When you’re training with barbells, there are a lot of factors to keep track of. You need to check in with yourself about your stance, your posture, and your bar path. One of these critical factors is your grip. How you’re holding the bar can set you up for a successful new PR (personal record) or a failed rep.
The suicide grip is one option during your bench press — but with a name like that, the first question you’ll probably have is whether it’s even safe. If you have a trusted spotter with you, this thumbless grip might be able to help you go easier on your wrist and get into a solid bench pressing angle. Find out whether this grip is worth it, how it’s done, and why to do it (or not).
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- What is the Suicide Grip?
- How to Do the Suicide Grip
- Risks of Using the Suicide Grip
- Potential Benefits of the Suicide Grip
- Suicide Grip Safety Tips
- Alternatives to the Bench Press Suicide Grip
- Safer Lifts to Do With the Suicide Grip
The suicide grip is really just a thumbless grip during your bench press. Normally, you’ll wrap your thumb around the bar while you’re benching. Because of this position, the bar will sit higher in your palm, pulling your wrist back a bit. You’ll have to fight to find a solid neutral position for your wrist, as well as an optimal pressing angle.
The thumbless suicide grip — often referred to as the bulldog grip — changes that equation. Instead of wrapping your thumb around the bar, you’ll keep your thumb on the same side as your other fingers. The suicide grip can dramatically increase your risk of injury by making it more likely that the bar can slip off your hand and fall directly onto your face or neck.
But some lifters argue that this grip allows for increased wrist comfort, a better shoulder position and pressing angle, and more triceps activation. If you have an excellent, knowledgeable, and attentive spotter, you may find that the bulldog grip makes it easier to keep your wrist in a healthy position while benching.
While there are some other lifts with which you can adopt a thumbless grip, this guide will discuss how to set up your bench press with a suicide grip.
- Recruit the assistance of a trusted, knowledgeable spotter and have them set up behind the bar as normal.
- Begin your bench press set-up as you usually would. If you normally take a wider grip, you’ll likely want to use a closer grip here.
- Instead of wrapping your thumbs around the bar, grip the bar with your thumbs on the same side as your other fingers.
- Squeeze the bar as intensely as you can with your other eight fingers. Press as normal, paying close attention to your bar path.
You can also use the suicide grip with the low bar back squat, pull-ups, cable rows, or cable flyes — none of which come with the risk of a barbell falling onto your neck or face. The how-to will remain the same for those lifts.
Set up as normal, and instead of wrapping your thumb around the bar, keep it on the side with your other fingers.
The suicide grip gets its unfortunate name for a reason — it’s risky. Here are some of the risks of opting for a thumbless grip during the bench press (and overhead presses or pretty much any press).
Barbell Falling Onto You
Videos of failed lifts abound, and you don’t want to be on the other side of the camera for those dangerous accidents. The suicide grip increases your risk of the barbell falling onto your face or neck.
Without your thumb wrapped around the bar, it has little incentive to stay in your hand. Even with strong squeezing from your other eight fingers, this is simply not going to be a reliably stable grip. Any tilting forward from your hands and wrists can easily pitch the bar forward, dumping it onto your face or neck.
Less Bar Control
Even if you manage not to drop the bar, there’s likely going to be that healthy fear of doing so. In trying to ensure that the bar doesn’t slip down and onto your face, you may find yourself doing a lot of micro-adjustments during the lift.
While there is a time and place for micro-adjustments — one makes them all the time during lifts — an unstable grip on the bar is a risky time to have to do that. And these micro-adjustments are likely to become major ones, potentially causing undesirable shifts in your bar path as a result of how little control you have over the bar.
Decreased Chest Activation
You might be excited by the suicide grip’s potential to increase your triceps activation. But chances are, if you’re bench pressing, you’re looking to develop your chest. Because of the altered angle and the emphasis you’ll have on keeping the bar in place, the suicide grip can decrease your chest activation — which is likely counterintuitive to why you’re benching.
Not Legal in Powerlifting Meets
During powerlifting meets, one of your three lifts will be the bench press. But you’ll be required to wrap your thumb around the bar — the thumbless suicide grip is not permitted in competition because of the associated injury risk.
