The bench press is the most popular gym exercise in the world. It seems that everyone is fixated on going heavier on their bench. That quest for more bench poundage, however, is also responsible for more wrist pain than any other movement, ending weightlifting careers and causing permanent pain.
In this article, you’ll discover 4 critical hacks that can save your wrists while you max out your bench. We’ll also detail optimum benching form to allow you get the most out of your time under the heavy iron.
Hack #1: Hand Positioning
Wrist pain is often the result of the distance that you position your hands on the bar. If they are either too wide or too narrow, your wrists will not be aligned with your elbows, and you will be having to bend them either in or out as you perform the movement.
By positioning your hands a little wider than shoulder width apart, your wrists will be in line with your elbows in the bottom phase of the exercise. This will take the strain off of them, allowing you focus on lifting the weight.
Hack #2: Wrist Roll
Often, as they grip the bar, and before unracking it, guys will roll their wrists forward. This is usually because they sit the bar on the palm just under their fingers, causing the wrist to rise. The correct bar position is lower down on the palm. Your thumbs should be pointed up toward the ceiling, which will position your wrists perpendicular to the floor.
During the entire movement, your wrists should stay straight up and down, in alignment with your forearm, rather than angling to the side.
Hack #3: BullDog Grip
So far we’ve identified that we want to maintain a straight line from the wrists down the forearm and to the elbow. The Bulldog grip, where you position the bar low in your hand, along the heel, will help to keep you in this ideal plane. You should be holding the bar very close to your wrists. This will naturally avoid hyperextension, which is what makes your wrist vulnerable.
To execute the Bulldog grip, grab hold of the bar with your thumb and index finger. Now rotate your hand inward so that the bar is actually resting diagonally across your hand. Wrap your fingers around the bar and squeeze tightly to lock the bar in place.
Photo Credit: STRONGLIFTS
The Bulldog grip may seem uncomfortable if you are used to using more of a mid or high palm grip. You may even find that your bench press weight will go down slightly with this grip. However, you need to persevere until it becomes natural. By training your body into this ideal grip position, you will be setting yourself up to make progressive weight increases without the wrist pain.
Occasionally you see people bench pressing with a thumbless grip. This means that the thumb stays on the same side as the fingers. This is actually an effective way to ensure proper wrist placement in order to avoid pain. However, it is also a good way to kill yourself!
When you take out the thumb, you have no locking mechanism in place if the bar rolls forward, allowing it to crash down on your chest. Needless to say, we do not advocate a thumbless grip!
Hack #4: Wrist Wraps
Wrist wraps are a fantastic tool to help you to eliminate wrist pain and to bench heavier weight. However, you should not use them until you have corrected the form issues addressed in our first three hacks. If you don’t, your wrist pain will continue, even if you’re wearing the best wraps in the world.
Wrist wraps will take the strain away from your wrist when you are bench pressing, allowing you to lift heavier more safely. The wrap has a thumb loop to secure it. You then wrap it securely around the wrist to provide maximum pressure around the wrist. The goal is to prevent your wrist from moving when you’re performing the lift.
When you’ve completed wrapping, you secure the wrap with velcro. You can then remove your thumb from the loop to allow it to wrap around the bar.
Wraps will give you less irritation in your wrists, allowing you to push out more reps with more weight. They come in different strengths, with varying stiffness levels. The quality of wraps on the market varies greatly. To discover the best that’s available check out this mammoth article by Gains Bible - it’s got you covered!
Optimized Bench Press Form
- Lift the bar off the rack, with a slightly wider than shoulder width grip, and hold it over your chest. Keep your head, shoulders blades and hips in contact with the bench and your feet firmly planted on the floor.
- Pinch your shoulder blades together and breathe in as you slowly lower the bar to the mid chest area. Lower your arms together until your forearms are vertical at the lower point. The bar should just kiss your shirt in the bottom position. Never bounce the bar off your chest. The bar should travel in a slight arc as it comes down.
- Push the bar back up, following the same arc. Do this by forcefully stretching your pecs and immediately drive upwards, squeezing your lats and arcing the bar up to its start position at mid chest. Breathe out as you push the bar up. Lock out briefly between reps. Keep your shoulders down throughout the movement.
The bench press deserves its reputation as the number one gym move. There is nothing that will add strength, power and overall upper body mass faster. By following our common sense hacks regarding grip width, hand placement and investing in a solid pair of wrist wraps, you’ll be able to take your bench to new heights without wreaking havoc on your wrists.
About The Author
Jim Roose is a long time fitness enthusiast and former powerlifting coach and gym owner.
He recently retired and now blogs and writes about fitness tips and tricks that are based on over 35 years of industry experience.
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