In his monthly newsletter, Arnold Schwarzenegger shares tips and insights on weight training based on his decades of experience as a seven-time Mr. Olympia champion. His advice can range from how he achieves mind muscle connection to how he has adapted his workouts to avoid injury as he has gotten older.
Most recently, Schwarzenegger responded to a fan’s question about his bench press technique, specifically relating to his grip: when he performs this move, his thumb is not wrapped around the bar. This is called the suicide grip, something which Men’s Health generally does not advise—and the more you hear Arnold talk about it, you can understand why.
“I could give you a whole page of reasons why I did it, but this newsletter is all about being honest,” he wrote. “The reality is, there was no reason, and I mainly did it on the incline bench just because it felt good.”
The purpose of the suicide grip is simple: You’re taking a joint out of the equation. When you wrap your thumb around the bar, by default, the bar winds up sitting a bit higher in your palm. That means you have to find a good wrist position, and, in many cases, that’s moving the bar further away from your forearm bone. It’s one more thing you have to control when you’re bench pressing. The suicide grip gets around that: Because you’re not wrapping your thumb around the bar, it’s easier to get the bar right above your forearm bones (ulna and radius), and that makes it easier to keep your forearm perpendicular to the ground, the ideal angle needed to generate force on the bench press.
The problem is, this creates a lot of risk. Because your thumb isn’t wrapped around the bar, you have that much less control over the bar, opening the door for it to slip from your grip and crash down onto your body. That’s why we at Men’s Health do NOT advise using the suicide grip, especially if you’re new to the bench press. It’s safest to learn how to grip the bar tightly, protecting yourself against injuries and other issues.
Additionally, wrapping your thumb around a bar (or even dumbbells and kettlebells) offers other strengths beyond safety. Fully gripping the bar helps mitigate the risks of the bench press, and it also allows you to capitalize on the principle of irradiation: By creating maximum tension through your forearm muscles by gripping the bar, you’re more easily able to activate stabilizing muscles throughout your shoulders, forearms, and midback.
Arnold himself acknowledges the risk of injury that comes with this technique in his newsletter. “It is called the suicide grip for a reason,” he said. “Only do this if you have a spotter with you, and make sure you have a real spotter, not someone looking at their Instagram while you unrack the weight.”
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