Why Bent Wrists During Bench Pressing Is Hurting Your Gains
Updated March 9th 2020; April 24th 2019
Do you bench press with straight wrists or bent wrists?
How much should you bend your wrists during a bench press?
What is the proper wrist position for the bench press?
Traditionally, big bench pressers always bench press with a slight angle of their wrist.
Their wrists are not too forward and not bent all the way.
What is the happy medium in between?
Bent wrists during the bench press
Bent wrists during the bench press will limit your ability to bench press heavy weights for a long time. Learn how to bench press with straight wrists and avoid any future wrist and forearm pain.
On the internet, you will see two sides - no, three sides to how you should bench press.
Straight wrists for bench pressing
For some coaches, this is the recommended wrist position for bench pressing.
Your wrists will be aligned with your forearms when you unrack the weight.
When you lower the weight down, your wrists can break the straight line and travel where it needs to go, depending on where you touch your chest.
One issue with this is that some lifters may get too technical with the form.
You also have two schools of thought here:
Bar aligned with your forearm
This is considered having near straight wrists when bench pressing.
When the bar is aligned with your forearm, depending on how big your joints and hands are, your hand could be vertically straight.
Your hand could also be very slightly bent by a couple of degrees.
This would be considered the best position during the bench press.
Since gravity is trying to compress your wrist joint, it is in an optimal position to manage any heavy load.
Back of your hand aligned with your forearm
For many newer lifters and even some experienced bench pressers, this may be what they refer to as “straight wrists.”
For them, the back of your hand will align with your forearm to create a straight line.
As a result, the barbell will be slightly forward of your entire arm.
This creates unwanted stress on your wrists, forearm, and hand.
The barbell will want to pull your hand forward but you are preventing that from happening by “maintaining form.”
This is not a good position to be in.
If you ever benched a max rep PR, you will know that it will be extremely difficult to hold the weight in front of your forearm.
Slightly bent wrists for bench pressing
Another side lifters take during the proper bench press setup is that you can slightly bend your wrists during the bench press.
If you are somewhat dedicated to your gains, you would have probably looked at images online about the proper wrist position for the bench press.
You may have also gathered some images and saw that people with slightly bent wrists are still able to bench press big weights.
You even saw some lifters having the bar over their forearm with a bent wrist.
For the most part, you should avoid any noticeable wrist bends that set the barbell behind your forearm.
Most of the time when you are bending your wrists, the barbell you are holding will travel behind your forearm.
This will put a lot of pressure on your wrist, which can stress your tendons and ligaments.
This is a common technique error where lifters can develop wrist pain from bench pressing.
They will see one of their favorite lifters benching with bent wrists in a video or clip.
However, they do not see the lifter’s wrist angle from all points of view.
As a result, with some bias, an eager lifter can begin digging his or her own grave by not being aware of proper bench press mechanics.
For people with bigger and thicker forearms, they may be able to bend their wrists more since they have more arm mass to leverage.
This is neither good nor bad. It is just the way the lifter’s body has developed.
He or she can take advantage of their physical talents by having more of a wrist bend.
Ideally, the barbell should smack in the middle of your forearm.
Near 90 degree bent wrists for bench pressing
This is one of the most common errors for bench press newbies.
They see their gym bros and lifting motivation videos about these jacked dudes hammering a 225lbs bench press.
Looks cool, right?
Just imitate before you innovate.
Sadly, this is not a great position for your wrist.
It is also not a great position to bench press with.
It places way too much stress on your wrist joint and forearm tendons.
What I also notice is that people who perform a suicide bench press grip, AKA the thumbless grip, will need to bend their wrists more in order to secure a safe bench press position.
I do not advocate for using the suicide bench press grip; the pros do not outweigh the cons for me.
However, you are free to make your own choices.
I am just here to lay down the facts for you to make an educated decision.
Weaker in the bench press from not using bent wrists
It depends on what you mean.
If you went from slightly bent wrists to abnormally straight - back of the band is aligned with your forearm - you will not have a good time.
Alternatively, if you went from 90-degree bent wrists to a slightly less aggressive bend, you will need some time to adjust.
