Supination vs Pronation

How Hand Position Affects Muscles Used During Exercise

By: Jeremy Fox, CNC, CPTUpdated: August 18, 2022

During your workouts, you may have noticed that an overhand or underhand grip changes how an exercise feels. So you might be wondering how this affects the muscles used during those exercises.

In this article, I’ll explain the supination vs pronation hand positions. And walk you through the best grip target specific muscles during your workouts.

Supination vs Pronation Hand

What Is Supination vs Pronation?

Pronation and supination are terms used to describe hand orientation and forearm rotation.

A supinated hand position is when your palm is facing up. In contrast, a pronated hand position is when your palm is facing down.

An easy way to remember this is that supination contains the word up, as in palm up. It also sounds like the word soup. So I picture a cupped hand as if it’s holding a bowl of soup.

On the other hand… (pause for dad joke laughs) pronation contains the word pro. So I think of a professional fighter who pronates their hand as they throw a punch.

Supination vs Pronation Hand

Supination vs Pronation Muscles Worked

Supination vs pronation primarily changes which muscles in your arms are most active during an exercise. And you can choose which muscles get targeted based on hand position or grip.

To demonstrate, hold your elbow at your side and bend your arm 90 degrees with your palm facing down. Now place the other hand on your bicep and feel your bicep flex when you rotate your palm upward.

One of the bicep muscle’s primary functions is hand supination. Therefore, performing exercises with a supinated grip helps to isolate the bicep.

In addition, hand and arm positions can change the muscle groups targeted during tricep and back exercises. So let’s look at some real-world examples.

Related: Leveraging Flexion and Extension in Bodybuilding Exercises

Supination vs Pronation Exercise Examples

This section shows you how supinated and pronated hand positions change the muscles worked during bicep, tricep, and back exercises. And I included several examples of supinated, pronated, and neutral grip exercises for each muscle group.

Bicep Exercises

First, it’s good to know that the “bi” in bicep means there are two muscle heads on the front of your arm. The long head is the outer part, and the short head is the inner part.

In addition, there is a third muscle on your outer arm called the brachialis, which sits between the long head and the tricep.

The more supinated your hand, the more you work the inner head. And the more pronated your hand, the more you work the outer head and brachialis.

Supination vs Pronation Bicep

Supinated Bicep Exercises

  • Barbell Curls
  • EZ Bar Curls
  • Preacher Curls
  • Dumbbell Curls

The standard bicep curl is an example of an exercise performed with a supinated hand position. This includes any variation where your palms are mostly facing up. Such as barbell, cable, or machine curls performed with an underhand grip.

In addition, dumbbell curls can actually allow your hand to supinate during the movement. At the start, your hands are usually facing your sides. Then your palms rotate up as your curl the weight. This engages both the supination and flexion action of the bicep.

The supinated curl variations are ideal for targeting the inner head of the bicep, especially when your arm is rotated slightly outward with a wider grip.

Supination vs Pronation Hand

Neutral Bicep Exercises

  • Hammer Curls
  • Rope Curls
  • Tri-Bar Curls

Hammer curls are a type of dumbbell curl where you do not supinate your hand as you curl the weight. Instead, your palms face inward through the whole range of motion. So the dumbbell looks like the head of a swinging hammer.

With this neutral grip, you can hit both the inner and outer heads of the bicep. You can also do hammer curls with a rope cable attachment or a unique bar with parallel handles, often called a tri-bar.

Pronated Bicep Exercises

  • Barbell Reverse Curls
  • EZ Bar Reverse Curls
  • Dumbbell Reverse Curls
  • Cable Reverse Curls

Reverse curls are a bicep exercise performed with an overhand grip. With a pronated hand position, you work more of the outer bicep, brachialis, and the top of the forearm.

Outer Bicep Workout: 7 Exercises For Building Peak

Generally, you reverse curls with a straight bar or EZ curl bar. But you could use dumbbells or kettlebells as well.

Pronated Bicep Curl Muscles Worked

Supination & Pronation Bicep Exercise

  • Zottoman Curls

Lastly, the Zottman curl is a dumbbell variation where you go from supination to pronation during the exercise. This allows you to work both heads of the biceps and the forearms in one exercise.

On the way up, you’ll use the supinated hand position. At the top, rotate your hands so your palms face (mostly) down. Then lower the weight with the pronated hand position.

Tricep Exercises

While supination vs pronation is not a direct function of the tricep muscle, it does affect how an exercise feels and the supporting muscles involved.

