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August 21, 2021 9 min read

Every lifter, bodybuilder, and powerlifter knows a thing or two about the bench press.  The regular bench press is one of the best exercises for building a bigger and broader chest!

However, doing the same old bench press every chest day can get old quickly. Thankfully, there are plenty of bench press variations that you can do to change up your existing chest workout. One of the best bench press variations is the reverse grip bench press!

The reverse grip bench press is an underhand grip variation of the regular bench press.  Also known as the supinated bench press, the reverse grip press is one of our personal favorite bench press variations!

To help you change up your chest workout, here is everything you need to know about the reverse grip bench press.  Enjoy your chest workout a little more and challenge your chest muscles in new ways!

Muscles Worked From the Reverse Grip Bench Press

The reverse grip bench press is an excellent compound exercise. Compound exercises are those that work more than one muscle group at a time. The underhand bench press targets many of the same muscles as the standard bench press.

upper body anatomy chart

However, it does target some different muscles and works some more than others.

The ones that get fired up the most include:

  • Upper pectoralis (the pecs)
  • Triceps
  • Biceps 
  • Forearms
  • Frontal deltoids (the delts)

One of the most evident differences between the overhand and underhand bench press is the location in the chest that it targets. The traditional bench press targets the middle, upper, and lower chest, while the underhand press targets the upper chest. More specifically, it targets the upper pecs.

The pecs are the largest muscles in your chest muscle group. They originate underneath the armpit then fan out over the chest. Their primary function is to initiate arm movements from the shoulder joint. Therefore, the stronger your pecs are, the more powerful arm movements you are able to make!

The specific part of the pecs that the exercise works is the clavicular head of the pectoralis major. The clavicular head is directly underneath the deltoid. It is the smallest region of the pec major.

The other evident difference between the standard overhead and reverse grip press is that the reverse puts more work on the triceps. The triceps are the muscle on the back of your arms. Its primary function is to extend the elbow. Considering there are not that many exercises for working the triceps, adding the reverse press to your routine is great if you want to grow your triceps!

The biceps are the muscle on the front side of the arms opposite the triceps. Their most important function is to flex and extend the elbow. Like the triceps, the biceps are put to work harder in the reverse grip underhand press than in the overhand press.

Fourth, several small muscles make up the forearms, including the:

  • Pronator quadratus
  • Flexor pollicis longus
  • Flexor digitorum profundus

Even though they are tiny muscles, you need the forearms to assist the biceps and triceps in moving the elbow. Lastly, the reverse grip bench press targets the front of the deltoids. The deltoids are a three-headed muscle that covers the top of the shoulder.

The reverse grip press targets just the frontal head, which is located just above the upper pecs. The roles of the frontal deltoid head include keeping the humerus stable and abducting the shoulder. 

Top Benefits of the Reverse Grip Bench Press

Given all of the primary mover muscles that it targets, you can probably already tell that the reverse grip bench press is  highly beneficial for muscle growth

However, there is much more to the reverse grip press than just helping you build muscle mass.

We narrowed down the top three benefits of the reverse grip press other than helping you build pure muscle mass, and here they are:

1. Targets the hard-to-reach upper chest

The reverse grip press is one of only a few chest exercises specifically designed to hit the upper chest. Why is it essential to have a built upper chest? The upper chest, particularly the clavicular head, is vital to shoulder joint health. Unfortunately, shoulder joint injuries are one of the most common injuries that lifters face.

One of the best ways to avoid shoulder injuries is to improve clavicular head strength by doing exercises like the reverse grip press. Moreover, stay injury-free by hitting the upper chest!  Also, the clavicular head of the upper chest is at the very top of the chest. If you are going for that enviable broad chest look, you must hit the reverse grip press! Feel stronger and look better at the same time.

2. Useful for deloading periods

A deload period is a week-long weightlifting break that lifters take to avoid injuries and allow their muscles time to rest. It is very common in bodybuilding and powerlifting and can actually help lifters build more muscle in the long term. However, most lifters do not entirely stop all physical activity during their deload period.

Instead, they shift their focus to light cardio, significantly reduced intensity weightlifting, or targeting muscles groups that they don't usually target.  This is where the reverse grip press comes in handy! If a lifter usually does the regular bench press, they can switch to the reverse grip press during their deload period.

Because the reverse grip targets different muscles than the regular grip, they give their regular press muscles a break while stimulating the upper chest muscles that they don't usually work. Therefore, they give some muscles a break while firing up some new ones.

3. Works around shoulder pain

Do you struggle with shoulder pain or have a shoulder injury? If so, then opt for the reverse grip bench press instead of the regular bench press. The reverse grip press does not put as much strain on your shoulder joint. As a result, you can still strengthen your chest muscles while avoiding worsening your injury. 

How to Do the Reverse Grip Bench Press With Proper Form

Now that you know all that is good about the reverse grip bench press, you are ready to try it yourself! Before getting started, you need to set up your bench and power rack. Start by setting the flat bench to completely flat. Then, lay flat on the bench with your chest under the barbell and reach up to grab it underhand.

You want the bar to be directly over your upper chest. Also, you want there to be only a slight bend in your elbows. If your arms bend more than 15 degrees or your arms are completely straight, then adjust the height of the pins. Once you have your equipment set up, you are ready to go!

