For anyone who’s an avid gym goer, you know the bench press is a staple part of any upper body routine. It works the pectoralis muscles and the triceps, helping to build a bigger and stronger chest while protecting the shoulders from excessive stress.
Like most other exercises, there’s no one way to do it. The close-grip bench press is one of the most popular variations on the traditional bench press that can help to enhance your performance in lifts like the conventional bench press, snatch, jerk, handstand push-ups, and more.
In this article, we’ll go through everything you need to know about the close-grip bench press—what it is, its benefits, the muscles worked, and how to perfect your technique.
What Is A Close-Grip Bench Press?
A close grip bench press is any form of bench press where the hands are positioned closer than you would in a regular bench press.
Is there an exact definition of a close-grip bench press? No, but shift your hands inwards on the bar, and you’re now in a “close-grip” position.
Compared to the traditional bench press grip that’s outside of shoulder range and considered the “strongest position,” the close grip takes the emphasis away from the chest and deltoids 1.
The close-grip variation may challenge for beginners who haven’t established proper positioning for a bench press. But generally speaking, the recommendation for a close grip press is to have your hands positioned shoulder-width apart on the bar. Need more of an objective measurement? Move your hands five finger widths in from the standard bench grip.
The trick with positioning your hands for a close-grip bench press is to test out the lift. The purpose of this lift is to transfer more of the work to the triceps and away from the delts and chest, so if you can feel your triceps engage, the grip is probably good. If not, adjust your hands and try again.
Don’t be alarmed if you can’t push the same weight on a close-grip bench press as you can on a traditional bench 1—you’re using substantially smaller muscles, so it’s completely normal.
But it is a great complementary exercise to the conventional bench press to target and strengthen the triceps. And for people with shoulder issues, it may as a suitable substitute for regular bench presses.
The Benefits Of A Close-Grip Bench Press
1. Increases tricep mass and strength
The close-grip bench press is a fantastic exercise for building mass in the triceps. Like the conventional bench press, military press, and push press, the close-grip bench press highlights the pressing strength and performance of the chest muscles and triceps.
Studies show that a narrower grip increases the activity of the triceps brachii compared to a traditional bench press 2. Specifically, it can lead to changes in the mechanics (power, force, and velocity) of this exercise 3, 4.
2. Improves elbow extension and lockout
During strength and power sports, the elbows are subject to high stress. Overhead movements, gymnastics, and any sort of pressing exercises all require strength and stability in the triceps and elbows, and the close-grip bench press is an effective way to increase the tensile strength and performance of the triceps.
Many people don’t focus on improving their extension and lockout performance, but in doing so, you can remove some of the stress on the tendons and ligaments surrounding the elbow joint, thereby mitigating the risk of injury and increasing joint health.
3. Reduces shoulder stress
Any pressing movements can be hard on the shoulders, and for anyone who struggles with mobility restrictions or pain, it can be hard to find alternatives.
Because the close-grip bench press reduces stress on the shoulders, it can benefit those with shoulder injuries, impingements, or anyone looking to limit shoulder joint stress.
Essentially, it’s great for developing strength and power in the triceps and chest and improving lockout performance while minimizing strain on the shoulder joint.
But while there are several benefits of using a close-grip bench press, it’s important to note that the narrow grip of the press increases the total range of motion of the lift, which can limit your total strength output.
Because the distance to your chest is greater with a close grip, it increases time under tension, which can reduce the amount of weight you can move. That’s why it’s typically not a primary exercise but used as an accessory lift to supplement the regular bench press.
What Muscles Does A Close-Grip Bench Press Work?
With all that said, what muscles are you working in a close-grip bench press? Generally speaking, the wider your grip on a bar, the less involvement of the triceps in the press. While individual differences may be seen in a narrow grip press, the two primary muscles worked are the following:
Secondary muscles that are activated include the chest muscles and the front deltoid, although the regular grip bench press activates these to a greater extent.
How To Perform The Perfect Close-Grip Bench Press
1. Establish a strong base
Like other bench presses, you want to ensure the following:
- Your feet are firmly planted on the floor
- Your glutes are contacted
- Your upper back and shoulders are gripping the bench
Be sure to keep the shoulder blades retracted during your setup. Do not allow the shoulders to move upwards and off the bench.
2. Grab the barbell and descend
With the hands positioned inside shoulder width, grab the barbell and have it resting in the middle of your palm. Ensure the back is flexed with the chest up due to thoracic extension. As you lower the bar, you want to focus on guiding the elbows towards the body to place most of the load on the triceps.
The bar should make contact with the lower chest/sternum at the bottom of the movement. And always focus on lowering the bar with control, not losing tension in the back or letting the elbows flare out.
3. Elbows in and press
Once you’ve reached the bottom of the movement, exhale as you forcefully press the bar off your body using the recipes and chest muscles.
The legs, glutes, and back muscles should all be engaged for stability. Keep your elbows tucked into the body as your press up, maintaining tension in the chest and triceps.
12 Tips To Perfect Your Form
What can you do to perfect your close-grip bench press and build maximum tricep strength? Follow these tips!
- Always focus on technique first—it won’t matter how much weight you push if you get injured.
- Ensure the bar stays aligned with your wrist and elbow, and keep it in a straight line throughout the entire movement; position the bar low on the palm and allow the thumb to wrap around it.
- To keep tension on the triceps and chest, stop each repetition just short of lockout at the top.
- If you experience shoulder pain with a closer grip, alter your grip width and elbow tuck to allow more space within the shoulder capsule.
- Arching may be recommended for some people, but ensure most of the arm comes from your mid and upper back, now the lower back, as it can increase the risk of injury.
- The bar should touch your chest at the bottom of every repetition.
- Aim to touch the base of your sternum when the bar is lowered.
- Beginners should grip with the thumb wrapped around the bar; intermediate and advanced lifters might opt for the thumbless or “suicide” grip.
- Do not allow your wrists to roll back into extension—keep your knuckles facing the ceiling.
- Keep the shoulder blades retracted for the duration of the movement.
- Practice control throughout the entire movement—do not let the bar bounce or use excessive momentum.
- Keep the feet planted and still throughout the lift, and use leg drive by pushing your feet into the floor and squeezing your glutes to stabilize the pelvis.
- Lockie RG, Callaghan SJ, Orjalo AJ, Moreno MR. Loading Range for the Development of Peak Power in the Close-Grip Bench Press versus the Traditional Bench Press. Sports (Basel). 2018;6(3):97.
- Lehman GJ. The influence of grip width and forearm pronation/supination on upper-body myoelectric activity during the flat bench press. J Strength Cond Res. 2005;19(3):587-591.
- Lockie RG, Callaghan SJ, Moreno MR, et al. An Investigation of the Mechanics and Sticking Region of a One-Repetition Maximum Close-Grip Bench Press versus the Traditional Bench Press. Sports (Basel). 2017;5(3):46.
- Lockie RG, Callaghan SJ, Moreno MR, et al. Relationships between Mechanical Variables in the Traditional and Close-Grip Bench Press. J Hum Kinet. 2017;60:19-28.