You should not feel weaker since a good wrist position should make the bench press feel more stable.
What is probably happening is that your wrists are too straight, which is also straining your wrist from holding the weight up.
Bend your wrists a tiny bit so that the barbell is aligned with your forearm.
Weak bench press with straight wrists
There is such a thing as bench pressing with too straight wrists.
The barbell should be aligned with your forearm, not the back of your hand.
If you are still having difficulty, you can contact with pictures or a video.
I’ll get back to you with feedback.
If you have been bench pressing with a near 90-degree bent wrists, bench press with correct form will feel awkward.
Trust that this is the right way to bench press and you will reap the rewards months from now.
How hard should I grip the barbell to prevent my wrists from bending back on the bench press?
You should be gripping the barbell as tightly as you can.
If you have a loose grip, it is easier for heavy weights to move your wrists backward or forward.
You will lose wrist stability if you do not grip the barbell tightly.
For some big bench pressers, they often advise that you want to try to bend the barbell in half.
Legendary powerlifter Jennifer Thompson recognizes the importance of remembering to grip the barbell as tightly as you can with your pinky finger.
She refers to them as the pinky squeeze.
So, two big-time tips from elite level bench pressers are now transferred over to you.
What is the bulldog grip?
The bar is resting diagonally in your hands, between the base of your thumb and your palm.
The barbell should not be gripped in the middle of the palm.
Close your hands and place your fingers on the bar.
Squeeze your fingers now so that the barbell is in a stable position.
Should I use it for the bench press?
I have done my research on the topic; almost all general strength training programs like Stronglift, and Starting Strength, will advocate you using the bulldog grip.
The reason is that it will likely place your wrist in a vertical position.
You will not need to worry about wrist pain.
Stronglift FAQs suggest that the bulldog grip may be uncomfortable at first but lifters should stick with it until it becomes comfortable.
However, there are many issues with this grip that experienced lifters faced.
One is that this grip will internally rotate your shoulders, which is what you do not want in a heavy bench press.
Another reason why is that not too many lifters will know how to perform this bulldog grip properly.
If it was used more readily, I am confident that many other lifters will want to pick it up initially and use it.
I have not heard of the bulldog grip until I began doing my research.
When I tried testing it, I am pretty sure I was not doing it correctly.
Or maybe I was and that I needed more time to let my body adjust to the new grip.
Who really knows?
When you first started lifting weights, the first exercise you knew about was the bench press.
You did not really care how you gripped the weight.
As long as the barbell is over your wrist and there is no pain in your forearms, elbows, and shoulders, we are all set to pump some iron.
My wrists are bent back when doing pushups, why not during the bench press?
There are some lifters and gym enthusiasts that will argue that since we do pushups with our wrists bent at 90-degrees, it is acceptable to do that with the bench press.
Some lifters will say that they even feel find doing a big wrist bend during the bench press and experience zero pain.
These are two different exercises and you are comparing apples with oranges.
With lighter weights, I can bend my wrists as far back as I can with no pain. However, you will notice that as you bench press more weight, 200+lbs, 300+lbs, 500+lbs, your errors in bench pressing will compound.
You will instantly feel wrist pain when bench pressing heavy weights.
Is it not a coincidence that big-time bench pressers follow a strict routine and technique to achieve the results?
Everything you said does not work, any other solutions?
There are some lifters who will do everything I listed above and still experience some sort of wrist pain or soreness from the bench press.
Something is just not clicking. What to do now?
Okay, here is a suggestion that may help some lifters:
- Get the bar down as far as you can down your palm while still having your thumb wrap around the bar. This will prompt you to lift the bar off the rack slightly.
- You probably used to wrap your fingers as far as you can around the bar. Do not do that. Instead, wrap your fingers so that they just stop on top of the bar. This is similar to the bulldog grip
- Squeeze the bar as hard as you can even though your fingers are not fully enclosing the barbell
- Your hands are acting as a platform for the bar, you are not gripping or holding the bar
Having a proper wrist position for the bench press will improve your bench press max.
It is not ideal to have a very bent wrist during the bench press since this can cause issues in the future.
Learn how to bench press with good form to achieve longer-lasting results.