For Wrist, Elbow, and Shoulder Injury Prevention
Written by Joachim Bartoll, November 20, 2015
Classic Muscle Newsletter, January 2016 (issue #16)
How do you grip the barbell when doing the bench press and the shoulder press?
There are two different approaches; the regular grip with the thumb “wrapped” around the bar, and the thumbless grip (aka “false grip” or “open grip”), where you place your thumb beneath the bar and together with your fingers.
There are a lot of self-claimed experts on the internet telling people that the thumbless grip, or “the suicide grip”, is dangerous and an accident waiting to happen. That the bar can slip out of your hands and take a dive into your ribcage. However, I’ve yet to seen or even heard of someone dropping the bar on themselves from using a thumbless grip.
So instead of spreading propaganda, let’s look at the benefits of using a thumbless grip.
By using a thumbless grip, the bar is placed somewhat lower in your hand and more directly over the forearm bones, this will put less stress on your wrists and it also allows you to rotate your elbows more easily. This will help to eliminate triceps strain and prevent injuries.
When you use a regular grip, your hands turn slightly inwards, as they are wrapped around the bar and locked in place. This forces your shoulders to rotate internally, making your elbows flare out when lowering the bar. This path is very stressful on the shoulder joint – and if you try to tuck your elbows in despite of their inclination to flare out, your put a lot of unnecessary torque on the elbow joint. And that is something that can lead to injuries and chronic elbow pain after years of pressing.
In other words, if you use a regular grip with the thumb around the bar, you either increase the stress on the shoulder or the elbows, neither of which is good in the long run.
Another problem with the regular grip is that many lifters tilt their hands back, putting an enormous stress on the wrist. Just bending a little bit at the wrist will put the bar out of alignment – making the pressing motion more difficult and more stressful for the wrists.
Simply by moving the bar a little from the cradle of the hand (as in the regular grip) to the base of the hand (thumbless grip) will solve this issue.
By using a thumbless grip, your hands are automatically placed in a natural position, which allows for a lowering of the bar with the elbows naturally tucked along the sides of your body. This reduces shoulder stress without increasing torque at the elbows, resulting in a less stressful bench press (and shoulder press).
Now, if you’re currently suffering from elbow and/or shoulder pain, switching to the thumbless grip can elevate the problems within months or even weeks.
Even if you’re not experience any discomfort from the regular grip, it can still be a wise investment for the longevity of your joints to switch to the thumbless grip.
Start out fairly light and practice for three or four workouts. Use it on your lighter sets in your ramp and throw them in on sets with lighter weights/longer time under tension.
When I started lifting, I used a thumbless grip instinctively. It just felt better. It’s also the only grip I teach to my clients. And as a bonus, once you’re used to it, you will be stronger since the movement path is more natural and the bar is more aligned to your forearm bones.