The Benefits of the Close-Grip Bench Press
Close-grip bench presses are a popular movement for overloading and strengthening the triceps (1). The objective is to have your hands close while gripping the barbell. In contrast, a wide-grip bench press forces you to keep your hands far from one another, leading to better chest activation.
The most notable benefit of the close-grip press is that you overload and strengthen your triceps, leading to more growth and improved lockout strength. Another advantage of the movement is that it teaches you to press without flaring your elbows. The skill comes in handy when using a wider grip to target your chest because it protects your shoulders and improves your pressing strength.
We recommend including the close-grip press early in your training, possibly first or second. Start with less weight than you use on a traditional bench press, do each repetition with a full range of motion, and perform at least eight reps per set.
Level of Exercise: Beginner/Intermediate
How to do a Close-Grip Bench Press
- Set the barbell at a height where you can reach it from a lying position without extending your elbows fully.
- Lie on the bench and position your head directly underneath the bar.
- Reach up and grab the bar with an even, overhand grip. Your hands should be shoulder-width apart. Envelop the barbell with your thumbs for extra security.
- Bring your shoulder blades back and draw your feet back and toward the bench, digging the balls of your feet into the floor.
- Engage your body, take a breath, and unrack the bar by extending your elbows.
- Bring the barbell over your chest and take another breath.
- Lower the barbell to your upper stomach, tap it, and press the bar up, bringing it over your chest again. Exhale near the top.
- Once finished, bring the barbell over the rack slowly and rest it gently.
What muscles does the close-grip bench press activate?
Our triceps are the primary muscle group involved in the close-grip bench press (1). The muscle covers the rear of our upper arms, and its primary function is elbow extension (straightening of the arm), which occurs as we press the barbell from the bottom (2). As briefly mentioned above, a closer grip on the bar puts the triceps at a mechanical advantage, forcing the muscle to produce most of the force necessary to move the weight.
The pectoralis major (chest) is the second muscle group with an active role during the close-grip press (1, 3). Our pecs cover the upper front half of the torso and assist the triceps with pressing the weight from the bottom. The muscle group also works as we lower the barbell, controlling it on the way down.
Our shoulders (deltoids) also contribute to the bench press (4). The muscle’s primary function is to stabilize the shoulder joint, and the anterior deltoid head assists the chest and triceps with pressing the weight.
Aside from the above muscles, our midsection and upper back contribute during the bench press. The back keeps our shoulder blades retracted, and the core promotes stability.
Tips on the Close-Grip Bench Press with a Barbell
The first consideration for effective close-grip pressing is to have your hands shoulder-width apart. Trainees often bring their hands closer, but doing so only increases the risk of wrist discomfort. In contrast, a shoulder-width grip puts your triceps at a mechanical advantage while keeping your joints in a safe position.
Our second tip for the close-grip press is to start with a lighter weight and perform each rep through a full range of motion. Doing so is beneficial for engaging your triceps well on every repetition.
The third thing to keep in mind for the movement is to retract your shoulder blades and dig them into the bench before unracking the barbell. That way, you can create a solid base to press from and keep your shoulders in a safe position.
Our final suggestion for the exercise is to lower the bar to your upper stomach. Doing so is beneficial for keeping your wrists and elbows aligned while also reducing the risk of elbow flare.
Variations and Modifications of the Close-Grip Bench Press with a Barbell
1. Close-Grip Pause Press
The close-grip pause press is a neat variation that develops strength from the bottom position. Instead of lowering the bar and pressing it up immediately, you must bring it to your upper stomach, pause for one to three seconds, and press.
2. Incline Close-Grip Bench Press
Incline close-grip presses are another neat variation of the classic movement. The objective is to perform the exercise at an incline of 30 to 45 degrees. Doing so could be beneficial for people who struggle to engage their triceps on the flat press because their pectorals take over.
Mistakes to Avoid
Going to Narrow
The most common error with the close-grip bench press is bringing your hands too close. Doing so puts your wrists in a compromised position, increasing the risk of discomfort and an injury. Instead, you should have your hands shoulder-width apart.
Going to Heavy
The second common mistake with the movement is attempting to lift too much weight. Often, trainees lift the same load as they do for the classic bench press and must shorten their range of motion to compensate. We recommend starting with 50 to 60 percent of your bench press working weight and focusing on proper technique.
Touching the Bar to High
The third mistake to watch out for is touching the bar too high on your torso. Doing so means that you’re flaring your elbows and shrugging your shoulders, which puts you in a weaker position. Instead, you should allow the bar to travel to your upper stomach, allowing you to keep your scapula depressed (down) and your elbows to your sides.
Similar Exercises to the Close-Grip Bench Press
Similar to the close-grip bench press, chest dips are an effective compound exercise that strengthens your pectorals, deltoids, and triceps. But, instead of performing the movement while lying on a bench, you leverage your body weight on a pair of parallel bars to repeatedly lower and raise yourself.
Diamond Push Up
Diamond push ups are a fantastic bodyweight exercise that emphasizes the triceps (5). Like a close-grip press, assuming a narrower stance puts your pecs at a mechanical disadvantage, forcing your triceps to work extra hard.