The bench press is among the most popular exercises for the chest and triceps.
Many variations in grip exist for the bench press, with different variations emphasizing slightly different muscles compared with the standard bench press exercise. The reverse grip bench press is a notable alternative.
While this bench press variation hasn’t been studied as much as traditional bench press exercises, it offers an alternative chest and tricep exercise for those who have shoulder pain when performing traditional bench pressing or are recovering from a shoulder injury.
Additionally, you can use the reverse grip bench press for additional variety in your strength and muscle building program to add a different stimulus when performing your chest workout.
This article covers everything you need to know about the reverse grip bench press, including the proper form, muscles worked, benefits, precautions, and variations.
The reverse grip bench press is performed using the same equipment as the traditional bench press.
Specifically, you’ll need an Olympic barbell, weight plates, a flat bench with J-hooks on a rack, and ideally, safety pins.
As with the standard bench press, you can use a power rack and flat bench or any similar setup that allows you to lie on your back on the bench and unrack the barbell.
Since this will likely be a new movement for you, start with just the bar and very light weight for the first few weeks as you learn the movement pattern.
Eventually, you should be able to move heavier weights with the reverse grip bench press, but you will need to practice the proper technique before loading the bar with additional weight.
There are a few key differences between the traditional and reverse grip bench press, all of which revolve around the use of a supinated grip versus the pronated grip that’s used in the traditional bench press.
The key differences in form are the following:
Perform the following steps to execute a proper reverse grip bench press.
To begin, you need to have the right setup.
Whether you’re using a standard flat bench with built-in J-hooks or a power rack and free-standing flat bench, the hooks should be set to a height at which your initial grip on the bar keeps a slight bend in your elbow to allow racking and unracking.
Using an experienced spotter is recommended. If you don’t have a spotter, be sure to use equipment with safety pins. This is especially needed with the reverse grip bench press, as the grip is naturally less secure than in the traditional bench press.
You should set the safety pins to about the same height as your chest when you’re completely flat on the bench.
Since you’ll have a slight arch in your back when performing each repetition, this pin height will allow you to fully lower the bar on each rep but protect you from being crushed under the bar in the event of failed repetition.
Your position when lying on the bench should be with the bar roughly above your nose or even at eye level when the bar is racked.
During the exercise, the bar will not travel as far backward; however, this setup will still allow you to safely unrack the bar without crashing into the J-hooks during the repetition.
Your initial grip should be wider than shoulder-width apart, with your palms facing you and thumbs facing outward toward the ends of the barbell. You’ll need a slight bend in your wrists to allow the bar to rest firmly on your palm.
Your hand grip will not be as tight on the pinky side of your fists as the traditional bench due to the changed grip angle.
After setting up your grip, unrack the bar.
Keep your arms extended and move the bar to the initial position above your chest, around the nipple line.
Engage your core and slightly arch your upper back to puff out your chest as you prepare for the set. This should result in your chest being slightly above the safety pin height of your bench press or power rack.
Each repetition starts and finishes from this position.
From the start position, lower the bar toward your body by bending your elbows. Your upper arms will lower toward the floor.
The bar should travel horizontally down your body as you lower it vertically so that the bar ends up at about your sternum and xiphoid process at the bottom of the repetition.
This ensures a safe and biomechanically optimal position for your wrists, elbows, and shoulders.
Lower the bar until it’s just above your sternum. You can make slight contact between your body and the bar, but do not bounce the bar off of your sternum.
Perform the target number of repetitions in your set.
Upon completion of your final repetition, keep your arms locked in the top position and glide the bar backward into the J-hooks to rack it and finish the set.
The reverse grip bench press is performed with a wider, supinated, thumbs-out grip and has more horizontal travel than a standard bench press. Be sure to use a spotter or safety pins set to the correct height.
Beyond the form differences, the reverse grip bench press activates different muscles. It also provides an alternative variation for building chest strength among those who experience shoulder pain during traditional bench pressing.
In terms of muscle activation, one study comparing the different bench press styles found increased activity of the biceps brachii and clavicular area of the pectoralis major when performing the bench press with a reverse grip (2).
The same study also found that decreasing the width of your grip in a traditional bench press emphasized the triceps over the pectoralis major. However, this effect was not seen when using a narrow-width reverse grip.
These findings suggest that grip width does not have a significant effect during the reverse grip bench press compared with the traditional grip bench press. Start with a wider-than-shoulder-width grip and adjust to your comfort.
In terms of injuries when bench pressing, a 2016 review reported that bone breakdown at the distal clavicle, or collarbone, and a widening of the acromioclavicular joint, known as “weightlifter’s shoulder,” was a common injury when bench pressing (3).
The review also reported that shoulder dislocations were another common injury sustained during traditional flat benching pressing.
The review recommended the reverse grip bench press as a modification to avoid the stresses that cause the previously mentioned shoulder injuries associated with bench pressing.
Beyond these two studies, there’s less research on the reverse grip bench press compared with traditional grip bench press variations.
Nevertheless, the reverse grip bench press offers a promising alternative chest exercise if you tend to experience shoulder pain when bench pressing or are recovering from a related injury.
The reverse grip bench press emphasizes more biceps and upper chest activation than the traditional bench press and may reduce the risk of common bench-press-related shoulder injuries.
