Biceps grip

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.

Pull down grip

Put the Reverse Grip to Work for You

Now comes the fun part: trying out the reverse grip method for yourself. Of course, you shouldn’t go underhand for everything – just taking one of your exercises in a particular bodypart workout and changing the grip will suffice in torturing your muscles in a whole new fashion. Try some of these for starters:


Lat Pulldown

Latissimus dorsi and teres major arms into a full stretch Allow the bar to take your

Rowing (T-Bar, Seated Cable, Bent-Over Barbell Row, etc.

Latissimus dorsi, middle/lower trapezius, rhomboids (major and minor) and teres major As in all rowing moves, be sure to flex your shoulder blades together at the top

Triceps Pressdown (double/single arm)

3 heads of triceps brachii (especially the medial head) and anconeous Keep your elbows back and let your forearms come toward your thighs

Overhead Dumbbell Press

3 heads of the deltoid (especially the anterior head), upper trapezius and triceps brachii   Keep the dumbbells close together with palms facing you throughout the exercise

Barbell Press

Pectoralis major/minor (especially the lower pec region), anterior deltoid, serratus anterior and triceps brachii Let the bar come down. Bench only as far as your wrists allow