The bench press is an excellent move for developing size and strength in the chest. The pectoral muscles are the main agonist of the movement and are supplemented by the front deltoids (shoulders) and the triceps (backs of the arms). Changing the way that you hold the bar will focus more specifically on each of these different muscles. A wider grip places more emphasis on the outer chest and shoulders while the close, sometimes called narrow, grip is great for making the inner chest and triceps work harder.
Wide grip bench press places the hands much further than shoulder width apart, almost at the end of the bar. The issue with wide grip bench pressing is that it places a large amount of stress on the shoulder joint which is a common placement for injuries. Close grip bench pressing on the other hand places the hands about shoulder width apart and so therefore does not place as much strain on the shoulder joint.
Close Grip Bench Press and Triceps
The triceps muscle or triceps brachii are made up of three heads and are primarily responsible for extended the arm at the elbow joint. Any exercise that calls for the arm to be straightened against resistance will be strengthening this muscle. The close grip bench press is excellent for building mass as it hits each head of the tricep allowing you to really work your arms, and also really concentrating on the heads of the tricep.
You may already have some experience with this movement as it is very similar to diamond push/ press ups. With diamond push ups you place your hands on the floor and use your index fingers and thumbs to create a triangular diamond shape, hence the name. This variation on the humble push up also allows for more tricep stimulation and makes the movement much harder.
The Right Technique for Close Grip Bench Press
Ideally you want your hands to be 8-10 inches apart from one another. A lot of people seem to think that the closer their hands are together then the better the exercise is. However, any closer and you could damage your wrists and elbows. Closer than 8-10 inches has not been shown to be any more beneficial so it is best to stick to those measurements. If you do want to get closer, the absolute limit is the point when the tips of your thumbs, when extended, touch each other. As long as you keep your elbows tucked in to your sides then you will be targeting your triceps very well.
You still must make sure that the bar touches your body as this is full range of motion. A lot of people when they are pressing tend to bring the bar 3-5 inches above their chest and before making the return journey upwards. This means that you are not getting the full benefits of the exercise.
In contrast many lifters actually ‘bounce’ the weight off of their chest. While this allows for you to lift more weight, you are simply using the momentum of the rebound to help you with the lift opposed to your muscles. Keep the bar controlled and just let it kiss your pecs before you raise it up again.
The proper way to execute the close grip bench press is to bring the weight to just under your chest to where your rib cage separates out. Your arms should be at 90 degrees or just smaller than a right angle to allow you to then contract your triceps fully at the top of the movement. Make sure to not let your wrists bend backwards towards your head as this will increase your risk of injury and also allow the bar to easily roll out of your grip.
The Advantages of Close Grip Bench Press
The advantage of the close grip bench press is that it allows you to still work your chest, shoulders and triceps at the same time yet it allows for you to increase the load placed upon the arms. This means that if your arms are your weakness in the movement then you can strengthen them up while still training the press. As more of lift will be using the triceps, which are a weaker muscle to the chest, expect to be able to do less weight.
This can be a benefit in itself if you don’t have access to heavy weights or hi-tech equipment that can isolate the triceps. It also means that you do not have to spend as much time in the gym doing all manors of exercises to properly hit each muscle. Combined with a good high protein diet, this makes it perfect for someone who wants to build a great body without spending their life in the gym.
You will be able to tell whether your arms are the weakness or not depending on which part of the lift you struggle with most. If you find it easy to get the bar off of your chest but finishing the movement is hard, then your arms will most likely be the cause of this weakness. Yet, if your find finishing the movement is easy but the initial lift is quite taxing then your chest will be the issue.
As is the main thing with a lot of different lifts, the key comes down to testing it out for yourself to see what works. You may find that you prefer the close grip bench press much more than the regular bench press or that it builds your triceps up much more than skull crushers or dumbbell kickbacks. Try it out for a month and apply what works, such as the gap between your hands. Over time you’ll become more accustomed to the movement and progress at a faster rate.
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