reverse grip bench press
Fitness

The Ultimate Guide To The Reverse Grip Bench Press

You’re probably familiar with the bench press; it’s arguably the most popular chest exercise and has been a staple of weightlifting for decades. However, there’s a variation of it that you might not be aware of; the reverse grip bench press.

It can be performed with a barbell or dumbbells but rather than holding the weight with a standard grip, you’re flipping your hands around so that your palms and knuckles face you throughout the movement.

The range of motion is also slightly different from the regular bench press in that you’re pushing the weight up and slightly forward, rather than just straight up. This activates your upper chest, and here’s the kicker; you perform this move on a flat bench, rather than an incline bench.

Here, we’ll outline what muscles are used in the reverse grip bench press, how to perform the movement correctly and the benefits of including it in your bench press workout.

Muscles Worked In The Reverse Grip Bench Press

As mentioned, this exercise is excellent for working your upper chest muscles. As the bench press motion is slightly different in that you’re pushing the bar up and forward, the upper part of your pectoral muscles (pectoralis major) is recruited the most.

As you’re using an underhand grip, your biceps will also be used quite a lot in this exercise. Plus, your shoulder muscles and your forearm muscles will be working hard to create stability. Lastly, your triceps will also be worked hard as they play an important part in keeping the range of motion fluid and smooth.

It’s worth noting that it is really only your front deltoid (shoulder muscle) that is recruited in this movement.

This is predominantly a chest exercise, though, much like the traditional bench press. Your pectoralis major and minor are involved in the movement and this is where the majority of the force comes from to control the weight.

The other muscles – those in your arms and shoulders – mainly work as stabilizing muscles, but they are still getting a decent workout from the reverse grip bench press. It’s a very underrated exercise.

So, this bench press variation is an excellent upper body workout, and it’s surprising that it’s not a more common exercise in gyms.

How To Perform The Reverse Grip Bench Press Properly

How To:

  • Lie on a standard bench, or an incline bench that has been adjusted to become a flat bench, with your feet flat on the ground. Hold a barbell or a pair of dumbbells with an underhand grip so that your palms are facing toward your face. 
  • The starting position should see the weight held above your face with your arms extended, but not in a lockout position. 
  • Lower the bar down and away from your face so that it comes to the lower portion of your chest, just grazing it. 
  • Push the bar back up and forward with force so that it returns to the starting position above your face. Repeat for reps.
  • Reps: 10-12.
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Equipment Used:

  • Flat bench/incline bench adjusted to become flat
  • Barbell/dumbbells

Pro Tips:

  • It can generally be safer to start with the bar racked in a power rack above you while you lie down. You can unrack the bar with an overhand grip, bring it to your chest and then adjust your grip, then begin the movement. Alternatively, you can unrack it using the underhand grip though this can be difficult if you’re trying to perform heavier bench presses.
  • If you experience any elbow pain, or any sort of joint pains, stop the movement to avoid injury. You should address the cause of the pain before returning to exercise.
  • Keep your back flat against the bench throughout the movement; don’t let it arch. If you find that you’re needed to arch your back when pushing the weight up, then you’re probably trying to lift too much weight.
  • Elbow positions are important for this exercise; keep your elbow tucking into your body on either side when you bring the weight down toward your chest. 
  • Squeeze your pectoral muscles as you push the bar up to make sure they’re fully recruited. It might seem silly at first, but this helps perform the movement more efficiently.
  • Breathe in as you lower the bar to your chest and breathe out as you push it up. 
  • Keep the entire movement controlled; you should take 2 seconds to lower the bar to your chest and another 2 seconds to push it up and above you. This means your muscles are getting the proper time under tension, making the exercise more effective, and also reduces the risk of injury.

Benefits Of The Reverse Grip Bench Press

Conventional bench presses are great for working your chest muscles, but people will often find themselves hitting bench press plateaus. So, this bench press variation is an excellent way to freshen up your bench press workout while targeting some muscles that can sometimes be neglected.

The upper chest muscles can be difficult to target, as many of the most popular chest exercises mainly recruit the central muscles of your pectorals. While there are exercises like the incline bench press which will focus on the upper section of your pecs, the reverse grip bench press is another tool in your arsenal.

