What's the "suicide grip", and why did Arnold Schwarzenegger use it for bench pressing?

There are many Arnie workout techniques you should copy – the suicide grip isn't one of them

(Original Caption) April 1976- Jeff Bridges (L) and Arnold Schwarzenegger who is lifting weights in a movie still from "Stay Hungry".
(Image credit: Getty Images)

Arnold Schwarzenegger is famous for many reasons, but one thing that will forever be associated with everyone's favourite golden-era bodybuilder is how broad his pecs were. Considering the enormity of said pecs used to be, it's no wonder people want to know how Arnie built them, and if you ever did some digging on the subject, you might have noticed he used to have a rather unusual grip on the barbell when bench-pressing, often called the 'suicide grip'.

Before we go any further analysing this type of grip, it's important to stress that this article isn't an explainer, and no one should try the suicide grip, period. There is a very good reason it's called that; one slip of the hand and you're done. And not just with the workout for the day but also with the integrity of your ribs, lungs and neck. Please don't try it under any circumstances. You've been warned.

What's the suicide grip?

Suicide grip refers to the position of the thumb when holding the barbell for exercises such as the bench press. Instead of using a pronating grip – an overhand grip with palms facing downwards opposite the thumb – you move the thumb to the same side of the bar where the rest of the fingers are. This makes the bar somewhat unstable, as it could easily escape your grip. 

Why did Arnold Schwarzenegger use the suicide grip?

One of Arnie's fans asked him about the suicide grip in early 2022, and he replied to them in his newsletter, saying, "I could give you a whole page of reasons why I did it, but this newsletter is all about being honest," quotes Men's Health (opens in new tab), "The reality is, there was no reason, and I mainly did it on the incline bench just because it felt good."

The reason why it might 'feel good' to use the suicide grip is that it keeps the wrist joint in what feels like a more natural position. The problem is that the benefit of a more comfortable wrist position doesn't make up for the danger of the bar slipping and harming you. When Arnie used it, he was already building muscle for at least a decade and a bit, so he knew exactly what he was doing in the gym.

You, on the other hand, dabbling with full-body workouts, aren't experienced enough even to entertain the idea of using the suicide grip. Even if you get a spotter – a person who stands behind you and can potentially help you out if you can't press the bar back up into the starting position – they might not be able to react quickly enough should the bar slip.

Is there a benefit for using the suicide grip for bench press?

The only real benefit of the suicide grip is the increased comfort levels mentioned above, which is simply not enough reason to try it. 99.9% of the people who bench won't ever have to use the suicide grip, as there is just no need for it. If you want pecs as big as Arnie's, all you need to do is A) make sure you eat enough and the right things so you can bulk up naturally, B) show up in the gym and put the work in, even if you don't feel like lifting, and C) mix up your workouts to stimulate the muscles and help them grow.

Pumping iron

For those interested in Arnie's methods of building muscle, check out how he used pecs flys to widen the pecs and his Arnold Schwarzenegger Blueprint to Mass, which is an actual workout plan anyone can follow to add size (it's pretty hardcore, though). Speaking of focusing on specific body parts: Mike Tyson's neck workout used to be quite something different back in the day, not to mention Iron Mike's bodyweight workout.

We also have some insights into how Henry Cavill trained for the Witcher series and what non-aquatic workout did Jason Momoa use to get in shape for Aquaman 2. for those who don't care about celebrity workouts, there is a push-pull-legs routine that will sure to build muscle in the shortest time possible.

Matt Kollat
Fitness Editor

Matt is T3's Fitness Editor and covers everything from smart fitness tech to running and workout shoes, home gym equipment, exercise how-tos, nutrition, cycling, and more. His byline appears in several publications, including Techradar (opens in new tab) and Fit&Well (opens in new tab), and he collaborated with other fitness content creators such as Garage Gym Reviews (opens in new tab).