Can’t Feel Triceps In Close Grip Bench? Try These 5 Tips

5 tips to feel the triceps more in a close grip bench

The close grip bench press is a bench press variation that targets the triceps more than a traditional bench press, but oftentimes lifters struggle to feel their triceps working throughout the movement. 

So here are my 5 tips to feel the triceps more in a close grip bench:

  • Opt For A Shoulder-Width Grip On The Bar
  • Avoid Flaring The Elbows
  • Keep The Elbow In-Line With The Bar Or Slightly In-Front
  • Increase The Amount Of Time Under Tension
  • Isolate The Lockout Portion Of The Movement

To feel the triceps in the close grip bench press, we need to understand how the triceps are involved in the movement so that we can use this to our advantage to tailor our technique.

In this article, I’ll discuss the role of the triceps in the close grip bench, provide tips to feel them more, and present other bench press alternatives that emphasize the triceps.

If you want a complete guide to the close grip bench press, check out: 8 Close Grip Bench Press Benefits (Plus, 1 Drawback).

Role Of The Triceps In The Close Grip Bench Press

The triceps (lateral head and medial head) are primarily responsible for elbow extension which is an important aspect of the bench press because it is the motion responsible for the final two-thirds of the lift.

Once the chest and shoulders have elevated the barbell to the middle of the bench press, the triceps take over and are responsible for extending the elbows to the final locked out position.

With the close grip bench press, we engage the triceps sooner in the lift because the narrower grip challenges the triceps more due to the higher amount of elbow flexion when the bar is on our chest compared to a wider grip. Therefore our triceps have to work harder to extend the elbows from this position. 

In addition, with a close grip bench we get less assistance from the chest compared to a traditional bench press.

To learn more about the muscles involved in the bench press, check out our article for the Complete Guide On Muscles Used In The Bench Press.

How To Feel The Triceps With The Close Grip Bench Press

how to feel the triceps with the close grip bench press

If you still can’t feel your triceps by narrowing your grip on the bench press, then try the following tips: 

1. Opt For A Shoulder-Width Grip On The Bar

To feel the triceps more in the close grip bench we need to ensure we grip the bar with a shoulder-width grip.  If our grip is too wide or too narrow then we will not be in the optimal positions to feel the triceps.

The optimal grip for most lifters to feel their triceps in the close grip bench press is a shoulder-width grip because it is a happy medium between a grip that is too narrow and causes unnecessary strain on the wrists while emphasizing the anterior deltoids, and a grip that is too wide which puts more emphasis on the chest.

The shoulder-width grip is the best grip width for us to target the triceps effectively while also decreasing the risk of injury for the shoulders and wrists.

To learn more about what position the wrists should be in while bench pressing, check out the 5 Rules To Follow For A Safer Wrist Position In The Bench Press.

2. Avoid Flaring The Elbows

To achieve the optimal positions to feel the triceps in the close grip bench press we should avoid flaring the elbows, as this actually shifts the emphasis from the triceps onto the shoulders and chest.

When we start to struggle in the bench press it is common for the elbows to flare to try and shift the load to larger muscles (chest, shoulders); however, if we want to keep the focus on the triceps, then we need to stop the elbows from flaring.

To feel the triceps as much as possible without placing too much strain on the shoulders, elbows, and wrists – we need to tuck the elbows towards the body without being so aggressive that the elbows are touching the body and positioned inside the wrists.

For the best success we should keep the elbows from flaring throughout the whole movement, while also avoiding an aggressive tuck towards the body that could cause strain.

To understand more about what position the elbows should be in while bench pressing, check out our article Should The Elbows Be In Or Out For Bench Press?

3. Keep The Elbow In-Line With The Bar Or Slightly In-Front

One of the best ways to feel the triceps in the close grip bench press is to ensure the elbows are in-line or slightly in front of the barbell when the bar is on the chest.

By keeping the elbows in-line or slightly in-front of the bar we can use the triceps more effectively to extend the elbows. Having the elbows in this position gives us the most mechanical advantage to press the barbell up and slightly back to a locked position, while also keeping our shoulders and wrists in the safest position by keeping the wrist and elbows stacked.

One of the most common mistakes that people make is having the elbows too far behind the bar, or too far ahead of the barm which shifts the emphasis from the triceps to other upper body musculature and also puts unnecessary strain on these tissues over time.