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From your shoulder muscles to your upper chest and biceps, this barbell exercise (or dumbbell, if you choose) helps build your upper body strength, and the range of motion actually reduces the chance of a shoulder injury or some other impairment. 

This is because the shoulder flexion movement performed during the reverse grip bench press is more natural than other exercises, and it is moving through a wider range of motion.

The movement requires a lot of wrist strength and mobility, and the same goes for your shoulder and elbow joints. So, to pull it off you need a significant amount of upper body strength. The unconventional grip makes this a unique exercise that, if you’re able to, can greatly assist in your gains.

This also means that it’ll help build size and mass in the upper part of your upper body, around your chest and shoulders. Not only that, but the change in grip will also help improve your wrist strength and elbow mobility. 

What If I Can’t Perform The Reverse Grip Bench Press?

This is quite an advanced exercise and isn’t best suited for those new to the exercise of lifting weights, but that doesn’t mean you’ll never be able to try it. If you do give it a go and find it too difficult, you can work your way up to it with different exercises.

First of all, you can perform the reverse grip bench press with an unloaded barbell, just to introduce your body to the movement and build an initial level of strength and mobility in the relevant muscle groups.

If you find this fairly comfortable, then begin to add weight to the barbell in small increments to further strengthen these muscles. If you’re unsure though, consider having someone there to spot you, or focus on other chest and arm exercises to better prepare you.

The traditional bench press (on a flat bench) will help develop your chest and arm muscles and, obviously, moves them through a very similar range of motion. So, it’s always a good idea to make sure you’ve become adept at this exercise before moving onto the reverse grip variation.

Similarly, incline bench presses are a great way to prepare for the reverse grip bench press as they also target the upper chest muscles, as well as your front deltoids. You can also perform dumbbell flys on an incline bench to give your chest a more comprehensive workout.

If you’d rather stick to bodyweight exercises at first, you can’t go wrong with push ups. These will target your chest and arm muscles, just like the reverse grip bench press, and are a safe and effective way of developing these muscle groups. 

There are variations to push ups you can try out as well. Box push ups, with your knees on the floor, are ideal for beginners whereas if you’re aiming to target specific muscles, then you can mix things up. Diamond push ups, where your hands are touching beneath your chest on the floor, will target your triceps more while a wide stance push up, with your hands far apart, will focus more on your chest and shoulders.

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Conclusion

While the traditional bench press remains one of the most effective upper body and chest exercises you can perform, it’s well worth including the reverse grip bench press in your training program as well.

It can be a more efficient way of targeting your upper chest muscles and it also helps reduce injury and enhance the strength of certain joints. It’s a movement you won’t often see in the gym and that’s mainly because not many people are even aware of this exercise and the benefits it can bring.

That being said, it can be a tricky one to get right so make sure you work yourself up to it and always start out with a relatively light weight to ensure your form is correct. Once you’re comfortable adding more weight, you’ll have a brand new exercise to blast your upper body and pack on some impressive size.

Frequently Asked Questions

Is the reverse grip bench press safe?

Yes, if performed correctly. As with any exercise, you need to make sure you’re performing the movement with the correct form before you start adding heavy weight. So, practice with a light weight, maybe even just a barbell, and check your form first. Once you’re happy, you can then add weight.

What bench grip is best for the chest?

The traditional bench press with an overhand grip will generally recruit the middle portion of your chest muscles, as well as some other muscle groups. If you perform these on an incline bench, you’ll work the upper chest muscles, and if you perform them on a decline bench then you’ll target the lower ones. The reverse grip bench press predominantly recruits your upper chest muscles. So, if you want to work your entire chest, it’s best to mix things up.

Is the reverse grip bench press harder?

This will vary from person to person. At first, it might seem a little harder as your body and muscles are not used to the exercise and range of motion. You are also moving the weight across a longer plane of movement, as you’re not just pushing it up but also forward at an angle. For this reason, it’s likely that you’ll be able to lift slightly less weight with the reverse grip as opposed to the traditional bench press.

George Gigney

George is a Level 3 Personal Trainer and qualified Behavior Change Specialist. He has been training clients for several years and writing for over a decade, focusing on sport, wellbeing, and fitness.

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