A false grip, also called an open, thumbless, or suicide grip, occurs when your fingers and thumb wrap around the bar on the same side. A closed and more conventional grip has your thumb wrap around the bar. Trainees that choose the false grip do so usually for the bench press or for a more unusual exercise.
The origin of using the false grip comes from both a desire for more comfort and the best performance. On an exercise like the bench press, you want to direct the force efficiently through the wrist to the elbow. Those that choose a false grip may feel that they can achieve a more ideal position in the palm of the hand to allow this effect. They may also just say it feels better on their wrists.
Unfortunately, the false grip increases the risk for catastrophic injury. Any boosts in performance are questionable or deceiving. Choose the closed, regular grip instead of the false grip for these reasons.
- The bar may roll out of your hand.
The false grip is far less secure and allows more room for the bar to shift. Without the thumb applying counter-pressure, the bar could slip through your fingers. This may kill you on certain exercises. Trainees have died using the false grip on the bench press.
- It limits grip strength.
Two main grip patterns emerge for humans: the power grip and the precision grip.
The power grip is another name for the closed grip. It uses the full strength of the finger, thumb, hand, and forearm muscles. This means holding an object between all the partially flexed fingers in the palm. The thumb then applies counter-pressure to create tightness, holding it firmly in place.
The precision grip pinches the object between the flexor surfaces of some fingers with counter-pressure from the thumb. This emphasizes the refinement needed for small, accurate movements. Think of holding a key. The false grip appears more similar to this grip than the power grip.
Squeezing the bar tightly facilitates the nervous system to improve performance. A simple test can confirm this reality. Almost everyone will perform better when they can wrap their hands around a smaller diameter bar and squeeze tightly on any exercise. They do worse with the same given weight but using a larger diameter. This gives one reason why thick bar lifting works poorly.
Try this experiment. Flex your wrist then make a fist. Not much force is possible. Now again make a fist but without thinking. You will feel stronger and notice that your wrist has extended slightly.
On the grip for a bench press or any exercise, the wrist should extend slightly. Trying to get the bar on the lower part of the palm flexes the wrist too much. This may appear more efficient but fails to match our anatomy. It also likely directs force away from the mass of the elbow anyway.
- It supports poor exercises.
Some people use a false grip for muscle-ups, a dangerous exercise akin to a bodyweight Olympic lift that combines a pull-up with a dip. Some use it for Olympic lift variations as well. These exercises have no role in safe strength training.
- A better performance does not always equal better results.
Does any possible performance boost due to the false grip help us to achieve our ultimate goal?
Consider that the main goal for any sensible lifting program should be to generate tension. Tension is the squeeze you feel when muscles contract and provides the main stimulus for more strength and size. Anything that limits tension in the fast-twitch muscle fibers will make lifting less effective.
Sometimes better performance does help. Limiting the range of motion for example may help to create more tension by avoiding weak lengths according to the length-tension relationship. Lifting too slowly or too quickly can both have disadvantages for tension as well.
If a false grip does improve performance, and this is a big if, then is it superficial or will it boost tension?
Some powerlifters claim a better elbow tuck can occur. They state this recruits their triceps better and helps with leverage.
Consider that a medium position works best and most safely for any exercise. It hits all the involved muscles evenly and maximizes tension. This requires that the elbows neither tuck too much nor flare too much.
While this technique may work better for benching using special equipment, this has no relevance or purpose for lifting to create tension. Any decrease in the range of motion, another claim that they make, is minuscule, unnecessary, and not worth the risk.
A change to the false grip on any exercise will also make no difference as to the major muscles involved. It does weaken the contribution of the hand and forearm muscles though.
Avoid the False Grip
You can achieve the ideal position of the bar in the hand with these two techniques instead of a false grip:
- Relax your hand near the bar and then grip tightly. This should give the ideal grip automatically. Some try to adjust the hand on any exercise to get it more under the bar so to speak. This technique should prevent both too much flexion and too much extension of the wrist.
- Grab the bar with a false grip before starting the exercise. Pay attention to how it feels and where it lays in the hand, and then wrap the thumb around the bar. Create the same feel in the hand before you begin.
Some argue the false grip is acceptable on squats. This still carries some risk though. The hand is vital to keeping the bar securely on the shoulders or back.
Stick with the more sensible and productive closed grip.