The reverse grip bench press provides lifters the ability to perform the bench press with a grip style that isn’t normally used.
So, what is the reverse grip bench press? The reverse grip bench press is a barbell bench press variation that alternates the lifter’s grip and has the knuckles point towards their feet. This reverse grip causes more elbow tucking, which ends up working the upper chest, front delts, and biceps more than the standard bench press grip.
Although the reverse grip bench press appears to be straightforward, don’t underestimate it. You might need to experiment over multiple sets with the reverse grip in order to find a comfortable position for the bar in your hands. Additionally, the increased horizontal travel of the barbell will require more proficiency in the “up phase” of the lift — in order to avoid misgrooving your reps.
In this article, I’ll break down the intention behind the reverse grip bench press, the benefits of this variation, and how to execute it correctly. On top of this, I’ll explain who should consider incorporating this exercise into their training program.
Reverse Grip Bench Press vs Regular Bench Press
The key difference in this exercise is that the lifter opposes their grip, so their fingers wrap around the underside of the bar with their palms facing more of their face than their feet.
This grip modification causes a cascade of changes that make it significantly different from the standard bench press.
Specifically, the reverse grip bench press requires more tucking of the elbows and a bar path with greater horizontal travel of the barbell.
As a result of these biomechanical changes, the reverse grip bench press is considered a bench press variation that requires:
• Greater wrist mobility
• Higher amounts of the wrist, forearm, and biceps strength
• Developed coordination and body awareness
Who Is The Reverse Grip Bench Press For?
As a rule of thumb, I don’t suggest that aspiring or competing powerlifters perform this exercise when trying to improve their bench press. I would only recommend it to powerlifters if they are in a deload phase of training, or they are recovering from an injury.
Since the reverse grip alters your grip — and subsequently your bar path, muscles used, joint angles, and muscle contraction sequencing — it’s almost certainly too far removed from your competition bench press to provide much strength transfer at all.
A much better variation for powerlifters would be the Swiss Bar Bench Press, which I cover in another article.
However, the reverse grip bench press would be an excellent option for bodybuilders ad physique athletes who want to improve the activation of specific muscle groups — see below.
The reverse grip bench press is only one type of grip you can use on the bench press. Learn more about the 6 Different Types Of Bench Press Grips.
Reverse Grip Bench Press: Muscles Worked
The muscles used in the reverse grip bench press are the:
• Pectoralis major and minor (chest muscles)
• Front deltoid (shoulder muscles)
• Triceps (back arm muscles)
• Biceps (front arm muscles)
• Wrist Extensors (forearm muscles)
The reverse grip bench press uses much of the same muscles that are recruited in the traditional bench press. That said, there are a few muscle groups that are activated to a greater extent in the reverse grip bench press, including the biceps.
Check out my article on Does Bench Press Work Biceps where I discuss the biceps role in greater detail in variations like the Reverse Grip Bench Press.
Here’s my complete guide on Muscles Used In Bench Press for the traditional bench press, check it out next!
The prime movers in the reverse grip bench press are the pectoralis major and pectoralis minor.
However, the reverse grip bench press is unique in that it probably hits the upper pecs better than the traditional bench press. I’m not making this a definitive statement, because the only study (Lehman, 2005) that compared these two bench press forms (reverse grip, and traditional) had a flaw that potentially could have influenced the study results.
That said, the barbell does tend to touch much lower on your chest in the reverse grip bench press. Since the upper chest fibers assist in performing shoulder flexion (bringing the barbell ‘up and back’), it’s reasonable to say that they’re recruited significantly more in the reverse grip bench press.
While there are three different heads that make up the shoulder muscle, the front deltoid is the only predominant one that’s active during the reverse grip bench press.
Its importance is increased due to the added amount of shoulder flexion present during the reverse grip bench press.
Arm and Forearm Muscles
Like the traditional bench press, the reverse grip bench press recruits the triceps.
Because of the amount of shoulder flexion occurring during this exercise, it’s almost certain that the reverse grip bench press places way more work on the biceps.
In fact, the study by Lehman (2005) found that when compared to the traditional bench press, the reverse grip bench was almost double the biceps activation. And while the biceps might not be the limiting muscle group for the vast majority of lifters, they might hold a few powerlifters back who have massive bench presses and consistently neglect training their biceps.