In training, you’ll therefore place the most emphasis on the flat bench press. But that doesn’t mean you won’t also perform incline or decline bench presses or variations with dumbbells. Just because something’s not legal in competition doesn’t mean it can’t be part of your training. The same can be said for the suicide grip.
Still, unless you have an extremely compelling reason to perform the bench press with a suicide grip, you might be better off keeping it out of your programming. This way, you can stay as specific as you can toward improving the lift you need — while not dramatically increasing your injury risk along the way.
With the bench press, the suicide grip puts your hands in a slightly new position than the traditional grip. This different position lets your forearm naturally fall more perpendicular to the floor. This alters your pressing angle slightly, leading to potentially increased triceps activation and a position that might feel better for your shoulders.
Changed Wrist Position
When you’re not wrapping your thumbs around, the bar will sit differently in your hands. With a thumbless grip, the bar won’t sit as high in your palm as it will with a traditional grip. This leads to some lifters feeling that their wrist position feels more natural.
You’ll potentially find it easier to achieve and maintain a neutral, supportive wrist position during your press. The suicide grip therefore might be helpful to folks looking for more wrist support. Another way to get the wrist support you need is to increase your forearm training and wrist exercises. All the benefits, none of the barbell-on-face risks.
More Triceps Activation
When your wrist shifts its position, so does your forearm. To keep the bar steady, your forearms will likely stay tucked closer to your ribcage. Because of this, you can experience greater activation of your triceps. This might be desirable for lifters who want to improve their lockout strength or want to build bigger triceps.
If you want to involve your triceps more in your pressing, you can perform a close-grip bench press instead of using a suicide grip. This will create a similar pressing angle and emphasis on beefing up those upper arms instead of dramatically increasing your risk factor with a thumbless bulldog grip.
Better Shoulder Positioning
Bench pressing can be a nightmare for people with shoulder pain, inflammation, or injuries. By altering your pressing angle, encouraging more tucked elbows, and a closer grip, the suicide grip might be more comfortable for your shoulders.
That said, you can get a similar shoulder-saving benefit from using a Swiss bar to bench press or opting to use dumbbells instead of a barbell. Close-grip bench presses are similarly often easier on lifters’ shoulders.
If you choose to go ahead with using the suicide grip during your bench press, there are ways to do it to maximize effectiveness and somewhat reduce the risk. Here are some tips to avoid as much risk as possible while using the suicide grip.
Always Use a Spotter
This one can’t be emphasized enough. If you don’t have anyone with the knowledge of how to properly spot the bench press who you trust to pay close attention, today is not the day to try the suicide grip. Even an empty barbell is not something you want to slip and fall on your face.
Squeeze the Bar
Once you’ve got your spotter, make sure you squeeze the bar as hard as you can with the eight fingers that are wrapped around it. This will help maximize muscle tension and keep your body focused on the task at hand.
By squeezing the bar throughout the entire lift, you’ll be lowering your risk of losing focus or slipping. This might also be a good way to build up your mind-muscle connection — again, as long as you’ve got a reliable spotter.
Even if you’re lifting with your thumb securely wrapped, chalk is a great way to decrease slippage. Apply liberally before using a suicide grip to decrease the likelihood that your spotter will need to step in and save you. Make sure you’re putting the chalk in the right areas, too — emphasize the part of your palm and fingers where the bar will lay.
Only Use If Necessary
Before you embark on using the suicide grip, ask yourself why you’re doing so. Unless there’s a compelling reason that you need to be using a thumbless grip during your bench press, you might want to consider alternatives instead.
If you’re trying to target your triceps, you can opt for a close-grip bench press. For a more shoulder-friendly benching option, try dumbbells or a Swiss bar. If you want to maintain the integrity of your wrists during your lifts, add forearm exercises and wrist mobility and stability drills to your repertoire.
Without a spotter, you probably shouldn’t be using the suicide grip. Here are some other options for accomplishing the same goals as the suicide grip, but without all the risk.
