I started experimenting with the reverse-grip bench press back when I was in my mid-20’s. I wanted to add some variety to my chest/triceps training and remembered seeing pictures of the legendary powerlifter Anthony Clark, who was the first to do over 700 lb with this grip.
I tried the reverse grip and really enjoyed it. I felt something different in the way it was hitting both my chest and my triceps. And I was also pretty good at this lift–I could do almost as much weight as with the standard grip (I presume one’s individual body mechanics affect how strong he is with this lift).
It’s not something you see everyone doing. I still remember getting stares at one of the gyms where I trained (in the Philippines) when performing this exercise. I wish I had thought to tell them that the world record holder in the lift is Filipino (Clark passed away in 2005, but his record still stands I believe).
Turns out there may be some research to indicate this exercise does indeed activate the pectoral muscles in a slightly different way. I keep reading about a study conducted by the Canadian Memorial Chiropractic College (Toronto) that found the reverse-grip bench press increased the activity of the upper chest (upper pectoralis) by 30% compared to the standard grip. I can’t find any original sources, but it’s been quoted on quite a few websites.
There is, of course, one big drawback to this way of doing the bench press: safety. Dropping the bar would probably mean it landing on your face/neck, and I’m not sure even the most attentive spotter could react in time.
Speaking of spotters, you pretty much have to have one when doing this exercise. Getting the weights into position by yourself is virtually impossible.
There is a work-around for those who want to try reverse-grip bench press in the safest way possible: a power rack. I’ve seen some suggest using a Smith machine as well, but I prefer the rack. Below is a video I did to demonstrate.
As I explain in the video, it isn’t a big deal if the rack is set a couple of inches above your rib cage. The “sticking point” is usually going to be higher than on standard grip. This you’ll still get plenty of training stimulation even if aren’t doing the complete range of motion you’d get without the rack.