The suicide grip for bench press is also called the ‘false grip’ or ‘thumbless grip’. Instead of wrapping your thumb underneath of the barbell, you place the thumb next to your index finger where it sits on top of the barbell.
So is the suicide grip better for bench press? Lifters use the suicide grip because they say it places their wrist in a better position, keeps their shoulders safer, and allows them to activate their triceps more. While these are valid reasons, the suicide grip poses several cons, which can be avoided by using a normal grip.
Furthermore, the same benefits that you get while using the suicide grip can be achieved with a standard grip for bench press. For these reasons, I never instruct my athletes to use the suicide grip for bench press. In this article, I’ll explain:
- What Is The Suicide Grip?
- Are There Benefits For The Suicide Grip?
- 6 Reasons Against Using The Suicide Grip?
- What Is The Proper Way To Grip The Barbell?
- Can You Use The Suicide Grip For Any Other Exercise?
What Is The Suicide Grip?
The difference between the suicide grip and regular grip for bench press is that the thumb is either wrapped underneath or on top of the barbell.
The suicide grip is nothing new. In fact, if you’ve ever seen old training videos of Arnold Schwarzenegger, you can see that he uses the suicide grip in almost every bench press variation.
Because of Arnold, there was an entire generation of bodybuilders who started to rationalize that the thumbless grip was superior. In other words, if it was ‘good for Arnold’, then ‘it was good for me’.
Before I advocate that there are more drawbacks than benefits to the suicide grip, let’s first take a look at why some people love benching using this grip style
Are There Benefits For The Suicide Grip?
There are three main reasons why you hear lifters advocating for the suicide grip:
- It keeps the wrist neutral
- It keeps the shoulders in a safe position
- It allows you to activate your triceps more
Benefit #1: It keeps the wrist neutral
By using a thumbless grip it reduces the leeway that the wrist can flex forward or back because otherwise the barbell may fall out of the hands. To avoid this, you must keep the barbell in the base of the palm with the wrist stacked directly over the forearm.
Benefit #2: It keeps the shoulders in a safe position
In the bench press, you want to avoid having your arms ‘internally rotate’, as it will cause additional stress on the structures of the shoulders. One way to avoid this is by tucking your elbows as you bring the barbell down. The suicide grip is said to force lifters into this tucked elbow position.
Benefit #3: It allows you to activate your triceps more
If your elbows are naturally tucking more, then you will activate your triceps more throughout the range of motion. This could be an advantage if you’re not already benching with a focus on your triceps. By activating greater musculature, you have the ability to lift more weight.
These reasons are valid. In fact, I’m always trying to manipulate my lifters’ technique to achieve these outcomes. However, as I will explain next, the suicide grip is not the only way to accomplish them. You also have to weigh the potential cons that come along with using the suicide grip.
6 Reasons Against Using The Suicide Grip For Bench Press
Let’s now take a look at the reasons why I don’t suggest using the suicide grip for bench press:
- You can’t grip the bar as tight
- The same wrist position can be achieved using the standard grip
- It will be harder to keep your lats tight
- Your elbow position may be ‘too tucked’
- There’s a high risk the barbell can fall out of your hands
- It’s against the rules of powerlifting
1. You Can’t Grip The Bar As Tight (Making The Weight Feel Heavier)
Your hands won’t be as tight around the barbell by using a suicide grip versus a normal grip. Having your hands as tight as possible around the barbell is important because it will make the barbell feel ‘lighter’ in your hands, which will build your confidence under heavy weight.
This occurs because of the idea of proprioception, which is defined as (1) the sense of position and movement of our limbs, (2) the sense of muscle force and effort, and (3) the sense of balance.
So, whether a load feels heavy or light can be partly attributed to our proprioceptive ability to gauge ‘muscle force and effort’.
Our proprioception is activated by special receptors in our skin, muscles, tendons, and joints. Therefore, as the barbell sits in our hands, it’s constantly providing feedback to our central nervous system about how the load feels and where our limbs are in space.
It’s been shown that you can increase your proprioceptive ability by creating muscle stiffness. You can generate greater muscle stiffness by squeezing your fingers as hard as possible around the barbell, which will recruit the muscles of the hands and forearm.
If the hands are relaxed, the less proprioceptive ability we have, and the heavier the weight will feel. Alternatively, if the hands are tight, the greater the proprioceptive ability we have, and the lighter the weight will feel.
This is why I always like to tell my athletes to ‘leave fingerprints on the barbell’ because that’s how hard I expect them to be squeezing their fingers when bench pressing. You can squeeze your hands much harder in a normal grip vs. a suicide grip.
2. The Same Wrist Position Can Be Achieved With The Standard Grip
You can achieve the same neutral wrist position using the standard grip versus a suicide grip.
When benching, you want the load sitting in the base of your hand so that the load is directly stacked in line with the forearm. This will place the wrist in a neutral position, which is one of the main reasons why people use a suicide grip. They say it’s a more natural way to obtain this neutral wrist position.
However, this same ‘neutral wrist’ position can be achieved using a standard grip. Having a neutral wrist position doesn’t depend on where the thumb is in relation to the barbell, but rather, where the barbell is placed in the hands.
For both the suicide grip and standard grip, the barbell should be in the base of the palm, which will give you the best chance to keep your wrist neutral. What you want to avoid is having the barbell resting further back on the hands, on the knuckles or fingers.
3. It Will Be Harder To Keep Your Lats Tight
You will be able to keep your lats tighter in a standard grip versus a suicide grip.
You want your lats to be activated throughout the bench press because they have a role in decelerating the bar (on the way down), restricting inefficient movement patterns, and stabilizing the shoulder.