Finally, the muscles that extend your wrists are more active during the reverse grip bench press since your wrists remain slightly cocked back throughout the exercise in order to not lose your grip on the bar.
My article on How Do Powerlifters Train Arms? (Definitive Guide) covers all the questions you could possibly have on arm training for powerlifting — check it out next.
5 Benefits of The Reverse Grip Bench Press
Remember that although the reverse grip bench press has a number of benefits, it requires patience and discipline to perform it safely. Ensure that you’re extremely comfortable with traditional bench presses prior to using the reverse grip style.
The 5 benefits of the reverse grip bench press are:
• It can build strength in the upper body
• It can generate greater upper chest hypertrophy
• It can introduce variety into your program
• It can be used as a means of offloading fatigue
• It can be used to train around an injury
1. It Can Build Strength In The Upper Body
If a specific goal of yours is to build upper body strength with a unique bench press variation, then the reverse grip bench press might be just what you’re looking for.
Recall that strength is low-velocity, high-load force production that is specific to range of motion being trained. The bench press is a common exercise that almost all gym-goers recognize; if you can reverse grip bench some serious weight, the grip modification and weight you lift will definitely get you some gym credit if that’s your thing.
That said, don’t forget that the reverse grip bench press is not allowed in sanctioned powerlifting meets.
2. It Can Generate Greater Upper Chest Hypertrophy
The reverse grip bench press probably has the greatest allure for those who want to put more mass on their upper chest. For this reason, it’s performed more frequently by bodybuilders, physique-oriented lifters and non-competitive strength athletes.
If the development of your upper chest is lagging, consider adding in the reverse grip bench press more often into your training program.
Another great exercise for the upper chest is the Incline Bench Press, which I cover in a different article.
3. It Can Introduce Variety Into Your Program
Incorporating the reverse grip bench press into your training regimen provides a novel stimulus for your body to adapt to.
When you plateau with any lift — bench press plateaus are quite common — the addition of new exercise variations can often spur on new progress. This is because you’ll
Finally, the psychological benefits of adding in different movements (even via small grip modifications) can be astounding. After all, the greatest predictor of sticking to your training is how much you enjoy your training.
Take a look at my article on Is The Reverse Grip Bench Press Harder?
4. It Can Be Used During A Deload
Deloads are periods of training where a significant reduction in volume (total reps) or intensity (% of your 1RM) is intentionally implemented. When these are scheduled ahead of time, they serve as a preventative measure to help lifters avoid injury. However, impromptu deloads can also occur in the event of an injury (more on this in the next point).
Regardless of the timing-nature of the deload, the reverse grip bench press can be a great variation to serve as an alternative to the traditional bench press.
Swapping out your competition bench press for the reverse grip bench press during a deload can allow your bench press muscles to continue being trained, but gives that specific range of motion a short break to offload some fatigue.
While the accumulation of fatigue is required to cause strength and hypertrophy adaptations, too much can result in meager results, aches and pains. In fact, you might even experience some short-term strength improvements to your competition bench press upon your return to it, due to the re-sensitization effect.
5. It Can Be Used To Train Around An Injury
Injuries are often managed best by seeking to find a pain-free range of motion that allows the muscle group(s) to continue being trained to avoid detraining and atrophy.
The reason why the reverse grip bench press might be way more comfortable (especially when dealing with an elbow or shoulder issue) is due to the amount of external rotation present at the shoulder joint. This effect of having your arms rotated outwardly will open up your chest more, and tends to lower the risk of impingement at the shoulder joint.
Are your elbows aching when you bench press? Read my article on How To Fix Elbow Pain While Bench Pressing (5 Solutions) to fix your pain.
How To Do The Reverse Grip Bench Press
Now that you understand the benefits of the reverse grip bench press, let’s delve into how to correctly execute the proper technique.
It’s important to note that the reverse grip will likely feel unnatural to you at first. In fact, it might take 1-2 weeks before your body (especially your hands and wrists) adapt to this new method of holding the barbell.
With that out of the way, let’s get on to the practical steps!
Step 1: Adjust the hooks to the correct height
Whether you prefer to use a bench press station, squat/power rack or competition combo rack is up to you.
