Workout Tips

Flip Your Grip for New Gains

Getting underhanded can put your muscle gains over the top.


Envision performing one repetition of a bench press. Now take a look at that mental snapshot: How are your hands positioned? Overhand, tightly grasping the bar, equidistant from its center? Did anyone visualize a reverse (underhand) grip? While it may seem unconventional, and sometimes even odd, changing your grip from the way you’ve always done it can be a useful tool for adding variety to your training regimen, while prompting serious muscle growth in the process.

Without changing the actual exercise, adjusting hand position is an effective method for training the targeted muscles from different angles and placing new and different stresses on the body. Incorporating variety into your routine is critical, especially if your progress has come to a halt. A reverse grip can be used with exercises for a number of bodyparts (see “Put the Reverse Grip to Work for You”).

The impact of the reverse grip depends on the muscle group being trained. Consider a recent study concerning the effect of hand-grip position on the activities of specific muscles during the lat pulldown. The outcome revealed that the traditional wide-grip pulldown to the front actually recruited more latissimus dorsi muscle fibers than the reverse-grip variation. However, this may be explained by the fact that a reverse grip puts the muscle under a far greater stretch. Hence, you wouldn’t make reverse-grip training the backbone of your workout, but you could use it as a substitute exercise or at the end of your workout - when you typically go a bit lighter and pump out the muscle.

The reverse grip is also effective for training the chest and the shoulders if you have shoulder injuries. (You’ll still want to check with your doctor first.) Individuals with unstable shoulders (stretched shoulder capsules, torn rotator cuffs, etc.) or separated shoulders (sprained acromioclavicular joint) can use the reverse grip to perform overhead dumbbell presses and bench presses without compromising the safety of their shoulders.

The main drawback of the reverse grip is the amount of stress it places on the wrists compared to other grips. You can minimize this with most exercises by choosing a handle that is gentler on the wrists. When training back or triceps with a reverse grip, for example, the EZ-bar is a better choice than the barbell. It reduces the stress on the wrist by positioning the hand in an angled, more comfortable position.

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