You can keep your lats tighter in the bench press by squeezing your hands as hard as possible.
You can test whether you can squeeze your hands tighter using a suicide grip or standard grip. You’ll quickly find that the standard grip provides superior grip strength on the barbell, which will translate to tighter lats as you bench press.
4. Elbow Position May Be Too Tucked
In the bench press, the elbows need to be slightly tucked. However, too much tucking will lead to greater stress on the triceps, which will reduce the contribution of the chest and shoulders throughout the movement.
When the barbell is on your chest in the bench press, the elbows should be either naturally in line with the barbell or slightly in front.
It’s a fine balance though, you want to have your elbows tucked because it places your shoulders in an advantageous position and recruits the triceps more. But too much elbow tucking and it will become a weaker press off the chest.
In a suicide grip, lifters are prone to too much elbow tucking. Whereas in a standard grip, lifters can have more control on where their elbows are in relation to the barbell.
Check out my guide on elbow sleeves for bench press, which is a great addition to your gym bag to keep your elbows healthy.
5. High Risk of The Barbell Falling Out of Hands
One of the dangerous consequences of the suicide grip is that there is a high risk that the barbell can slip from the hands. The thumb acts as a locking mechanism on the barbell when it’s wrapped underneath. Without the thumb involved, the barbell can fall off the base of the palm more easily.
There are many lifters online that say they’ve been bench pressing for years in a suicide grip without any accidents. However, it’s sort of like wearing a seat belt. There are people who drive without a seat belt and be totally fine, but a minor crash can lead to fatal consequences without wearing one.
The risk of the barbell falling out of the hands is higher among powerlifters who bench press using heavier loads. Any instability along the chain of the arm, which is bound to happen at maximal loads, can make it extremely hard to keep the barbell in the base of the palm.
I asked Brett Gibbs, World Champion Powerlifter, why he doesn’t use the suicide grip. Here’s what he said:
A number of years back, I randomly used the suicide grip as it did feel comfortable, immediately. There was no reason I gripped the bar this way on this occasion, but I can agree here with anyone who has that initial reaction.
Moving along a few weeks of using the grip I was repping out a few plates and a split second later the bar is 1mm from my nose bouncing off of the pins. I cannot believe how fast a bar can move, it moved so quick that at the time I still hadn’t realised that I dropped the bar.
My advice is get comfortable with the thumbs around the bar, always have safeties in place and never allow yourself to be a position where if you drop that bar you’re going to be in major trouble.Brett Gibbs, IPF World Champion
6. It’s Against The Rules For Powerlifting
If you’re a competitive powerlifter, the current bench press rules say that suicide grips are not permitted in competition.
The exact wording is:
The lifter’s hands and fingers must grip the bar positioned in the rack stands with a “thumbs around grip”. This position shall be maintained throughout the lift.IPF Technical Rules
I talked with a 40-year veteran of the sport recently though, and he said that back in the 1980s the suicide grip was legal in competitions.
A lot of lifters chose to grip the bar in this style; however, time and time again, under maximal loads, lifters were dropping the bar on their chest. This was also before safety racks were popular, so there was nothing to prevent major bodily injury.
So regardless of whether you prefer bench pressing using a suicide grip, if you want to compete in powerlifting with today’s standards, you’ll need to get use the standard bench press grip.
What Is the Proper Way To Grip The Barbell For Bench Press?
Here’s how I instruct my athletes to grip the barbell for bench press:
- Find the optimal grip width. Check out my article on “Is Wide Grip Bench Pressing Better?“, and follow the instructions on how to decide your grip width.
- Wrap the thumb underneath of the barbell. Think about pulling the thumb back into the barbell to ‘lock it’ into place.
- Ensure the barbell is on the base of the palm. This will direct the line of force over the wrist joint and forearm. The wrist should be neutral or be slightly extended (not excessive).
- Squeeze every single finger as hard as possible. A lot of lifters forget to squeeze their pinky finger, so draw special attention to engaging it. Cue yourself to ‘leave fingerprints on the barbell’.
- Engage your entire hand before lifting the barbell from the rack. A lot of lifters make the mistake of trying to engage their hand while they take the barbell off the rack or when its already over their chest. Your hand needs to be squeezing hard before lifting the weight up.
- Maintain this strong grip throughout the entire set. Don’t relax the hand as it will impact your wrist, elbow, and shoulder position.
Can You Use The Suicide Grip For Any Other Exercises?
While I’m not a proponent of using the suicide grip for bench press, I think the suicide grip can be used successfully with other exercises and not have the same consequences.
Here are a few other exercises where the suicide grip is used:
- Low Bar Back Squat
I don’t teach my lifters to use the suicide grip for low bar back squatting on their first day in the gym. However, some athletes find the suicide grip takes stress off their elbow joint, which allows them to get the bar lower on their back.
If the bar is lower on their back, it might mean a more mechanically efficient position (depending on the lifter).
- Overhead Shoulder Press
Some lifters prefer using the suicide grip for overhead shoulder pressing. I still think many of the negatives for using the suicide grip for bench press apply in the overhead press, but at least the risk of the barbell falling on the chest is mitigated.
The worst-case scenario is that if the barbell drops from the hand, the weight will just simply fall on the floor.
- Seated Chest Press
It’s common to see the suicide grip used for many chest press variation. This happens because of how the handles are positioned on the machine. Since the machine’s handles don’t allow for a lot of flexibility in how they’re positioned, lifters may not be able to comfortably wrap their thumb around the handles.
If you want to maximize your strength and safety on the bench press, you should use the standard grip over the suicide grip. While you will hear some pros to using the suicide grip, they don’t outweigh the cons and potential risk of injury.
For this reason, all of my lifters are instructed to use the standard grip.