Here is how to do the reverse grip bench press with proper form:

  1. Lay your back down on the flat bench and straddle it with your legs. Adjust your body so that your upper chest is directly underneath the barbell.
  1. Reach up and grab the bar underhand with both hands. Spread your hands slightly wider than shoulder-width apart. Prepare for unracking by planting your glutes on the bench and pulling your shoulder blades down and back. There should be a slight arch in your lower back.
  1. Next, roll the barbell towards the edge of the pins and press it into the palms of your hands. Then, exhale and slowly unrack the bar off the rack pins to get into the starting position.
  1. When you are ready, take a deep inhale and lower the bar down towards your upper chest. As the bar goes down, keep your elbows along the sides of your body to target the triceps. Do not let the bar slam into your chest! Instead, make it a slow and controlled movement. To slow things down, be sure to squeeze your pecs and triceps.
  1. Tap the barbell on your upper chest, then forcefully press it back up to starting position by channeling strength from your chest and arms. Be sure to tap your upper chest to get the full range of motion of the exercise.
  1. Squeeze your upper body muscles at the top of the lift, then go into the next repetition. Depending on your fitness goals, you should do between two to three sets with three to twelve repetitions each.

Extra Form Tips

Regardless of how many benefits an exercise has, it is only worth doing if you do it with good form!  Proper form ensures that you reap all the benefits of the movement and reduce the likelihood of getting injured.

Keep these essential form tips in mind for when you do the reverse grip bench press:

  1. Your bar path should be slightly horizontal: Unlike the standard bench press, the reverse grip bench press should have a bar path that is slightly horizontal. Instead of a completely vertical one, it should migrate horizontally from being over your upper chest to over your lower chest. When you first unrack, the barbell should be over your upper chest.

    As you lower it to your body, it should migrate towards the lower part of the chest.  Then, it should tap the lower pecs at the bottom of the lift.  You then press it back up over the upper chest at the top.  Realistically, this is only about four to five inches of horizontal movement.
  1. Angle your wrists: When doing the reverse grip bench press, your wrists should have some mobility. In order to keep your elbows locked by your sides, your wrists are going to have to move a bit. At the top of the lift, your wrists should be straight and stacked over your elbows. 

    As you lower the barbell, your wrists should cock back to allow your elbows to move forward.
    If you struggle with wrist pain, you might want to avoid the reverse grip press as it could aggravate the pain.  Or, at least have a spotter present to help in case your wrists cannot take the weight of the barbell.
  1. Keep a tiny lower back arch: Contrary to what you might read on the internet, there should be a slight arch in your lower back when you do any type of bench press variation!  In fact, trying to keep your back flat on the bench could be a recipe for back pain and injuries! Your lower back has a natural curve to it.

    Even when you stand or lay flat in a neutral position, your lower back maintains that curve.  You can protect your back during the reverse grip press by trying to keep that lower back arch there.  Not only that, but the slight arch will help you get the full range of motion of the lift!

Reverse Grip Bench Press Variations & Cross-Training Exercises

While we love the reverse grip bench press for switching up your regular bench press, there are even more variations than just this one!

To add even more variety to your chest day routine, give these other top bench press variations a try:

  1. Incline bench press
  2. Close-grip bench press (also good for hitting the upper chest!)
  3. Dumbbell bench press
  4. Smith machine barbell bench press
  5. Chest press

Your chest day should consist of more than just bench press exercises and variations. Integrating chest cross-training exercises into your routine will not only help you build a bigger chest, but will improve your reverse grip bench press performance.

Here are our top chest cross-training exercises:

  1. Chest flys: Chest flys are one of our absolute favorite chest exercises. They are a chest opener exercise. Chest openers strengthen your chest muscles, increase chest range of motion, and reduce chest tightness. Lay your back flat on a flat bench while holding one dumbbell in each hand.

    Press the dumbbells up over your chest and face your palms toward one another. When you are ready, exhale and slowly open your arms so that the dumbbells come near chest level. Squeeze your chest muscles at the bottom, then slowly lift your arms back over your chest.
  1. Chest dips: Chest dips are a bodyweight chest exercise. Bodyweight exercises are ideal for strengthening not only your primary mover muscles but also your stabilizer muscles. Jump up to the parallel bars and straighten your arms.
    Young muscular man during workout in the gym
    When you are ready, exhale and slowly bend your elbows to 90 degrees so that your chest dips down. Your elbows should point straight backward, and your chest should lean slightly forward. Squeeze your chest and triceps at the bottom, then slowly press up and straighten your arms.
  1. Tricep push-ups: Are you a home workout kind of person or frequent traveler? If so, then tricep push-ups are for you! They strengthen your triceps, chest, and core without any equipment. Get in a plank position on your hands and toes. Hold your core nice and tight, and your back in a neutral position.

    When you are ready, exhale and slowly lower your chest to the floor by bending your elbows. Keep your elbows along the sides of your body as you drop down. Squeeze your chest and triceps at the bottom, then slowly push back up into plank position.

Final Thoughts on the Reverse Grip Bench Press

Grow your chest, strengthen your upper body, and switch up your existing chest day workout with the reverse grip bench press.  While we love the standard bench press, we highly suggest changing things up a bit with this variation.  Changing up your routine will challenge your muscles in new ways to kick hypertrophy into overdrive!

Do not hesitate to grow a better chest.  Get going with the reverse grip bench press today!

Bonus tip: While the reverse grip bench press targets the upper chest, you should not neglect the lower chest!  With that said, check out our list of  the top lower chest exercises to balance out your chest muscles!