.
And this is frequently the cause of numbness in the hand when you bench press.
A pinched ulnar nerve can go away on its own, but obviously you’ll need to rest.
If the issue remains then you should visit your Doctor.
Depending on the severity of the issue they may prescribe anti-inflammatory drugs or even a corticosteroid injection (usually if you’re experiencing swelling).
You may even be required to wear a splint, which in effect will stabilise your elbow, thus meaning that you won’t worsen the injury.
Once more, depending on the severity, you may even need to be evaluated by a physical therapist, who can provide you with various rehabilitation exercises.
Ulnar Nerve Glides – Ask Dr. Jo
Try Bench Press With a Suicide Grip
Okay, as the name suggests, the “suicide grip” may not be the most stable way to grip a barbell.
However, as long as you’re sensible in terms of weight selection and keeping your form tight, there shouldn’t be any problems.
The suicide grip is just another way of saying a “thumbless” grip.
In other words, you don’t wrap your thumb around the bar, but rather you keep it on the same side of the bar as your other fingers.
The main benefit to this includes that it minimises internal rotation of the shoulders, thus making benching much safer for the shoulder joint.
Additionally, the suicide grip actually makes it easier to place the bar into the fleshy part of your hand.
Plus, it helps you maintain a neutral wrist position, as well as helping to keep your wrists and forearms aligned.
Perfect, this is exactly what you want.
I will also say that the suicide grip on bench press activates the triceps more.
This can be both a blessing and a curse.
The triceps are typically your “weak-spot” whenever you bench press.
Basically, as they’re the smaller muscle, it’s far more likely that your triceps will fatigue before your pecs.
So, if your triceps are especially weak, this may mean that by using a suicide grip you may not be able to lift as much weight or perform as many reps of bench press.
However, the very fact that you’re activating your triceps even more by using the thumbless grip means that they have the ability to get even stronger than before.
Anyway, try the suicide grip and see if it stops your hand going numb when you bench press.
So, as you can see, there are two main reasons for feeling numbness in your hand when you bench press.
These come down to either you’re not keeping your wrists aligned with your forearms, thus allowing them to bend back, or you’ve pinched your ulnar nerve.
Obviously, in the case of your wrist bending back, this simply comes down to poor form and poor execution of the bench press.
Therefore, this is something you need to work on in order to improve.
One way of doing this is to use the suicide grip when you bench press.
This allows you to place the barbell into the fleshy part of your hand, while ensuring that your wrists and forearms stay perfectly aligned.
If the numbness is down to a pinched ulnar nerve, then rest and recovery is the order of the day.
However, if the numbness continues, or if it happens every single time that you bench press, I suggest you contact your Doctor to discuss this further.
Although a fairly similar subject you may also wish to learn more about why your thumb hurts when you bench press, as there are some differences.
Hi, I’m Partha, the founder of My Bodyweight Exercises. I’m someone who’s been passionate about exercise and nutrition for more years than I care to remember. I’ve studied, researched, and honed my skills for a number of decades now. So, I’ve created this website to hopefully share my knowledge with you. Whether your goal is to lose weight, burn fat, get fitter, or build muscle and strength, I’ve got you covered.