In any case, you should adjust the hooks (the components that the barbell rests across) so that your elbows are slightly bent when you grab the bar. Having the bar set to the correct height will save you from wasting energy with an inefficient unracking of the bar — letting you divert all of your efforts into performing more reps.
Read my full guide on How To Do A Bench Press Lift Off (The Proper Way)
Step 2: Set-up your body on the bench
At this point, you should lay down on the bench and line up your eyes directly under the bar. Squeeze your shoulder blades together and down, while ensuring that your glutes stay on the bench and your feet remain on the floor.
Step 3: Prepare to unrack the bar
Without lifting the barbell upwards, roll it to the edge of the hooks (if you’re able to, some hooks do not allow this). This should place the bar slightly closer to you.
Establish your grip on the bar by putting the barbell in the base of your palm with your wrists cocked back. You’ll find this grip more comfortable if you angle your wrists slightly outwards, too.
Step 4: Unrack and let the bar settle
Push the barbell upwards and gently bring it forward, letting it settle in the starting position (this is generally where it feels the barbell will feel the most “weightless” in your hands).
Step 5: Execute the rep
When ready, take a deep breath in and brace your core. Lower the barbell towards the base of your chest by tucking your elbows in towards your sides. Once the bar makes contact against your chest, explosively push it up and back towards your face.
Step 6: Rack the barbell
Once you’ve performed the required number of reps, pause at the lockout position and wait until the bar is motionless before racking it into the hooks.
Important Tip: Have An Experienced Spotter
The bench press tends to be one of the riskiest exercises that you can perform, simply because there’s a loaded barbell above your throat. While accidents might be rare, they do happen and they might be more severe when using the reverse grip on the bench press.
Recall that the proper positioning of the reverse grip requires you to cock back your wrists and angle them outwards. This grip has two components that makes it more risky than the standard grip: (1) it tends to be less secure around the barbell, and (2) it’s got a higher chance of falling towards your throat in the event that your grip accidentally slips.
Another popular bench press grip is the Suicide Grip. I wrote an entire article on why lifters shouldn’t use this grip style.
Frequently Asked Questions
Here are the most frequently asked questions that I get around the reverse grip bench press:
What is the reverse grip bench press good for?
The reverse grip bench press is good for targeting your upper chest muscles and for significantly changing the range of motion, making it a great replacement during a deload or in response to an elbow or shoulder injury.
What muscles does the reverse grip bench press target?
The reverse grip bench press targets your pectoralis (chest muscles), front delts (shoulder muscles), triceps, biceps, and wrist extensor muscles.
What are the differences between the reverse grip bench press and the traditional bench press?
Due to the lower touchpoint of the barbell, the reverse grip bench press works more of your upper chest, front delts, and biceps.
My wrists hurt when I use this grip, what gives?
Don’t worry, nothing is wrong with you or the exercise itself — your wrists are simply responding to a stimulus that they’re not used to. As you continue to perform the reverse grip bench press they’ll adapt to this new position and become stronger, allowing you perform the exercise more comfortably. In the meantime, be conservative with your loading.
Doesn’t the reverse grip bench press target your triceps more?
No, this is a myth surrounding the reverse grip bench press. Since there’s about the same amount of elbow flexion (bending) to bring the bar down to the chest, the difference between elbow extension demands is minimal.
Any other tips to make this exercise more comfortable?
Yes! One of the most underrated tips is to take a slightly wider grip than your traditional bench press grip, probably by widening your hand placement by 2-3 inches on each side. This should allow you to angle your hands outwards, which tends to feel more comfortable for many lifters.
The reverse grip bench press is a barbell bench press variation that uses an opposing grip to hold the barbell. It works more of the upper chest, front delts and biceps when compared to the traditional bench press, but requires significantly more wrist strength and mobility.
Powerlifters should stick to the traditional bench press (and its close variations) instead of using the reverse grip bench press. That said, this movement is great to implement during deloads and when dealing with an elbow or shoulder injury. Bodybuilders and non-competitive strength athletes can add this exercise into their training program to their heart’s content.
About The Author
Kent Nilson is an online strength coach, residing in Calgary (AB). When he’s not training, coaching, or volunteering on the platform at powerlifting meets, you’ll likely find Kent drinking coffee or enjoying his next Eggs Benedict. Connect with him on Facebook or Instagram.