Suicide Grip Bench Press: Benefits, Dangers, and More

published by: Debbie Luna
Last Updated:
August 9, 2022

With its dramatic moniker despite such a seemingly small change, it is no surprise that the suicide grip bench press has so much debate surrounding it within the weightlifting and fitness community.

To be brief, the suicide grip bench press is simply a conventional barbell bench press with the alteration of the thumb position across the bar, placing the wrist at a supposedly more comfortable angle but also opening up the exerciser to certain dangers associated with such a change.

When reviewing most modern forms of lifting-related media, one can see that the suicide grip is generally viewed in a negative light, and it is advised that lifters avoid utilizing it as much as possible.

Nonetheless, certain benefits may still be derived from the suicide grip, and it is up to the exerciser to decide on whether or not to use it while bench pressing.

What is the Suicide Grip?

The suicide grip is a method of holding a barbell where the exerciser’s thumb lies perpendicular to the other fingers instead of wrapped around the bar, creating a less secure hold around the barbell and shifting it somewhat forward along the palm.

suicide grip bench press

Just as kinetic chain theory would dictate, this seemingly small change in grip form will also alter succeeding parts of the body - drawing the elbows into a more tucked position against the sides of the torso and reducing internal rotation of the humerus in relation to the shoulder girdle.

How Does the Suicide Grip Change the Bench Press?

To the surprise of many, the suicide grip does not infact alter the bench press to a significant extent - at least, not in a manner that isn’t achievable with the use of other lifting techniques.

The few alterations made to the bench press - that are solely caused by the suicide grip - have to do with its minor increase in triceps brachii lateral head activation due to altered biomechanics relating to forearm and wrist positioning.

From an external viewpoint, this change will appear to be the exerciser’s elbows tucking more closely to the sides of the ribcage as the forearms are drawn further away from the barbell’s vertical path.

suicide grip elbow tucking

Consequently, this change in bench press mechanics will place the elbows in a less advantageous position, reducing maximal weight load potential and involvement of the pectoral muscles during the exercise.

Who Should Use the Suicide Grip When Bench Pressing?

The suicide grip bench press is (supposedly) more useful for bodybuilders and other forms of weightlifting athletes that do not compete in professional powerlifting meets, as the suicide grip is banned from such powerlifting events due to the risk of injury.

Otherwise, exercisers with at least an intermediate level of experience in weightlifting and bench press mechanics may use the suicide grip, as novices are at higher risk of injuring themselves when using such a complex grip form.

Benefits of the Suicide Grip

Though the suicide grip often gets a bad rap in the fitness community, it does indeed provide a few benefits that can doubtless be quite useful in the correct circumstances.

It should be noted, however, that these benefits are easily reproducible with the standard bench press grip or several other types of grip variations, meaning that such effects are not necessarily produced solely with the suicide grip.

1. Greater Comfort

A sense of comfort while lifting is variable between individuals of different proportions and training experience, though quite a few exercisers that swear by the suicide grip will report that it does indeed improve relative comfort along the wrist and hands.

This is due to the more natural positioning it places the wrist bones and extensor digitalis muscles in, with the weight of the bar pressing perpendicularly downwards with the bones of the forearm and elbow, thereby reducing shear force throughout the arm.

2. Reduced Elbow Flare

Just as the usage of the suicide grip while bench pressing will place the wrist in a more neutral position that is in-line with the forearm bones, so too will such an alteration shift the elbows into a more advantageous angle in relation to the bar itself.

bench press elbows

This is otherwise referred to as “elbow tucking” and is a vital form cue that must be paid attention to while performing the bench press, as excessive flaring of the elbow can indicate poor scapular retraction and place the exerciser at risk of injury otherwise.

The usage of the suicide grip will force the exerciser’s elbows to tuck more closely to the torso, thereby reducing strain on the shoulders and the risk of developing acute injuries of the elbow.

3. Neutral Wrist Positioning

A neutral wrist position while bench pressing means that the proximal carpal bones of the hands are in vertical alignment with the radius and ulna of the forearm, creating a nearly straight line from the bottom of the thumb to the elbow.

Quite a number of benefits come with a neutral wrist position while performing the bench press, such as reduced risk of injury, greater control over the bar and improved confidence while beneath particularly heavy amounts of weight.

One possible way of achieving a neutral wrist is the usage of the suicide grip, which will force the hand and wrist into such a form naturally due to the positioning of the bones of the palm in relation to the thumb.

It should be noted that, while the suicide grip ensures a neutral wrist is maintained during the bench press, combining it with a wide hand placement will negate many of the positives associated with such a wrist positioning technique.

Dangers of the Suicide Grip

Just as the suicide grip can provide several benefits in its usage, so too can it provide a number of dangers - of which many athletic coaches cite as the main reason why all exercisers should avoid the suicide grip entirely.

That being said, the suicide grip does indeed have a proper way of being used, and so long as such a manner is combined with proper caution and correct bench press form, many of these dangers can be mitigated.

1. Risk of Dropping the Barbell

The most significant and frequently mentioned danger concerning the suicide grip is the risk of the barbell slipping from the exerciser’s hands - usually ending in severe acute injuries as the weight lands atop the exerciser.

Unfortunately, apart from proper suicide grip form, there is little else a lifter may do to mitigate this risk without compromising their bench press range of motion. 

As such, it is advised that novice lifters keep away from the suicide grip bench press as much as possible until they develop the necessary skills to prevent this danger from occurring.

