Supination vs Pronation

Hand Position & Muscles Used During Exercise

During your workouts, you may have noticed that an overhand or underhand grip changes the way the 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 which is best to 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. While 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

How Supination vs Pronation Effects Exercises

Supination vs pronation primarily changes which muscles in your arms are most active during an exercise. In this way, 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 what happens when you rotate your palm upward. You should feel your bicep flex.

One of the primary functions of the bicep muscle is the supination of the hand. Therefore, performing exercises with a supinated grip puts the biceps in a stronger position.

Supination vs Pronation for Bicep Exercises

First, it’s important to understand 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.

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.

Supination vs Pronation Hand

Supination Bicep Exercises

An example of an exercise performed with a supinated hand position is the standard bicep curl. This includes and 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 as in a wider grip.

Supination vs Pronation Hand

Neutral Bicep Exercises

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 special bar with parallel handles.

Pronation Bicep Exercises

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

Outer Bicep Workout: 7 Exercises For Wider Biceps

Generally, reverse curls are done 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

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.

Supination vs Pronation for Tricep Exercises

While supination vs pronation is not a direct function of the tricep muscle, it does affect which part of the tricep gets used most during a particular exercise.

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.

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

supination vs pronation hand tricep

Pronation Tricep Exercises

A standard tricep extension is usually performed using a pronated hand position. This is an overhand grip on exercises like skull crushers or cable press downs. And it tends to target more of the inner and mid heads of the tricep.

Neutral Tricep Exercises

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

With this hand position, you incorporate a little bit of each of the three tricep heads. So it’s a good grip for overall development.

Supination Tricep Exercises

Lastly is the reverse grip tricep extension. This is where your palm is facing up and you push more through your pointer finger and thumb.

In this way, you target more of the outer lateral head, which helps complete the “horseshoe” shape of the tricep.

Supination vs Pronation Hand Tricep Extensions

Supination vs Pronation for Back Exercises

During back exercises, supination vs pronation has only a slight impact on which muscles in your back are incorporated. However, it does determine how much your biceps get involved in the movement.

For example, a supinated grip brings your biceps into the exercise more, which may allow you to pull harder. On the other hand, it can also put your biceps in a compromising position.

Pronated Back Exercises

Most often, back exercises are performed with a pronated overhand grip. Such as traditional pullups, lat pulldowns, bent-over barbell rows, and deadlifts.

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

Neutral Back Exercises

As with other exercises, a neutral grip is where your palms face each other. This is the case with certain cable attachments and machines.

In the neutral position, you gain some strength from your biceps without letting them take over completely.

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

Caution: Mixed Grip Deadlifts

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 wrist straps.

However, it also puts a huge strain on the bicep on the supinated side. So I don’t recommend it when performing really heavy deadlifts.

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Key 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 works the outer (lateral) head. And pronation works the inner (medial) and middle (long) heads.
  • For back exercises, supination brings more biceps into the movement.

Conclusion

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 to create balance and proportion. Or mix up your back exercises to hit different angles and intensities.

For more information on exercise physiology, check out my related articles below!

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