Forearm and Wrist Exercises
If your wrist is giving you difficulty during your bench press, chances are that you need to become both more mobile in your wrist while also making it stronger. With strength will come the added stability you need to support those heavy presses. To accomplish this, integrate forearm-focused exercises into your training. Think farmer’s carries, chin-ups, and crab walks.
Some exercises that help build strength also help you get more mobile. Crab walks are a great example because they’ll have your wrist stabilizing itself in a large range of motion. Wrist rolls and reverse rolls are a great supplement to forearm exercises to improve your wrist mobility.
Close-Grip Bench Press
The close-grip bench press places a great deal of emphasis on your triceps. Yes, your chest is still involved, but the major focus is displaced onto your upper arms. If you’re thinking of using the suicide grip to increase triceps strength, you might opt for the safer close-grip bench press instead.
This bench press variation may also place your shoulders in a less compromising position since your elbows will be tucked more naturally. So if the suicide grip is appealing because of its angle adjustment, the close-grip bench press will address that issue, too.
Swiss Bar Bench Press
If you’re choosing the suicide grip because it might offer a more shoulder-friendly bench press, the Swiss bar bench press might be a safer option. This unique bar lets you perform presses with a neutral grip.
Using a neutral grip — with your palms facing each other — tends to be a lot less stressful on your shoulders than gripping a barbell. Opt for a Swiss bar or even dumbbells if you’re looking for an effective but safer way to give your shoulders a break while benching.
The suicide grip gets its name from the risks associated with the thumbless grip during the bench press. However, there are some other lifts where a thumbless grip does not come with the risk of dropping the bar on your face. Here are some other lifts where you can adopt a thumbless grip without fear of a barbell falling onto your neck.
You can perform cable rows with a thumbless grip to help increase emphasis on your forearms. Some lifters may also find this orientation easier on their body. You might also enjoy increasing the challenge to your finger strength, especially if you’re working on your hook grip or double-overhand grip with your deadlift.
With cable rows, the worst thing that’s going to happen if you lose your grip is that the cables snap back into the cable machine. That’s not great for the machine itself, nor is it ideal for you, but it’s better than a barbell on your neck.
Cable flyes are another option for using a suicide grip with relative safety. Because of the angle of the flyes, it’s less likely that the D-handle will be able to slip out of your grasp mid-set.
You might appreciate the extra, thumbless help with keeping your wrists neutral as the cables pull them back and away from your body. Some lifters also find this much more comfortable, as the D-handles pulling on your hands during a regular, wrapped thumb grip can cause tension or rub on the pad between your thumb and index finger.
Many lifters swear by pull-ups with a thumbless grip. This may help you be able to place greater emphasis on developing hardcore finger strength, as your other eight fingers will be solely responsible for keeping your body weight on the pull-up bar.
The suicide grip with pull-ups might also have a similar impact on your movement angles as a suicide grip with the bench press. Since you’ll have to keep your upper arms tucked closer to your body with a thumbless grip, you may find it easier to drive your elbows down while your body pulls up.
Low Bar Back Squats
With low bar back squats, you’ll be pinning the bar to the “shelf” you create with your upper back and rear delts. To successfully do this, your elbows have to be back, down, and tight. You need a fair bit of shoulder mobility to accomplish this, which can be a problem for many lifters.
To give your shoulders a bit more wiggle room, many lifters opt to perform the low bar back squat with a thumbless suicide grip. This forces you to actively pin the bar to your back instead of trying to hold the bar up in your hands.
This is not without risk, as you might find the bar less secure without your thumb wrapped around it. Still, bailing out of a failed back squat will not land the bar on your face or neck. Practice this grip with very low weight and gradually build up from there to ensure that you’re doing it as safely as possible. Spotters are a great help here, too.
Secure Your Grip
The suicide grip offers a slightly new exercise angle and training stimulus if you’re looking to spice up your training. That said, there are plenty of ways to reap the potential benefits of the suicide grip — like triceps activation and wrist position — without incurring so much risk. If you want the safest style of lift, you might want to opt to forgo this grip style entirely.
Featured Image: Sarayut Sridee / Shutterstock