Suicide vs. Traditional Bench

 

February 2020 

The bench press is no doubt a crowd favorite in the strength training industry.  While its efficacy outside of competitive powerlifting in unclear, it is still ubiquitous and all competent strength coaches needs to be able to properly cue the movement.  While I have my own issues with (over) prescribing the bench press without purpose, this post is not about convincing you to remove the bench press from your repertoire; it is about helping you reduce shoulder injuries with this movement.

 

Perhaps the biggest problem with the bench press is that it often causes shoulder pain and injury.  While there are many, the main reason for this is because scapular movement is all but completely blocked as it is smushed between the ribs and the bench.  Other than a small range of motion around anatomical neutral, all shoulder movement involves scapular movement.  Blocking this essential scapular movement results in a significant increase in the load place on the ever fragile glenohumeral joint - the guy that typically gets injured (#RotatorCuffTear #SLAPlesion #LabrumTear)

 

Increasing these injurious forces even more is the fact that the athlete has to grab a barbell, which restricts the motions the shoulder is capable of executing (aka limits the shoulder’s “degrees of freedom”).   Most importantly, it limits the ability to externally rotate the humerus (upper arm) on the glenoid (the part of the scapula on which the arm articulates).  External rotation is a necessary movement to keep the humerus properly seated in the glenoid (aka “Centrated” #PavelKolar #DNS).  When the humerus cannot externally rotate, there is an increase in linear shear forces and the shoulder becomes decentrated.  Both of these outcomes increase the load on the passive tissues of the shoulder, raising the likelihood of injury.

 

One solution to increase the shoulder’s external rotation range of motion is to use a “suicide grip”, which is when the thumb is not grabbing the bar.  As the name suggests, this is dangerous for obvious reasons, but there is a distinct benefit to this grip - reduced shoulder pain and injury (assuming you don’t drop the barbell on your chest).  

 

People need to be careful with this grip.  So, if you are not experienced with bench press, my suggestion is to stick to a traditional grip.

 

The traditional grip is pictured in the image one the left.   Look at the direction the crux of the elbow (aka cubital fossa) is facing.  You can see that it is facing more medially (to the right) than vertically.   The suicide grip is featured in image on the right.  Look at the cubital fossa here.  It is pointing a smidge more vertically than it is medially.    In both of these pictures I am externally rotating my humerus as much as I can without changing the grip.  The direction the cubital fossa is facing represents the amount of external rotation the humerus is in.  As is obvious, the suicide grip has the humerus in a considerably more externally rotated position.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 Now, I am not advocating that athletes should maximally externally rotate the shoulder at the top off the bench.  That would be objectively wrong.  What I am saying is that having the available external rotation ROM is necessary to keep the shoulder  centrated and healthy.

 

As a test, put 65-70% on the bar and perform 3 sets of 5 with a traditional grip and 3 sets of 5 with the suicide grip.  If you close your eyes and hyper-focus on your shoulder, you will notice that it does not feel as tight at the bottom with the suicide grip.  It just feels better.

 

Give it a try…comment below.

 

Best of luck!

 

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