4

What is the best practice as far as the thumb goes with respect to the bar?

I normally have my thumb aligned with the rest of my fingers, but I often get asked why I don't wrap my thumb around the bar (and form a fist). They say it looks unsafe, but anyone who uses this grip knows that it feels as fine as the wrap.

Besides, if the bar is rolling out of your hand, your thumb is laughably unsuited to stop it. But this, as we all know, is generally not an issue anyway.

My reason is mostly comfort, as I haven't researched best practices.

What do you do, and why? Bonus upvotes for sources, as always.

5

This topic can be as divisive as whether training deadlifts with straps is effective or not. Since powerlifting is my background, and powerlifters tend to be the biggest proponents of the false grip (AKA suicide grip), I'll attack the question from that perspective.

Beginners

  • Have no reason to use a false grip on bench press. There's too much they need to get right to add unnecessary risk.
  • A beginner is using such light weights that if they do end up letting the bar roll, the thumbs around grip will be good enough to help them catch themselves.
  • For sources, check out "Starting Strength", and I believe venerable Mr. Wendler with 5/3/1 also suggests that beginners use a thumbs around grip.

Overhead work

  • Any overhead press doesn't have the same risk involved as a bench press
  • If the bar rolls out of the hand you drop the bar and have the opportunity to get out of the way
  • Wendler absolutely advocates a thumbless grip for overhead press in his 5/3/1 book.
  • Paul Carter advocates it for overhead work as well.
  • I've found it to be less stressful on my wrists

Bench Press

  • As you progress your technique enough, you can consider using the false grip.
  • I've found it really depends on how wide your grip is as to which grip feels better. The wider the grip the more false grip feels better. The narrower the grip, the more thumbs around feels better.
  • Paul Carter uses thumbless grip, but recognizes that it's a very individual choice.
  • Most powerlifters I follow take more of a laid back attitude along the lines of "if you have everything in order and it feels better, use the false grip".

I've seen arguments on both sides, but the general consensus seems to be it's not something beginners should do because of their inexperience.

Bench Press Safety

The biggest detractors of the false grip site safety as the number one reason why not to use it. The problem is, the bench press accidents I've personally witnessed and ones I've read about wouldn't have turned out any other way if they used a thumbs around grip.

In a power lifting competition, it is quite common to have 3 spotters. One on each end and one in the middle. The problem is that the reaction time for anyone is so small, chances are the bar is going to hit you. When the bar has 350+ lbs loaded on it, the bar is going to continue falling even though the spotters are doing their best until they can overcome the inertia of the moving bar.

For normal training, I have a squat rack with spotter arms attached. They are set just below the arched chest level so that they don't interfere with training, but I only need to flatten my arch to avoid getting my chest slammed. This is the safest way to bench.

Personal Preference

I use a full grip for bench press, but I also have a somewhat narrower grip than those I've seen that use the false grip. However, I do use false grip on overhead work. It keeps the bar path over my shoulders where it is the strongest, and my wrists thank me for it.

I do recommend using wrist wraps if you use a false grip. I find it's more likely that the bar will roll toward the fingers than off the front of the palm of the hand. Wrist wraps provide additional stability so you can at least offload the bar safely and readjust.

|improve this answer|||||
  • Good answer. Personally I would never use false grip for safety reasons. Unless you're a professional lifter it probably isn't worth the extra risk. – SebK Sep 24 '15 at 7:22
  • If you are never competing, it might not be worth it. However the safest approach to benching is to use mechanical safeties and not rely on a human spotter. That doesn't change whether you use full grip or false grip. – Berin Loritsch Sep 25 '15 at 16:19
3

TL; DR: The unwrapped position is called the "suicide grip". 'Nuff said.

While you state that if the bar rolls, your thumb won't stop it, the thumb gives you enough control over the bar that you are much less likely to roll it. And realistically, if you are at all worried that you might lose control of the bar, you should be using at least one spotter. (You never bench without a spotter, right?)

Anatomically speaking, the unwrapped grip placed a greater amount of stress on the wrist. To keep the bar on the palm, you have to extend your wrist to form a small shelf in the hand to place the bar into. If you wrap your thumb around, this allows you to do a bench press (or other exercise) with your hand and forearm aligned, so the weight is transferred straight through the forearm, rather than at a shearing angle.

Additionally, the thumb is a major component of grip strength. You simply cannot grip the bar with as much force in an open grip as you can a closed grip.

What Dr. Squat says (Founder of ISSA)

What Lee Hayward says (Bodybuilder and trainer)

Random bro argument #1

Another trainer (MSS, CSCS, MEd)

|improve this answer|||||
  • All that being said, I did not find any definitive studies, but there is a lot of anecdotal arguments on both sides. – JohnP Sep 22 '15 at 17:34
  • But if the bar does roll, it seems far more likely that the bar will roll over your fingers, rather than over the ball of your hand. I mean, under the ball of the hand is your wrist, through which all the power is exerted. – Alec Sep 22 '15 at 19:10
  • @Alec - Anatomy (Unless you're double jointed or have other similar dysmorphia) prevents the wrist from bending back far enough to roll the bar off the finger side. It's still possible, but much less likely than simply sliding off the pad of the thumb. – JohnP Sep 22 '15 at 19:14
2

Cost benefit analysis: If thumbless is more comfortable, you might conceivably lift a few more pounds.

If the bar slips out of that grip, unless your spotters ALREADY had a grip on the bar (ie, it was already not a real lift (google "Clemson 640 bench." Perfect example of a non-lift.)), its gonna mash your face/neck/ribs before they even have a chance to react. Most of the severe benching injuries I've ever "seen" (youtube, etc, so total keyboard warrior here...) have been extremely sudden bar-drops. A failed lift takes a second or two, and even the lifter is able to exert some slowing force on the bar, and everyone has time to react. A slipped bar? Not a chance.

Wrap the thumbs, unless you're a sponsored powerlifter and its literally your JOB to lift every last possible ounce. Everyone else, who's supposed to be making themselves BETTER in the gym, not getting injured pretending they're a pro powerlifter IN a meet... wrap the thumbs.

|improve this answer|||||

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.