The overall muscles worked during the reverse grip bench press are the following:
The reverse grip bench press trains the major pushing muscles in the upper body as well as the biceps.
As mentioned, the reverse grip bench press can offer a lower-risk alternative to the traditional bench press for those with shoulder injuries and shoulder pain.
A few other benefits of the reverse grip bench press include adding additional variety to your exercise program.
Particularly for muscle building, training the chest and triceps through horizontal pressing movements is key for building a muscular upper body.
Most traditional chest exercises involve the pronated grip found in traditional bench pressing, or a neutral grip sometimes performed with dumbbells or a chest press machine.
The reverse grip offers a novel stimulus to your muscles. The change in movement activates slightly different fibers, which can help round out your muscular development.
Furthermore, adding more variety to your program reduces the risk of overuse injuries and keeps your body from becoming too adapted to one movement, potentially stalling your gains.
Finally, variety in your workouts decreases the risk of getting bored following the same routine indefinitely.
Given the long-term commitment required for strength and muscle building, this is key for ensuring you stick to strength training for the long haul.
In addition to injury reduction and rehab benefits, the reverse grip bench press adds more variety to your workout for training the chest and triceps.
Although the reverse grip bench press is fairly safe when performed correctly, there are a few safety considerations worth mentioning.
The biggest issue is that the grip is less mechanically secure compared with the traditional bench press. This can increase the risk of dropping the barbell or having it slip from your hands when performing a repetition.
Using an experienced spotter or safety pins largely negates this risk. Your spotter can assist you if the bar starts to slip, and the safety pins will catch the bar and prevent it from crushing you.
You can also reduce slip risk by practicing the movement with light weights or just the bar until you master the range of motion and grip dynamics. In general, this is good advice when performing new exercises and key for preventing injuries when learning new movements.
If your gym allows, putting some weightlifting chalk on your hands can also improve your grip on the bar.
An additional consideration is the specificity of the movement. Specificity refers to how well a given exercise translates into sports performance.
For example, the sport of powerlifting requires benching with a standard, pronated grip.
Although powerlifters may benefit from including some reverse grip benching as a warmup or rehabilitation protocol, most of their effort should be dedicated to improving performance on the movement they’re using in competition, which is the traditional bench press in this case.
Similar considerations apply to other sports, where coaches should carefully consider the dynamics of the sport when assigning resistance exercises.
After all, athletes only have so much time to train and recover, so selecting sport-specific exercises becomes especially important for this population.
Beyond these considerations, the reverse grip bench press is a safe and effective movement and worth giving a try for most general fitness and muscle building purposes.
The biggest concerns with reverse grip benching are the reduced grip stability and lack of sport specificity for some athletes and sports.
There are many variations of the reverse grip bench press. Essentially, any exercise involving horizontal pressing with the reverse grip is a variation of the reverse grip bench press.
The following are a few notable examples of reverse grip bench press variations.
The inclined reverse grip bench press is performed using a bench with an incline of 30–45 degrees. This results in a different pressing angle relative to the flat bench.
Otherwise, the general form cues are similar — use the reverse grip, have a spotter or safety pins, and ensure the bar starts above your upper chest and lowers toward your sternum, resulting in an angled bar path with some horizontal movement.
Performing horizontal presses with dumbbells increases the stabilization demands of the exercises and ensures equal load on each arm and a more natural movement path throughout the motion.
You can perform dumbbell presses with a reverse grip, as you would with traditional pressing. Always start with light weights, particularly due to the instability associated with using dumbbells.
You can perform reverse grip dumbbell presses using a flat, incline, or decline bench.
You can also do them from the floor while lying on your back, which will reduce the depth you can lower to because your upper arms will hit the floor.
Chest press machines are common in many commercial gyms and offer a fixed range of motion for training the chest.
These machines are great for older adults and rehab patients, as well as for adding extra chest volume to your workouts.
They may have an upright seat position with a horizontal pressing motion or may be fixed to a standard flat or incline bench setup.
To use the reverse grip variation, simply perform the chest press exercise with the supinated reverse grip.
The machines are a fairly safe way to learn exercises with a reverse grip because there is essentially no risk of dropping the weight on yourself if your grip slips.
Variations of the reverse grip bench press include any horizontal pressing movement performed using the supinated, reverse grip.
The reverse grip bench press is an alternative chest exercise that uses a supinated grip, meaning your palms face you and your thumbs point outward.
This exercise offers benefits for shoulder injury prevention and rehabilitation, as well as slightly different muscle activation, which is a great way to add variety to your program.
The exercise can be used by recreational lifters and athletes alike.
Athletes such as powerlifters who are required to perform traditional grip bench presses should consider limiting their use of reverse grip bench pressing.
Safety considerations revolve around the decreased grip stability when using a reverse grip position. Using a spotter, safety pins, and chalk can reduce this risk.
Additionally, start with light weights when mastering the movement for the first time.
Variations of reverse grip bench pressing include virtually any horizontal pressing movement utilizing the supinated reverse grip.
Try the reverse grip bench press in your next chest workout and reap the benefits of an excellent variation of this classic chest exercise.
Last medically reviewed on August 9, 2021
The bench press is among the most popular exercises for the chest and triceps.