Again, it’s important to start by pointing out that the “tri” in tricep means there are three muscle heads on the back of your arm. The medial head is the innermost part, the lateral head is the outer part, and the long head is the middle-upper part.

supination vs pronation hand tricep

Pronated Tricep Exercises

  • Overhand Tricep Pushdown
  • Skull Crushers

A standard triceps pressdown or pushdown is usually performed using a pronated hand position. This is an overhand grip on exercises like skull crushers or cable pressdowns.

In addition, exercises like a close grip bench press work the triceps in the pronated position. Many pronated tricep exercises also recruit the chest and anterior deltoids.

Therefore, you must use proper form to ensure you isolate and target the tricep muscles. In the video below, I show you how to fix the most common tricep pressdown mistakes.

Neutral Tricep Exercises

  • Rope Pushdown
  • Tricep Extension Machine
  • Tri-Bar Skull Crusher

Next, a neutral position tricep extension is when your palms face each other. This grip is most common when using a rope cable attachment or a tricep extension machine.

With this hand position, you put your triceps in a strong position, so it’s a good grip for overall development.

Supinated Tricep Exercises

  • Reverse Grip Tricep Pushdown
  • Single Arm Reverse Grip Pushdown

Lastly is the reverse grip tricep pushdown. In these exercises, your palm faces up throughout the movement.

This hand position makes it harder to use other muscle groups like the chest and deltoids when doing a tricep pushdown. So it’s better for isolating the tricep muscle, although you might need to use less weight.

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Back Exercises

During back exercises, supination vs pronation slightly impacts which muscles in your back are incorporated. For example, targeting the upper or lower portions of your back is possible based on your grip and other variables.

Related: 7 Best Lower Lat Exercises For A Thicker Back

In addition, hand position determines how much your biceps get involved in the movement. So you can use more or less biceps during your back exercises.

supination vs pronation back

Pronated Back Exercises

  • Pull Ups
  • Wide Grip Lat Pulldown (overhand)
  • Bent Over Rows
  • Deadlifts
  • Rack Pulls

Back exercises are often performed with a pronated overhand grip. Some popular examples include traditional pullups, wide grip lat pulldowns, bent-over barbell rows, deadlifts, and rack pulls.

Related: Deadlift vs Rack Pulls for Back

With this hand position, your back is taking on most of the load, which is good for muscle and strength gains.

Neutral Back Exercises

  • Lat Pulldown with Palms In
  • Cable Row with Palms In

As with other exercises, a neutral grip is where your palms face each other. This is the case with certain cable attachments like a close grip v-bar or a wide grip with neutral handles.

In the neutral position, you work your lats with a little help from the biceps. On close grip lat pulldowns with a neutral grip, you also get slightly more chest activation than the wide grip.

Related: Close Grip Lat Pulldown vs Wide Grip Muscle Activation

Supinated Back Exercises

Lastly is the supinated grip for back exercises. This is when you use an underhand grip on any of the traditional back exercises such as pullups, pulldowns, or rows.

As mentioned, the supinated grip brings your biceps into the equation. And that can either help you generate more force or put unnecessary stress on the bicep.

For example, a mixed grip deadlift is when one hand is pronated, and one is supinated. This over/under combination helps you keep your grip on the bar. And it can be beneficial when you don’t have lifting straps.

However, it also puts more strain on the bicep on the supinated side, which can lead to tendon injuries. So I don’t recommend it when performing really heavy deadlifts.

Related: Deadlift Grip & Bicep Injuries

Supination vs Pronation Deadlift Grip

Supination vs Pronation Takeaways

  • Supination is an underhand grip, palms up. While pronation is an overhand grip, palms down.
  • Supination is one of the primary functions of the bicep muscle.
  • A more supinated grip works the inner bicep. While a more pronated grip works the outer bicep and forearm.
  • For triceps, supination and pronation slightly change the supporting muscles used.
  • For back exercises, supination brings more biceps into the movement.

When you’re just starting out with resistance training, you probably don’t need to worry too much about supination vs pronation. So try not to get too hung up on hand placement if you’re a beginner.

However, as you progress, you can target specific parts of your arms and back to create balance and proportion. Or mix up your back exercises to hit different angles and intensities.

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Leg Press vs Squat

In this article, you learn all about supination vs pronation hand positions for upper body exercises. So let’s change gears and compare some lower body exercise variations.

Specifically, how the leg press compares to the traditional squat regarding mechanics and muscle activation. Click here for my complete guide to leg press vs squat.

Or, if you’re looking for an entirely new topic, here are several more articles related to all things fitness, nutrition, and supplements.

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By |August 18, 2022|Workouts|0 Comments
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