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September 12, 2022
Biceps often get all of the attention. In fact, ask a handful of lifters what one of their gym goals is, and we guarantee "build bigger biceps" is at the top of the list. And while we'll be the first to admit that biceps can make your favorite t-shirt look infinitely better, there's another arm muscle just as important, if not more, for making your upper arms look jacked.
We are, of course, talking about the triceps, which is actually the largest of your upper arm muscles. Not only do they play an important role in overall aesthetics, but strong triceps are essential for all pushing movements. Don't let weak tris be the reason you can't hit your bench press PR.
And while we're on the topic of bench pressing, there's one variation in particular that will help you build your triceps significantly: the close grip bench press. With some great benefits and equally awesome variations, it's time to find a spot for this exercise in your routine! But before you do, let's cover all the basics (and then some), so you know how to do it correctly.
This post will discuss:
Everyone is familiar with the king of chest exercises: the bench press. Now just place your hands closer together, and voila! You've got yourself a close grip bench press.
Interestingly, the subtle changes in this exercise make a big difference in the muscles targeted. Despite the grip change, one thing remains the same, however. It's still a main compound exercise for your upper body and can be loaded with heavier weights than most exercises.
Moving your hands closer together affects everything up the chain of your upper body. Your elbow position changes, the muscles it targets shift, and your intention for the exercise needs to be approached differently.
First, let's dig into the differences between the close grip, wide grip, and traditional grip.
It’s important to remember that everyone is built differently. Every person’s body type, anatomy, body levers, and muscle bellies and insertions differ. Some lifters naturally bench wider, some closer, and some even prefer reverse grip presses. Some people may naturally gravitate toward dumbbells, while others will pick the barbell because it works better for their bodies.
This doesn’t mean you cannot switch your grip width. It simply means that just because you see someone else grip the bar in a specific spot doesn’t mean it will give you the same results or work the same way. Let’s take a look at our barbell bench press grip options.
The regular bench press is just outside of shoulder width apart for most people. An easy trick is to set up a thumb length away from the start of the rough threads on the bar. This standard bench press grip is usually featured during a chest workout or push day as the big compound exercise, typically done as one of the first few exercises in the routine.
The standard grip is a favorite for many because it allows you to press the most weight. It mainly targets your pecs but also hits the triceps and shoulders. You've got to love compound movements.
Like any bench press, there will be some risk for shoulder pain, but this position is safe for most if you are trying to build your pecs. You’ll notice this position allows your elbows to travel slightly farther away from your body (but not as far as a wide grip) so you can get the deep pec stretch at the bottom of the exercise.
This will be the most popular in powerlifting programs because the bar has less distance to travel to your chest, with your hands being wider. Your setup will have your hands anywhere from 1.5 to 2x as wide as your shoulders. Proper setup and form can allow you to put up some big numbers if powerlifting is your thing.
It does, however, come with a higher risk of injury. As your hands widen, your elbows can travel farther away from the body. You will get the most increased pec activation and the least tricep activation in this position. So what’s the problem, exactly?
For inexperienced lifters or people whose anatomy may not do well with this variation, it’s common to experience some shoulder impingement due to the position and stress on the shoulder joint. If you are a powerlifter, this will likely be the heaviest load you can use for a bench press if you use a competition setup. Simple tip: If it’s starting to hurt, try a different grip. If you switch again and it still hurts, make sure you get it looked at.
Today's star of the show will have your hands lined up directly in line with your shoulders in a shoulder width grip. This will allow you to keep your arms closer to your body as you lower the weight. It will also be the best way to target those horseshoe triceps, which is why it's a favorite barbell triceps exercise.
Where the wide-grip bench press shortens your range of motion, the narrow grip increases it by allowing your elbows to travel farther at the bottom of the exercise. This will change the bar path a bit too.
You can still load this up heavy, but it’s not going to be the same as your one rep max on a traditional bench press. So start lower and build up to see what your body can tolerate. This will allow you to master the form and position with your elbows closer to your body, so you don’t have any shoulder pain.
The bench press will be the money maker for your chest, triceps, and shoulders as a compound exercise and pushing movement. But as we discussed with the grip earlier, subtle changes make a big difference, even though it’s still just a bench press to the untrained eye.
The close grip bench press will shift the order of importance. Instead of pecs, triceps, and shoulders, it will hit the triceps muscles, chest, and shoulders in that order. One thing's for certain: It's great in any upper body workout.
What’s cool about this exercise is that it boasts the bragging rights of being the variation that hits the triceps the most. And it also outshines the traditional grip for upper chest activation as well, with research showing the close grip gets the highest EMG rating1.
If you can check your ego and shift your intentions for this movement, you’ll be able to reap enormous benefits for the triceps, upper chest, and even your delts as well. The form will be the key that unlocks all of this (don’t worry, tips are coming up).
We could go on and on about how great the close grip bench press is. Here's a look at our five favorite benefits.
As we mentioned earlier, the bang you get for your buck with this exercise is off the charts.