4. Increase The Amount Of Time Under Tension

To feel the triceps more in the close grip bench press it is beneficial to add more time under tension by slowing down the movement, which can be accomplished by adding a tempo or a pause to each repetition.

We can increase the amount of activity in the triceps by slowing down the movements and increasing the amount of time that the triceps are under tension. Because the triceps are more active during the lockout portion of the lift, it is most effective to include a tempo or a pause in the upper two-thirds of the movement.

We can increase the amount of time under tension by adding a 2 to 3 second pause halfway off the chest, or we could add a 3 to 4 second tempoed ascent.

5. Isolate The Lockout Portion Of The Movement

To target the triceps during the lift we can isolate the lockout portion of the movement by restricting the range of motion, which will put all the emphasis on the triceps to complete the movement.

The most common method of isolating the lock-out portion of the bench press is by using boards.  

When we limit the range of motion to the top end of the close grip bench press, we can emphasize the triceps as they are responsible for the lockout portion of the lift. 

Another added benefit in doing so, is that we can typically load the triceps more aggressively, as we are generally able to lift more weight when there is less range of motion.

Still struggling with the lockout portion of the bench press? Check out these 9 Proven Ways To Strengthen Your Bench Press Lockout.

Bench Press Alternatives For Increased Tricep Engagement

I’ve mentioned previously that we can feel the triceps more in the close grip bench press by slowing down the movement and having more time under tension, as well as limiting the range of motion of the lift.

We can implement these tips by adding in other bench press variations, which will help us to develop our triceps further and feel them more in the close grip bench press.

Banded Bench Press

the banded bench press use a band to increase the amount of tension that occurs as we get closer to the lockout

The banded bench press is a bench press variation that involves using a band to increase the amount of tension that occurs as we get closer to the lockout. 

This variation can be performed as a close grip variation, or our regular bench grip – both will target the triceps, but the close grip will emphasize them more so while the regular grip can typically handle more weight.

How-To:

  • Set the pins of a rack at a height where it is possible to comfortably unrack the bar while laying down on the bench
  • Wrap the band around one side of the barbell (inside the collar), under the bench, and onto the other side of the barbell (inside the collar)
  • Lay down onto the bench and line up underneath the bar so that the eyes are even with the bar. The feet should be in full contact with the ground and generating tension into the legs
  • Grip the bar with the hands at shoulder width or slightly wider (if using regular grip) and use the bar to set the shoulder blades in a retracted and slightly depressed position (which helps create a stable base to press from and protects the shoulders)
  • Unrack the bar by straightening the arms and pulling the bar out from the pins while maintaining scapular positioning
  • Unlock the arms and bring the bar down to the chest, ensuring that the elbows are not flaring outwards, and are stacked directly under the wrist.
  • As the bar touches the chest, keep tension in the legs and arms and press the bar off the chest
  • Press the bar up and slightly back towards the rack to return to the starting position

The banded bench press helps to target the triceps more than a regular bench press because as the band stretches out it increases the amount of tension that it applies to the portion of the lift with the most tension will be the lockout.

Therefore, the triceps will have to work harder to extend the elbow as we approach the lockout position because they are primarily responsible for this portion of the movement.

Swiss Bar Bench Press

the swiss bar bench press is a bench press that utilizes the swiss bar

The swiss bar bench press is a bench press that utilizes the swiss bar or “football bar”, which changes our grip from a pronated grip to a neutral grip while benching. The neutral grip will help us to recruit the triceps because of the narrower grip and the tucked elbow position that we will be in throughout the movement.

How-To:

  • Set the pins of a rack at a height where it is possible to comfortably unrack the bar while laying down on the bench
  • Lay down onto the bench and line up underneath the bar so that the eyes are even with the bar. The feet should be in full contact with the ground and generating tension into the legs
  • Grip the bar with the hands at shoulder width (typically the 2nd narrowest handles) and use the bar to set the shoulder blades in a retracted and slightly depressed position (which helps create a stable base to press from and protects the shoulders)
  • Unrack the bar by straightening the arms and pulling the bar out from the pins while maintaining scapular positioning
  • Unlock the arms and bring the bar down to the chest so that the bar is completely flat
  • Ensure that the elbows are not flaring outwards, and are stacked directly under the wrist
  • Maintain tension throughout the upper body and legs when the bar comes to the chest
  • Press the bar up straight up (rather than up and back) to lockout the arms and prepare for the next repetition

The swiss bar bench press is a great bench press variation to prioritize the triceps because of the naturally tucked position that will occur with the neutral grip of the swiss bar.

