What Happens When You Reverse Your Bench Press Grip?

The bench press is a fundamental upper body exercise that produces growth, strength and muscle density. But what happens when you reverse your grip?

February 12, 2013

Photos of Team BSN Athlete Brandon Curry

By Jimmy Pena, MS, CSCS

The Smith Version

The Smith-machine bench press is a multijoint exercise that allows for an increased level of confidence because of its safety points along the path of the bar, which are especially important if you don’t have a spotter.

Standard Version

Once you find your ideal body position on the bench as it relates to the bar, the Smith bench press is an excellent tool for continued pec growth. Of course, the primary reason you’d want to incorporate this great exercise is that you can completely focus all of your attention on pressing the weight. Because your stabilizers aren’t tirelessly at work to support stability, they can assist the major movers to their fullest, meaning you can load up on the plates.

Make This Change

With the free-weight bench press the ideal path of the bar is an arc. When the bar reaches your lower pecs, you explode it upward as it travels back to a point directly over your face. However, that arcing motion is impossible with the Smith machine. When you’re using the Smith for chest, the fixed path forces you to work within a single plane of movement. You can still use that aspect to your advantage based on the grip you take and the width of your hands along the bar.
By taking a reverse grip on the bench, you automatically shift much of the emphasis to the upper pecs and triceps. The reverse grip helps keep your elbows in and your upper arms parallel to your torso. The standard grip uses more of the lower and middle pec muscle fibers. If you keep your hands in a standard to wide width, the exercise actually helps target those stubborn upper-pec fibers to a greater extent, along with your triceps. In fact, some research suggests using a wider, reverse grip on the bench can stimulate the upper chest as effectively as an incline.

Get The Benefits From Both

The versatility of the Smith machine allows many variations of the same movement with just a slight change in grip. We strongly encourage you to utilize that benefit to its fullest. From one workout to the next alter your grip on your presses from the standard overhand grip to the reverse-grip version. See how it makes your chest feel. Also be sure to include the standard bench press, as well as dumbbells, cables and machines to complement your chest training. Don’t get stuck doing the same moves each week. Even within the same exercise (as we’ve demonstrated here), there’s always room for variation to take your training to the next level.