So, short answer: YES!
Think of it this way, would you want to take your car to five different shops in one day to handle each part one at a time? Sure, each specialist will likely do an excellent job, but who wants to spend that kind of time when you can take it to a one-stop shop to handle everything at once. The close grip bench press is the exercise version of a one-stop car repair shop.
It will be at the top of the list for building muscle, increasing strength, and tricep and upper chest activation for muscle growth. It will also carry over to athletic movements, and save you some time, as you won’t have to do four isolation exercises per triceps workout.
We've gone over all of the reasons why you should do it, but now we're at the most important part. Make sure you use correct form so you're getting as much out of this exercise as possible.
How to do the Close Grip Bench Press:
Avoid these five common mistakes when performing the close grip bench press.
This can be several things, including using too much weight, arching your back or moving your body too much, or moving too fast through the exercise. Slow down and control the weight to maintain the correct position needed to get the benefits of this exercise. If your form gets sloppy and you’re just trying to push heavy weight, you’re leaving gains on the table. If you need to, concentrate on your mind-muscle connection to help slow your movements down.
The benefits of a close grip bench press don't mean that the closer you go, the more the benefits increase. This is more dangerous for your shoulders as it increases the stress on your shoulder joint. Everything will feel like it's crowding into a small area, and your body likely won’t be able to handle it for long. Stick to shoulder-width apart. It works.
Your elbows will be closer to your body than a traditional bench press, but don’t hug them too close to your sides, or you’ll be back in that dangerous water again. Protect those shoulders and maintain that 30-degree angle.
Make sure you don't skip this vital part of the setup. If you skip it, you will likely arch your back and flare your elbows too far to your sides.
Finish your reps at the top of the exercise. The triceps' primary function is to lock out your arm, and the close grip bench press is the master at building your lockout for your bench press.
The starter lesson for load is that this will not equal your traditional bench press 1RM (maybe it will for 1% of people, but not many). Back off to around 70% of that to start, and you can progress from there. If it’s too challenging, back off some more. Too easy? Lucky you! Add some weight. Remember, progressive overload is always the name of the game.
You can keep the rep ranges similar to what you'd perform for the traditional bench press. Keep in mind that the weight doesn’t matter if you cannot maintain the proper position for this exercise. It will take trial and error to see what works best for your body.
For strength, aim for 3 sets of 4-6 reps.
To improve both muscle size and strength, try 3 sets of 8-15 reps.
You've always got options! Here's a look at 3 bench press variations to include in whichever split you're following. We like it in a back and chest workout.
Using dumbbells in the close grip dumbbell press will work your stabilizer muscles more as you have to control each dumbbell instead of a barbell. For a different take on this variation, you can also use kettebells in place of dumbbells.
This move is much better for people with shoulder issues as it puts the hands in a neutral grip position (palms facing each other). Even though you can load these reasonably heavy, you’ll still be able to add more to a barbell.
You can set up the same for this exercise using a closer grip, but you will get the added benefit of the smith machine acting as a built-in spotter. Since the smith machine bar path is fixed, you will have to work in the range it allows.
This will work for some and may be challenging for others. You can also play around with using a flat bench or one on an incline or decline. Give them all a shot and see what works best for you!
The suspension close grip chest press is great for lifters who enjoy TRX variations of exercises. Keep your arms shoulder width or even a little inside shoulder width as long as that's comfortable for you. Hold the handles with a neutral grip (palms facing each other), keeping your arms shoulder width or slightly less and feet about the same.
Lean forward, keeping your body straight, but your elbows bent. Straighten your elbows as you press your body upward, pushing against the handles, before slowly lowering back down. Prepare to feel your triceps burn with this bodyweight triceps exercise!
Even though the close grip bench press is full of benefits and is a real diamond in the rough, we understand it may not work for everyone. For example, if you hit the gym ready to do your chest workout on International Chest Day, there may not be a bench in sight (sort of kidding here, but you get the idea).
Few moves will come close to the strength the close grip bench builds, but these alternatives can fill in as a replacement triceps exercise and help with pressing mechanics. Whether you're in the mood for a push up variation or tricep extensions, we're certain there's an exercise here you'll enjoy.
Hopefully, you read this article and are now inspired to put the close grip bench press in your upper body workouts routine ASAP. You should have a strong understanding of the benefits of the close grip bench press, including building the triceps, improving your bench press, optimizing your lockout, and building strength to block someone on the football field.
Even if the barbell isn’t your thing, you’ve got some alternatives to check out. Now go build those triceps!
Barnett, Chris, et al. “Effects of Variations of the Bench Press Exercise on the EMG Activity of Five Shoulder Muscles.” Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research, vol. 9, no. 4, Nov. 1995, pp. 222–227, www.biomekhane.com.br/wp-content/uploads/Barnett-1995-Effects-of-variations-of-the-bench-press-exercise-on-the-EMG.pdf, 10.1519/00124278-199511000-00003.
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September 21, 2023
September 21, 2023
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