The tucked position will help to load the triceps to extend the elbows while minimizing the amount of flaring that occurs.

Want to learn about different types of bench press grips? Check out my article on the 6 Different Types of Bench Press Grips.

The 3 Board Press

the board press focuses on targeting the portion of the bench press where the bar is off the chest

The board press is a bench press alternative that focuses on targeting the portion of the bench press where the bar is off the chest. The exact portion of the movement that we target will depend on the thickness of the board that we use. In this situation we would want a 2 to 3 board thickness because the triceps are a primary target.

How-To:

  • Set up the pins of a rack at a height where it is possible to easily unrack the bar while laying on the bench
  • The board can be placed under a shirt to hold it in place, or have someone else hold it in place on the chest
  • Lay down onto the bench and line up underneath the bar so that the eyes are even with the bar. The feet should be in full contact with the ground and generating tension into the legs
  • Grip the bar with the hands at shoulder width (typically the 2nd narrowest handles) and use the bar to set the shoulder blades in a retracted and slightly depressed position
  • Unrack the bar by straightening the arms and pulling the bar out from the pins while maintaining scapular positioning
  • Bring the bar down to the board with control and the elbows stacked directly under the wrist.
  • Focus on maintaining tension as the bar touches the board to avoid letting the chest collapse
  • Press the bar up and slightly back towards the rack, without letting the elbows flare outwards, to return to the starting position

The board press is a fantastic variation to feel the triceps working because we are limiting the range of motion in a way that allows the triceps to be overloaded.

The limited range of motion makes it possible to lift heavier weights than we typically would with a traditional bench press, and because it is the triceps that are primarily responsible for this portion of the movement – we can load them more aggressively to build strength and/or muscle mass.

Floor Press

the floor press involves laying down on the floor and performing a bench press

The floor press is a bench press variation that involves laying down on the floor and performing a bench press, which limits the range of motion of the lift as the triceps will touch the ground and will stop the bar at mid-range and prevent us from bringing the bar down to our chest. The floor press is typically done with lighter weights than the traditional bench or board press.

How-To:

  • Set up the pins of a rack at a height where it is possible to comfortably unrack the bar while laying on the floor
  • Lay on the floor with knees bent underneath the bar with the eyes lined up to the barbell 
  • Grip the bar with hands at shoulder-width and set the shoulder blades in a retracted and slightly depressed position to create a stable base to press from
  • Unrack the bar by straightening the arms and pulling the bar out from the pins while maintaining scapular positioning
  • Unlock the elbows to begin the movement, and keep them stacked directly under the wrist as the bar descends.
  • Control the bar down until the triceps make light contact the ground
  • Keep tension throughout the upper body and push the bar up and slightly back to the starting position without letting the elbows flare outwards

The floor press is a great bench press variation for emphasizing the triceps because of the limited range of motion which involves stopping the bar in the mid-range, where the triceps are more active to extend the elbows.

To get the most out of this variation we need to ensure we maintain tension and push the bar back up, rather than bouncing our triceps off the floor in the bottom position to assist in the ascent.

For other accessories that we can include in our program to strengthen the triceps for the bench press, check out our article for 16 Triceps Exercises To Increase Bench Press Strength.

Final Thoughts

To feel the triceps in the close grip bench we need to ensure that we have our wrists, shoulders, and elbows aligned correctly while we’re benching. In addition, it is important to understand how to increase time under tension, and how we can isolate the triceps with other bench press variations to develop the strength to use them effectively.

If you want to learn how to recruit your chest more in the bench press, then check out my article Can’t Feel Pecs While Bench Pressing? Try These 5 Tips.


About The Author

Amanda Parker

Amanda Parker has a passion for competing and coaching in both powerlifting and weightlifting. She uses her knowledge from her Kinesiology Degree, CSCS, and Precision Nutrition certification to coach athletes and lifestyle clients for performance in training and nutrition. Connect with her on Instagram.