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Suicide Grip Bench Press: Friend or Foe?

Bench and dumbbell pressing efficiencies are clear, but at what cost?

Suicide Grip Bench Press: Friend or Foe?

Just pull up old clips of Arnold Schwarzenegger benching. You’ll see that he uses an open grip where his thumbs aren’t wrapped around the barbell. This is known as suicide grip bench press, and it’s stirred up quite a bit of controversy in the bodybuilding and fitness communities. 

Some say it’s unsafe and can lead to the weight crashing down on your head, while others claim it’s the most effective way to ramp up your bench press and add some density to your upper body. So what’s the deal with this thumbless grip bench press? Arnold uses it, so it can’t be too bad, right? 

Just to be clear, we ARE NOT recommending you take up this grip variation, especially if you’re new to weightlifting. But we wanted to give you all the facts to you can decide for yourself. So, let’s dive into this controversial grip.

What Is Suicide Grip Bench Press?

Image of suicide grip, left, and regular grip, right

Also known as a false grip, the suicide grip bench is an open grip weightlifting technique where you position your thumbs next to your index finger instead of wrapping them around the barbell as you would with a traditional bench press. So the most noticeable difference with suicide grip bench vs. regular comes down to thumb placement. 

Why Use Suicide Grip Bench?

Proponents of using a suicide grip typically talk about three main benefits:

  • It’s good for your wrists
  • It puts your shoulders in a better position
  • It helps you activate your triceps more

1. Your wrists stay neutral   

When you use an open grip, you have to keep your wrists neutral, or else you run the risk of the barbell or dumbbells slipping out of your hands. To keep your wrists neutral, you have to position the barbell at the base of your palms. This makes it easier to align your wrists right over your forearms, which is the optimal angle for bench press power

2. Your shoulders are in a safe position

Tucking your elbows is one benefit of the suicide grip bench, as it can minimize internal rotation and provide some relief for your shoulder joints. Over time, excessive internal rotation can lead to injury, chronic pain, or other problems that can sideline you from the gym. 

3. You can activate your triceps more

This goes with the point above about tucking your elbows. With your elbows positioned closer to your body, you’ll activate more of your triceps. If you’re tricep dominant (which a lot of people tend to be), then using a suicide grip could help you improve your lifts.

Disadvantages of the Suicide Grip

Now, the suicide grip isn’t without its cons. Let’s walk through what detractors might say about why you shouldn’t take up suicide grip bench. 

1. The weight can slip out of your hands

Without your thumb wrapped around the weights, you have less command of where the weight goes. This creates an opportunity for the bar or dumbbells to slip out of your hands and come toppling down.

As we’ve discussed, one of the main differences between suicide or thumbless grip vs. regular grip is thumb placement. Gripping the weight tight and wrapping your thumbs around as you do with regular bench press gives you a safe lock from the bar crashing down on your face. When you use an open grip, that safeguard goes away, as the weight can shift in your palms more easily. 

2. It can be hard to activate other muscles 

There may be more benefits than safety for going with a traditional grip. Wrapping your thumbs around the weight helps maximize irradiation, more commonly known as muscle tension. You can increase muscle tension in stabilizing muscles, such as your forearms, shoulders, and lats, by gripping the bar tight.

Keeping your lats tight and having a strong upper back are especially important on bench too, as they play a pivotal role in the eccentric portion of the movement (i.e. lowering the weight or bar) and support your shoulders. You can squeeze your lats tighter with a traditional grip. 

3. Your elbows may be overly tucked

This was on the benefits list but it also belongs on the disadvantage side of things too. When you bench press, you want to make sure that your elbows are tucked slightly so that you can press up with maximum force. But tucking in your elbows too much puts more pressure on the triceps, which may lessen chest and shoulder activation. 

Because your thumbs aren’t wrapped around the barbell, suicide grip bench may lead you to overly tucked elbows (in an attempt to prevent the weight from falling on your face). On the other hand, with traditional grip bench, you can better position your elbows under the bar and keep muscular tension on your chest.

Is It Safe to Use Suicide Grip?

The suicide grip will never be 100% risk-free but you can mitigate the risk and prevent common weightlifting mistakes by following these useful tips:

  • Always be sure to use a spotter. That goes for both un-racking and re-racking the weight. 
  • Check to make sure the bar or dumbbell isn’t slippery. Chalk up if you can. It’ll give you better grip on the bar and offset things like sweat or the bar being slick. 
  • Position the bar in the center of your palm.
  • When performing the lift, use your fingers (minus your thumbs) to squeeze the bar .
  • Make sure your forearms are engaged so that your wrists don’t slip out of position.
  • Try to stay between 4-8 reps per set. Since suicide grip bench is a compound lift, you should be loading up the bar. 

What Other Exercises Can You Use the Suicide Grip?

You can use the suicide grip or open grip on plenty of other exercises besides bench. Here are a few of them:

Takeaways on Suicide Grip Bench 

Just to reiterate, we do NOT advise using the suicide grip bench, especially if you’re a strength training beginner. While there are positivtes to benching with a suicide or false grip, such as keeping your wrists neutral for optimal bench press power and providing relief for your should joints, there are also some negatives. 

Safety is probably being the biggest one, as not wrapping your thumbs around the weight increases the risk of the bar slipping out of your hands. It can also be hard to engage other muscles (like your lats) when you opt for a suicide grip. If you decide that the benefits outweigh the risks, make sure you always have a spotter, chalk up for better grip, set up the bar in the center of your palm, and squeeze for dear life with your other four fingers when performing the lift. 

Looking to get shredded in time for summer? Check out our blog post on how to lean and have a successful summer cut. Or, if you’re looking to put on muscle and add some size, you’ll want to check out our blog post on lean bulking

About the Author:
Chad Richardson is a freelance writer from Cincinnati, OH. It’s actually been rumored that Chad came out of the womb doing bicep curls, so it should come as no surprise that he enjoys creating content to help others get in shape and live healthier lives. When he’s not in the gym impersonating Arnold Schwarzenegger, you can probably catch Chad at a local bar with some friends, frustrated with his hometown Red Legs’ inability to stay above 500 for a whole season. His philosophy on life? Take action starting TODAY on that thing you’ve been putting off...Not tomorrow, next week, or whenever you feel motivated...A small step might not seem like much right now, but even small steps add up to a mile eventually.

Ironmaster Iron Blog Contributor Chad Richardson

Website: Chad’s Business Website
LinkedIn: Chad’s LinkedIn

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