I get this question asked a lot, so instead of re-typing my answer every time someone asks, I'm just going to answer it here and copy-and-paste my answer (or send them the link to this post) the next time I'm asked.
Man, should have done this earlier! Would have saved me a lot of time!
Why do you do reverse grip bench presses instead of regular bench presses like a normal person?
I started doing reverse grip bench presses because a regular grip was causing me pain.
First it was shoulder pain that radiated down both of my arms from regular bench presses.
It was probably shoulder impingement. As for grip width, my pinkies were on the bar markings so it wasn't very wide.
I narrowed my grip, tucked in my elbows and tried "bending the bar". This more or less fixed the shoulder pain problem, but it ended up giving me pain in my forearms (forearm splints maybe?). I felt the forearm pain in what seems to be in between the bones of the forearms, the ulna and radius.
I think the forearm pain from bench presses was from tucking the elbows in while gripping the bar hard on the descent. Gripping the bar with an overhand grip naturally makes the elbows flare out a bit. Forcing the elbows in to the sides of the body naturally makes the hand want to rotate (ie. supination). So trying to do both at the same time (tuck in elbows while keeping a tight grip with hands aligned with the bar), the strain is going to go somewhere, and that went to my forearms.
At lighter loads, there wasn't much pain, but as soon as the weight went up, the pain in both my shoulders and/or forearms would shut everything down and I would instantly lose my strength. I frequently missed reps because of pain.
With a regular grip (both pinkies on the bar and a more narrower hand placement), the best I could do was 340 lb. That was like an obstacle that I couldn't overcome because the pain held me back.
I have seen Jamie Lewis from ChAoS & PAIN use the reverse grip bench press (here's an article he wrote on the RGBP btw), and recall reading that he did this because of shoulder issues he had himself (or something like that).
Well, figured I might as well give it a shot because a regular bench press was going nowhere.
I switched over to the reverse grip bench press on October 1, 2012.
At first benching with a backward grip was awkward. Unracking was strange, and I wasn't accustomed to the pressure of the bar on my palms while holding the bar backwards. The first time doing it, I only got up to LMAO2PLATE (230 lb) for 2 reps. And I still experienced a bit of pain.
I stuck with it though.
It took me about 3 weeks to really get the hang of the reverse grip bench press. I ended up benching 330 lb (10 lb away from my max) in just 3 weeks of starting the reverse grip.
And it has been steadily increasing since. At the time of writing this, my 1RM is 390 lb.
Since I don't experience pain with the reverse grip, I can bench frequently (currently twice a week) and heavily, and have been making gainz since.
UPDATE: If you want to learn how to perform the reverse grip bench press, read this article I wrote for T-Nation.
Differences Between A Regular Bench Press And The Reverse Grip Bench Press
Here's a few bullet points describing some of the things that are different with the reverse grip bench press:
- Bar touches lower on body. For me, it's below the sternum.
- Cannot flare out the elbows (at least not much). So if the bar drifts towards the head, it's difficult to maintain/regain control because you can't flare the elbows out and get the elbows under the bar.
- Elbows naturally tuck in (ie move towards the side of the body), so I didn't need to force myself to tuck in the elbows. I do find that if I try to force my elbows to touch the side of my body, I can feel the contraction in my lats.
- Need to focus on pushing "down" or "out" towards my abdomen or feet.
- Bar cannot be allowed to drift backwards (towards the head) or else you'll lose control of the bar.
- Grip on the bar can range from 100% supinated (so that the palms are inline with the bar) to something that's almost a parallel grip (actually more like a V-grip). I find that if I'm struggling with a weight during the reverse grip (either 1RM or the last few reps of a multi-rep set), my palms will start to rotate towards each other, probably as a result of trying to flare my elbows out.
- It's a little more difficult to control the bar, so this should be done inside of a power rack with safeties to save your life in case the bar decides to move above your neck.
MRW When I See Someone Else Do The Reverse Grip Bench Press
Every so often I see a video of someone doing the reverse grip bench press. I like to think that I had some part in inspiring them to bench press with a backwards grip, but I'm not really sure.
In any case, here's my reaction(s):
So if you're experiencing shoulder pain and/or forearm pain from regular grip bench presses, try out the reverse grip. It allowed me to bench heavy twice a week without going through the pain I had with a conventional grip, and allowed me to break through a plateau once limited by pain.
The reverse grip bench press works for me, works for other people I've come across online, and it could work for you too.