Staying with this month’s bench pressing theme, it’s time to shine some light on another variation of the bench press: The close-grip bench press.
As you may have guessed, the close-grip bench press involves performing the press with your hands much closer together on the bar in a narrower grip.
Whereas the conventional bench press works your chest, shoulders, pecs and triceps, the close-grip bench press targets your triceps over any other muscle group. Your chest and shoulders are still involved, but your triceps will receive a majority of the focus.
If that sounds like what you’re looking for, here’s your quick guide to the close-grip bench press including what it is, whether it’s better, its benefits and how to perform it.
What is the close-grip bench press?
The close-grip bench press is a compound upper body lift that is primarily used as part of an assistance hypertrophy program.
That’s because the close-grip bench press specifically increases the strength of the triceps, improves lockout performance and minimises stress on the shoulders. These are all factors which make it great to aid performance in lifts such as the clean and jerk, the log press and the original bench press.
In a close-grip bench press the hands are placed much closer together than in a standard bench press. In general, the recommendation is that lifters should place their hands either exactly, or just shy of, shoulder width apart.
One recommended way to measure whether the hands are placed correctly is to count five finger widths inside of the grip a lifter would use for their standard bench press. Another way lifters can test whether their grip is correct is by beginning to perform the press (but not fully – if the setup is wrong a lifter could injure their wrists), and if they do not feel their triceps instantly engage, then to reset their grip accordingly.
Lifting but not cleaning and jerking? Think we’ve gone mad? Click here to find out what we’re going on about.
Is close-grip bench better/harder?
Common questions around the close-grip bench press debate both its difficulty level and its performance level.
In the close-grip bench press the grip a lifter uses to perform the press is significantly narrower than the grip used for a standard bench press or wide bench press. In both of those variations, a wider hand placement engages the shoulders and pecs to support the lift, and offers less restriction as there is more space for the elbows to move.
However in the close-grip bench press, those options have gone. Whilst the shoulders are engaged, the pecs take a backseat and the triceps take on a majority of the work. That means the grip is much more restrictive as the elbows must be tucked into the sides, ultimately making it more difficult when compared to other bench press variations, which offer more space to move.
Related reading: Hit a plateau with your bench press? Read how to smash through it here.
As to whether it’s better, that’s entirely dependent on why a lifter is choosing to perform the press. A narrower grip places maximum effort on the triceps which promotes maximum development in this muscle. So for tricep development, close grip is best.
There are some other notable benefits making close grip bench press a good choice for some people, which we‘ll discuss below.
What are the benefits of close grip bench press?
The close-grip bench press comes with notable benefits, some of which we’ve already touched on. The three most prominent benefits of using the close-grip bench press are however:
Strengthening the triceps
As you may have noticed, the close-grip bench press is the press to perform if you’re looking to strengthen or target your triceps.
All bench press variations engage the triceps, but the narrower grip of the close-grip variation results in more significant engagement when compared to other bench press variations. So if you are looking to increase your bench press resistance or just want to build additional mass in your arms, the close-grip bench press could be the perfect fit for your programme.
2. Improved elbow lockout performance
Lifters that struggle with locking out their elbows at the close of the bench press may benefit from performing the close-grip bench press within their programme.
In the bench press the lockout proportion relies heavily on elbow extension, and elbow extension is of course controlled by the triceps. As we’ve already seen, the close-grip bench press bestows additional strength onto the triceps which then improves elbow extension. Lifters who focus on the close-grip bench press may find that their elbow lockout then improves in other bench press variations, and that’s something particularly worth considering for powerlifters.
3. Minimise shoulder stress
In other bench press variations the shoulders are heavily engaged to support the press, but in the close-grip bench press with its much narrower grip, the shoulders are given a bit of respite.
That’s because the close-grip bench press does not require as much shoulder support to lift the weight because of its significant focus on the triceps.
That makes this particular benefit particularly attractive to powerlifters who are training the bench press for a competition. Switching variations would give their shoulders a necessary break, and build tricep strength at the same time.
Away from powerlifting, lifters who are struggling with any pain in the shoulder that is preventing them from performing other bench press variations may find it much more comfortable to change to a close-grip bench press.
Overall shoulder health and recovery is essential to anyone lifting, so switching to the close-grip now and again is advisable for any lifter in order to let the shoulders recover whilst not jeopardising bench pressing progress.
Close-grip bench press muscles worked
The close-grip bench press works these three particular muscle groups:
The front delts, or our anterior deltoids, are the fronts of the shoulders.
As we’ve seen, although the shoulders are not as heavily involved in the close-grip bench press as in other variations, the front delts are still relied upon for support as the weight is pushed overhead.
The close-grip bench press is considered a great option for working our upper chest, also known as the clavicular pectoralis.
Within the close-grip bench press the clavicular head of the pectoralis major (the part of our pecs closest to our collarbones and shoulders), was found to have increased activation levels when compared to other bench press variations.
If a lifter is looking for a chest exercise that can add some extra intensity to grow the muscle region and doesn’t want bodyweight or cable work, the close-grip bench press could be a winning solution.
In the close-grip bench press our lateral and medial triceps are placed under significant levels of activation, making it a fantastic exercise for those looking to increase muscle mass in their arms and improve their overall tricep strength.
How do you perform close-grip bench press?
As with any bench press, it is recommended for a spotter to be nearby for a lifter’s safety, particularly if this is the first time that they will be attempting the close-grip bench press. To perform the close-grip:
- Lie on a flat bench, with your feet flat on the floor. Establish a strong base by keeping the feet flat, the glutes engaged and the upper back pressed firmly into the bench. Keep the shoulder blades retracted so that the shoulders do not roll upwards off of the bench.
- Above you, grip the bar with your hands either exactly, or just shy of, shoulder width apart. It is not recommended that the hands are moved any closer than shoulder width apart, else a lifter could cause injury from an unstable set up on the wrists.
- Once your grip is established and firm, engage your core and squeeze your shoulder blades together in order to lift the bar from the rack.
- Now slowly bring the bar toward your chest keeping your elbows tight to your torso, ensuring that the triceps are taking on a majority of the weight. Allow the bar to make slight contact with the sternum.
- Once the bar has touched either the chest or the sternum, drive the bar off the torso by engaging the triceps and upper chest. The muscles of the legs, glutes and back should all be engaged so as to provide a stable base in which to push up from. Keep your elbows close to your torso as you press, ensuring that the tension remains in the triceps and chest.
- Once you are at the top of the press, lock your elbows. Hold, and then repeat the exercise for your desired number of repetitions.
The bench press is an exercise that comes with a number of different variations, all which have their own benefits depending on the programme that a lifter is following and the goals that they have set. In the close-grip bench press, we’ve seen how it’s a great addition for those looking to minimise shoulder strength, or just boost their resistance levels and muscle mass of their arms.
If you’re looking to use the bench press as part of a hypertrophy programme, or you just want to get strong, why not check out our strength classes or personal training options where Sally will use highly-targeted and technical personal training to help you achieve your strength goals.