The topic of the reverse grip bench press has been hotly debated by the weightlifting industry. Many people have said that it is very useful in developing the upper chest. Opinions have varied and arguments have ensued but the fact of the matter is there has been very little scientific data available to back up any particular theory.
In fact, one of the only conclusive tests made was a Canadian study that has been often misunderstood by fitness people. Having read the entire study it seems that their research noted more of a difference in the utilization of the triceps and biceps from using the reverse grip bench-press compared to any major changes in pectoral use.
For those not familiar, the reverse grip bench-press is typically done on a flat bench. Instead of grabbing the bar in an over-hand grip, you use an under-hand, or reverse grip. There are a variety of grips widths then used ranging from narrow to wide which generally is a form more of body mechanics and what is specifically most comfortable for the person pressing. This has to do with wrist strength more than anything else.
From there it is a matter of performing a normal pressing motion that goes down towards your lower chest. Usually people cannot handle the same amount of weight as used in the normal bench press because the movement is unfamiliar and you need to train your body to handle the aspect of balancing the bar.
Primarily this is still a chest exercise. Without a doubt you use more pectoral muscle than anything else. Compared to a standard bench press, using a medium width or narrow width grip will incorporate more inner chest. But the primary difference between this lift and a standard lift is how the shoulders and arms are impacted.
While the front deltoid is engaged in this exercise, the side deltoid is activated in a more direct manner as well acting as a stabilizer. Because the elbows are now in versus out the weight has shifted to a less controlled position which means more side deltoid is used to prevent side to side motion.
The biceps also engage a lot more on this lift than in a standard grip. In the standard motion the forearms play a larger role in managing the weight on the up and down motion. But when you utilize a reverse grip bench press motion the biceps take over that role. Also the triceps are used more in this movement, especially as the grip gets narrower. It makes the motion more similar to a close grip bench press because the elbows are close together which engages the entire triceps more on the range of the lift.
The Bottom Line
The reverse grip bench press is a great movement to work the chest and arms. It should be categorized as more of a hybrid motion much like the close-grip bench press and dip that can be used for more triceps involvement depending on how you adjust your hand and elbow positions. For that reason alone it makes a great addition at the end of a chest workout as you transition into a triceps workout. People who are looking to increase their bench press should consider this exercise because it will strength auxiliary muscles to help with the primary lift.