There are plenty of ways to grip a barbell, and not every grip is created equal — so what’s right and what’s wrong? When it comes to pressing movements, the best grip to use will be the one that is both comfortable and stable. If you notice that your wrists tend to extend — hands bending backward excessively — as you press, chances are it’s time to switch up your grip style. Poor gripping mechanics can lead to:
- Missed reps due to inconsistent bar path.
- Plateaus in your training as a result of bad technique.
- Wrist, elbow, or even shoulder discomfort.
Over time, poor wrist posture can balloon from a minor technical error to a potentially serious impediment in your training plan. The long-term accumulation of force on the joint will eventually add up, leading to potential injury. It is critical to dial in consistent grip habits to ensure you can lift safely at high intensities.
Enter the bulldog grip.
What Is the Bulldog Grip?
A great press takes more than big pecs or bulging triceps. Like most lifts, it all begins with the hands. The bulldog grip — named for its resemblance to a bulldog’s feet when standing — is a grip style that positions the barbell lower in the palm to optimize pressing potential.
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[Related: What You Need to Know About How to Increase Strength]
The key elements of wrist position in pressing movements are:
- the barbell sitting in the meat of the palm, directly over the radius bone.
- the wrists stacked over the elbows.
Benefits of the Bulldog Grip
While an adjustment to something like wrist position may seem minor at a glance, if you’ve taken the time to master the other aspects of your technique, a small adjustment like adopting the bulldog grip could yield great returns.
Increased Power Output
To generate the greatest amount of force, the resistance you’re working against should be as close to the lever as possible. In simple terms, this means that moving the bar more towards the midline of the forearm gives you more leverage, allowing you to utilize your strength better.
Reduced Injury Risk
By moving the barbell deeper into the palm, the same vertical alignment that increases your potential power output also reduces your risk of injury. Stacking the resistance on top of the joint — rather than behind it, if your wrists were to extend too far — reduces the amount of shear stress placed on the tissues. This can help prevent acute injuries and/or chronic stress accumulation.
Tangentially, the bulldog grip can also help you be mindful of your overall technique throughout the press. Since the bar sits lower in the palms, if your elbows were to flare out, you’ll notice right away. This makes the bulldog grip a useful tool for self-cueing proper pressing mechanics. [Related: 8 Pressing Variations to Improve Upper Body Power]
How to Perform the Bulldog Grip
- Grasp the barbell with your hands at their normal bench press position.
- Slightly rotate the hands internally, such that the thumbs tilt towards the ground, as if you were trying to wave with a stiff hand. The goal is to position the barbell as close to the end of the palm (directly over the radius) as possible.
- Tuck the elbows so they are directly underneath the wrists.
- Allow your fingers to rest loosely on the bar. Do not attempt to wrap them fully — this disrupts the rotation of the hand. If done correctly, there will be a slight gap between the fingertips and the barbell.
For a visual explanation, check out this great video from Dr. Jordan Feigenbaum of Barbell Medicine:
[Related: Strongman Robert Oberst’s 3 Tips For A Bigger Bench Press]
How to Apply the Bulldog Grip
Adopting a new grip style may feel uncomfortable at first. Since the fingers are not wrapped entirely around the barbell, the bulldog grip can feel unnatural or unstable, so it’s a good idea to ease into it.
Start by implementing the bulldog grip into your warm-ups. Practicing this grip for multiple sets with an empty or lightly loaded bar allows you to familiarize yourself with the technique without risking injury or derailing your workout. After you get comfortable using this grip, you can slowly integrate it into your working sets.
Take your time practicing the bulldog grip with light weights before moving on to higher intensities. Avoid using it on heavy singles or max attempts before you’re confident with it.
If you’re already in the middle of a dedicated training program, it may be wise to hold off on making a significant adjustment to your technique. An intelligent approach to implementing changes to your form is to wait until you begin a new training cycle or block, when intensities are low, and you don’t risk compromising your proficiency with high loads.
Honorable Mentions and Other Pressing Grips
While the bulldog grip is a viable option for anyone interested in maximizing their chest development or power output, that doesn’t mean it is the only tool in the shed. Having a breadth of skills and styles to choose from, depending on your needs, is never a bad thing, so let’s take a look at some alternate pressing grips.
Thumbless “Suicide” Grip
The infamous “suicide grip” involves unwrapping the thumb from the barbell and gripping it entirely with compression from the fingers. This technique gets its name from the dangers associated with a less secure grasp on a heavy bar that may, in a worst-case scenario, slip from your palms and come crashing down onto your head or body.
While most credible powerlifting or strength coaches would agree that a thumbless grip is a bad idea for bench or shoulder pressing, it might have some application for bodybuilding and physique development.
If you struggle to feel your chest or triceps working during a barbell press, unwrapping the thumbs may lead to a better mind-muscle connection with the pecs. If you experiment with the thumbless grip, do so with ample use of chalk, using lighter loads, and in the presence of an attentive spotter.
It is also possible to perform both vertical and horizontal pressing with a hook grip. Though it is usually the province of Olympic weightlifters who rely on this grip style to hurl heavy loads overhead rapidly, there is no reason you couldn’t apply it to a bench press if you’re so inclined.
By “hooking” the thumb against the barbell and squeezing the fingers on top, you create the most secure grip possible on the bar. While the hook grip has limited applicability to increasing your performance on the bench press, you can certainly use it as a matter of preference. Take note — the hook grip may be prohibited in certain powerlifting federations, so if you’re training for a meet, check the regulations before making any changes to your technique.
Another note: The hook grip hurts. Whether you’re using it for the bench press or, as it’s commonly applied to, deadlift, practice with it and get ready to feel uncomfortable.
The reverse grip is exactly what it sounds like. Instead of taking a pronated overhand grip on the barbell with your palms facing your feet, you flip your hands around so your palms face your head.
Unlike the thumbless or hook grips, a reverse-grip bench press does have noteworthy performance-related applications. You may experience less stress on your shoulder joint due to the position of the arm and the relatively lower loads used with this technique. An externally-rotated upper arm should also lead to greater activation of the pec minor (upper chest) and biceps musculature, making it a decent pick for physique athletes or powerlifters in the off-season.
The bulldog grip isn’t for everyone, but it’s worth experimenting with if you find yourself missing presses due to wrist-related issues. If you decide to switch to the bulldog grip — or any of the alternatives mentioned above — be patient. An adjustment to grip style will feel uncomfortable at first, but with time it should feel more natural.
Featured Image: WilleeCole Photography / Shutterstock