Last updated on February 9th, 2023 at 05:17 pm
I’m guessing out of all the body parts where bench press could “hurt”, thumbs wouldn’t be top of your list.
But, I’ve definitely suffered the curse of “benching thumb” and I’m sure you have too.
The main reason your thumb hurts when you bench press is because you don’t have the bar placed correctly in your hand. The bar should actually be much further down the hand than most people think, as close as possible to where the wrist meets the palm. Additionally, your wrist position can place extra stress on the thumbs. So, ensure that you keep your wrists straight throughout. You’ll find a narrower grip helps you maintain a better wrist position. There are 3 different thumb positions you can use when gripping the bar, and the suicide grip places the least amount of pressure on the thumb.
1. You Have the Bar Placed Incorrectly in Your Hand
The main issue that causes thumb pain when you bench press is how you’re gripping the bar.
You would think that grabbing a barbell would be a fairly simple task and not something you could get wrong.
The technique that most of us use is pretty much the same as if we were to grab, pick up, or hold onto a cylindrical object similar to a bar.
Now this is all well and good if the bar was empty.
However, as you add more weight you’re going to start to feel the pressure more in your hands.
If you check out the image above from Stronglifts I’m guessing most of us grab the bar where the red line shows, so just under the pads of the hand on the underside of the knuckles.
But, as you can see, you should have the bar much lower in your hand.
In effect, the bar is as close as possible to where the wrist meets the palm.
You would think that this would place additional stress on the thumb, but actually it doesn’t.
Plus, this lower grip is ideal for keeping your wrists in a neutral position.
2. You’re Not Keeping Your Wrists Straight
This is something I see all the time, bending at the wrists during the bench press.
Probably one of the most common complaints about the bench press is sore wrists.
Basically, as the weight on the bar gets heavier, the more you tend to feel it in your wrists.
However, as I’ve just mentioned, placing the bar correctly in your hand can help you to maintain a straight wrist position.
All too often, you’ll bench press and see your wrists bending back.
This obviously places a huge amount of stress on the wrists.
Plus, this becomes extremely dangerous when it comes to benching heavier weights.
Additionally, when you bench with a bent wrist the base of your thumb will bear the brunt of the weight.
Your aim should be to keep your forearm and fist in a straight line, much the same as if you were throwing a punch.
If you concentrate on trying to maintain that straight line, there is less likelihood of you bending at the wrists.
You should try to grip the bar much tighter than you currently are, as this will help you to concentrate on correct wrist positioning.
It may also help to reduce the weight initially and get your form on-point.
3. Try a Narrower Grip
Something else to consider is how wide a grip you’re using whenever you bench.
Basically, the wider your grip, the higher the likelihood of you bending at the wrists.
The ideal position would be to have your arms in a perfectly straight line from the shoulders to your hands.
So, in effect, your upper arms, forearms, wrists, and fists all form a perfectly straight line.
This of course ensures that you won’t be bending at the wrist, and therefore not placing undue stress on the wrists and the thumbs.
Okay, I appreciate that there are various grip widths that you can bench with.
I can’t say that I’m a fan of wide-grip benching, but that’s just personal preference.
However, I absolutely love close-grip bench presses, especially when it comes to working my triceps.
With that being said, if your thumbs are hurting whenever you bench you’ll be better off going back to basics.
4. What Thumb Grip Are You Using?
It should seem obvious that what your thumbs are actually doing could be the issue.
But I guess that most of us don’t put that much thought into our thumbs when it comes to benching.
There are three basic thumb grips you can use when you bench press.
The standard or most traditional method is to simply have the thumb wrapped around the bar.
Then there is the thumb across the bar grip.
This is where your thumb remains completely straight and your entire thumb is in contact with the bar throughout your set.
It is this grip that will cause you the most problems.
As you start to bench heavier weights you’ll be applying more pressure to the base of the thumb.
In fact, the thumb across the bar grip can also lead to wrist problems as well.
However, some lifters tend to prefer this grip, and can use it without any pain whatsoever.
The final grip is the thumbless or suicide grip.
This is where your thumb and fingers are all on the same side of the bar.
I will say that if you’re experiencing thumb soreness when benching then you should try the suicide grip.
However, this may take some getting used to.
Plus, as the name suggests, you may not feel completely safe using this grip.
So, it makes sense to reduce the weight on the bar until you get used to using the grip.
5. You Have Weak or Tight Forearms
The final reason is down to your forearms.
More specifically, your forearms are either weak or tight.
Something I haven’t mentioned is that your body needs to adapt to holding the bar and this can often expose various weak links.
This is true when any exercise is new to you.
Take squatting as an example – a lot of people initially find the bar being placed across the back of their shoulders extremely painful.
This is simply because their body isn’t used to the pressure being applied.
The exact same can be said for the bench press, and the impact on your wrists and your thumbs.
With that being said, weak forearms will mean that both your thumbs and your wrists will have to take up more of the strain.
You wouldn’t think that working your grip would have an effect on your bench press.
But, believe me a strong grip translates well to all the big lifts.
Additionally, you may even have tight forearm muscles, which once more will place further stress on the thumbs.
However, you can stretch your forearms regularly and use a small ball (a lacrosse ball will suffice) to get a good, deep massage of the forearms.
Stronger and less tight forearms will certainly relieve the pressure placed on your thumbs and it will also improve your bench press.
Key Learning Points
- The barbell should be placed in the hand lower than most people think, i.e. the meaty prt of your pam at the bootom of your hand.
- Always bench press with straight wrists. If your wrists bend back this puts a lot of stress on the wrist and your thumb bears the brunt of the weight.
- Using a narrower grip makes it easier to keep your forearms, wrists, and fists in perfect alignment. This, once more, will take much of the pressure off your thumbs.
- The suicide grip (thumbs on the top side of the bar rather than wrapped around) will put the least amount of stress on your thumbs when benching.
- Weak or tight forearms will affect your grip, and once more this will palce more stress onto your wrists and thumbs. So, it’s advisable to work on your forearm and grip strength too.
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.