2. Reduced Forearm Muscle Involvement

Though the role of the forearm muscles is next to none during the bench press, properly controlling and stabilizing the barbell through contraction of such muscles can aid in maximizing the amount of weight an exerciser can lift.

In addition to this, many lifters report that being able to make micro-adjustments with their forearms greatly aids in their sense of confidence while performing the bench press, something that is otherwise difficult with the suicide grip.

3. Excessive Elbow Tucking

Just as the suicide grip aids in preventing elbow flare during the bench press, so too can it cause excessive elbow tucking - wherein the elbows will move further away from the vertical path of the barbell, increasing strain on parts of the body during the eccentric portion of the movement.

Furthermore, excessive elbow tucking can lead to a far weaker bench press as it places the triceps brachii in a disadvantageous position, often presenting as a sticking point several inches off the chest during the concentric portion of the exercise.

As such, exercisers wishing to maximize the total load of their bench press will find that avoiding the suicide grip can greatly aid in such an endeavor, alongside improving the total stability of the movement itself.

4. Inapplicable Technique for Competing Powerlifters

The usage of the suicide grip while performing the bench press is against the rules of most professional powerlifting meets - meaning that powerlifters or athletes wishing to compete in such competitions will develop improper form cues and mechanics by regularly practicing with a suicide grip.

While using the suicide grip in an occasional manner is perfectly fine, doing so too often will likely form bench press habits that can reduce the maximum weight an exerciser can lift - or, worse, disqualify their lift during a powerlifting meet.

Alternatives to the Suicide Grip for the Bench Press

As was previously mentioned, though the suicide grip does provide some number of benefits to the lifter, these benefits are entirely reproducible with the usage of alternative bench press techniques and equipment - all of which do not share the same inherent risks as the suicide grip itself.

In cases where the exerciser or their coach feels uncomfortable with the usage of the suicide grip due to its dangers and disadvantages, simply replacing the grip technique with one of the following should retain many of its positive effects.

Wrist Wraps Equipment

wrist wraps

One particular method of ensuring the exerciser maintains a stable and neutral wrist throughout their bench press performance is the usage of wrist wraps, a type of fitness accessory equipment that ties around the wrist and thumb so as to keep the joint as stable and stiff as possible.

Wrist wraps are generally used by higher level weightlifters while attempting a personal record maximal lift, or by individuals with a history of wrist injuries from the bench press.

Nevertheless, wrist wraps may be used as an alternative to the suicide grip - so long as it is not entirely relied upon, as overusage of wrist wraps can lead to form instability when lifting unequipped.

Narrow Hand Width Bench Press

Another way to substitute the suicide grip is to simply perform a conventional bench press grip, but with a more narrow hand width along the barbell.

bench press narrow grip

This will have the effect of allowing the elbows to automatically tuck to a greater degree, while at the same time also maintaining a neutral wrist position due to the more vertical angle of resistance presented by the barbell and gravity itself.

Unfortunately, performing the bench press with a more narrow hand width will also increase the involvement of the triceps brachii and reduce the subsequent activation of the pectoral muscles, making this a trade-off unless such a change in recruitment pattern is desired.

Frequently Asked Questions About the Suicide Grip Bench Press

Is Suicide Grip the Same as False Grip?

Yes; in technical terms, the suicide grip is referred to as the false grip or thumbless grip.

The nickname “suicide grip” is simply a moniker adopted by many lifters due to its higher incidence and risk of serious injury than other forms of bench press grip techniques.

Why is it Called the Suicide Grip?

The suicide grip is referred to as so due to its high risk of injury when used improperly, or by inexperienced weightlifters.

The name suicide grip stands as both a warning to lifters that they should not take its usage lightly, as well as to distinguish it from other types of bench press grip forms in a manner that “false grip” does not.

Can the Suicide Grip be Used for Other Exercises?

Usually, when an article refers to the suicide grip, it is in regards to the conventional barbell bench press - however, this is not always the case.

The suicide grip is not solely applicable to the bench press, as it may be used in a number of other exercises such as the military press, pull-ups and even the barbell back squat.

Final Thoughts - Should You Use the Suicide Grip?

Apart from a few specific circumstances - no, we believe that the suicide grip should generally be avoided, as many of the benefits it provides are entirely achievable with the use of other grip techniques or fitness equipment.

It is a decision that must be made at a personal level however, and if you find that the suicide grip is more comfortable than the standard grip, and are confident in your ability to mitigate the dangers associated with it, then such a grip may be used.

References

1. Saeterbakken, Atle Hole, Nicolay Stien, Helene Pedersen, Tom Erik Jorung Solstad, Kristoffer Toldnes Cumming, and Vidar Andersen. 2021. "The Effect of Grip Width on Muscle Strength and Electromyographic Activity in Bench Press among Novice- and Resistance-Trained Men" International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health 18, no. 12: 6444. https://doi.org/10.3390/ijerph18126444

2. Lehman GJ. The influence of grip width and forearm pronation/supination on upper-body myoelectric activity during the flat bench press. J Strength Cond Res. 2005 Aug;19(3):587-91. doi: 10.1519/R-15024.1. PMID: 16095407.

3. Dr Rusin, John. (October 25 2017) “The Suicide Grip: Dangerous or Smart?” T Nation Retrieved on 05/08/2022 from (https://www.t-nation.com/training/the-suicide-grip-dangerous-or-smart/)

Debbie (Deb) started powerlifting and Olympic lifting in High School as part of her track team's programming; She continues to train in order to remain athletic. Inspire US allows Deb to share information related to training, lifting, biomechanics, and more.
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