The close grip bench press is a common variation of the bench press used by regular gym-goers, strength and general sport athletes. It is used for building strength and muscle in the upper body and is most commonly known to target the triceps; however, there are more reasons to try a close grip bench press.
What are the benefits of a close grip bench press?
- Builds Strong Triceps
- Improves Bench Press Lockout
- Reduce Elbow Flaring
- Reduces Stress on the Shoulders
- More Upper Chest Activation
- Carries Over to Sports
- Better for Lifters with Long Arms
- Time Efficient and Convenient
Although the wide grip bench press is a coveted lift by gym goers and competitive athletes alike, the close grip bench press is also a great builder of both strength and muscle. It does however come with an important limitation that may be more significant to some lifters and not as important for others.
In this article I will go through what a close grip bench press is and how to set it up, each of its benefits and its major drawback, who should be doing the close grip bench press and how to implement it into your programming based on your specific goals.
I wrote a similar article discussing the benefits of the decline bench press, which you should read after this to understand how different bench press variations can help you.
What Is Considered A Close Grip Bench Press?
A close grip bench press is often referred to as any bench press where the hands are placed closer together than what you would typically use to bench press.
However, this definition is somewhat arbitrary and beginners who don’t have a consistent bench press grip may have a difficult time determining where to actually place their hands on the bar.
The general recommendation is to have your hands exactly shoulder width, or slightly inside of shoulder width, apart. A more objective way of measuring this is about 5 finger widths inside of your standard bench press grip.
The trick is to actually test out the lift and if you are able to feel your triceps engage, the grip is probably good. If not, adjust and try again.
8 Close Grip Bench Press Benefits
1. Builds Strong triceps
The close grip bench press is most prominently known for its focus on the triceps and rightly so.
While all bench press variations do engage the triceps, the close grip variation elicits a more significant activation according to Kippers et. al. So, whether you care about your general bench press strength or want to focus on building mass in your arms, close grip bench press is the barbell variation for you.
This exercise is a great addition to your program even if you are only focused on tricep size since loads for the close grip bench press will be significantly heavier than any dumbbell or cable accessory movement for the triceps.
2. Improves Bench Press Lockout
If you struggle with locking out your elbows at the end of the bench press, you may benefit from adding close grip bench press into your program.
The lockout portion of the bench press is heavily reliant on elbow extension which is controlled by the triceps. Therefore, focusing on tricep strength would improve this portion of the lift which is particularly of interest to powerlifting athletes.
Want more tips for building lock out strength? Check out my in-depth article.
3. Reduce Elbow Flaring
If you notice your elbows flaring during the bench press you may benefit from adding close grip bench press into your weekly training in order to emphasize your triceps more and de-emphasize your shoulders.
Elbow flaring throughout the bench press occurs because your triceps are not being actively engaged and you have started to rely on your shoulders and pecs to lower and press the weight off of your chest. While this may not pose an issue immediately, this habit may cause discomfort or injury to the shoulders over time.
4. Reduces Stress on Shoulders
The close grip bench press, when compared to wider grip bench presses, does not recruit as much shoulder strength to move the weight.
While powerlifters may be drawn to specificity and want to train only the competition bench press, it would be advisable to switch it up with close grip just to give your shoulder joint a break.
Outside the scope of powerlifting, if you are struggling with any shoulder pain that prevents you from bench pressing comfortably, shifting to a close grip bench press may be a good solution.
This is also an important consideration for other sport athletes where shoulder health and recovery is important and who don’t wish to add any challenging horizontal pressing work for the shoulders.
5. More Upper Chest Activation
A lesser known benefit of the close grip bench press is a greater activation of the upper chest region, as determined by Barnett et. al in 1995.
The study looked at various types of press movements and found a significant increase in activation at the clavicular head of the pectoralis major which is the part of your pecs closest to your collarbone and shoulder.
Other upper chest exercises usually involve bodyweight and cable work, the close grip bench press is a good barbell exercise that can add some extra fatigue and intensity for those looking to grow the muscle region.
Check out my other article on alternatives to the bench press that will help activate the upper pecs.
6. Carries Over to Sports
Lockie et al. made recommendations for close grip bench press to be utilized by athletes who require explosive upper body force while keeping the elbows close to the body.
An example of this would be basketball players who pass the ball off the chest to other players, but also includes netball, boxing, rugby and American football athletes.
Therefore, beyond powerlifting, many sport athletes include bench press for the purposes of upper body development. However, if you are not competing as a powerlifter you may actually benefit from closer grip bench press work instead of the more widely accepted wide grip.
7. Better for Lifters with Long Arms
Lifters with proportionally longer arms have a longer path to lockout and therefore, would benefit from doing the close grip bench press in order to strengthen their triceps and improve their lockout strength.
With that in mind, including close grip work and increasing the range of motion of the lift is a way to exploit your weaknesses if you have longer limbs and make your wider grip bench press feel stronger.
The close grip bench press in this case shouldn’t replace the competition bench press but be used as an accessory or done on just certain day(s) of the training week.
I wrote an entire article on how to bench press with long arms, including some specific tips that you can start to implement right away.
8. Time Efficient and Convenient
One benefit to adding close grip bench work, particularly for powerlifters, is that you can easily transition from regular to close grip bench press without any extra set up or equipment.
If the time you spend in the gym is a concern, adding sets of close grip bench instead of other dumbbell accessories for the triceps and pecs can be more convenient and ultimately save you some time in the gym.
This is additionally beneficial for anyone training in a home gym where space or budget may not allow for multiple pieces of equipment. With a single bench press you can kill two birds with one stone by working on different grip styles and training both your strength and build your arms.
1 Drawback of Close Grip Bench Press
One drawback of the close grip bench press is that the narrow grip increases the total range of motion of the lift, limiting your total strength output.
A longer distance to your chest means a longer time under tension and overall just a weaker total performance with the amount of weight you are able to move.
Most lifters will find their close grip bench to be generally weaker than their competition grip or wide grip bench press. This is why in strength athletes it is often used as an accessory lift to supplement the development of the regular grip bench press.
The difference, although significant, is not drastic and you should expect to still be able to move 80-90% of your typical loads in training. With this in mind, close grip should not be the grip of choice for any competitive powerlifters and additionally should probably not be trained with the goal of maximum strength.
Who Should Do The Close Grip Bench Press?
The close grip bench press is a great choice for a multitude of people including both athletes and general fitness enthusiasts including:
Powerlifters and Strongmen
Powerlifting is the only sport in which the bench press is a competitive lift and therefore the close grip bench press is a way to build your arms and add variety while still promoting specificity. Powerlifters looking to improve lockout and build tricep strength should look to include close grip benching into their programming.
Strongman competitors also do a lot of pressing movements that require strong arms and chest strength which can be built through the close grip bench.
It’s also a good variation to add in if you are pressing high volumes or with high frequency throughout the week in order to preserve your long term shoulder health in these two sports.
Weightlifters and Crossfitters
Although weightlifters and crossfitters do not bench press competitively, elbow extension is an important strength they need to stay strong when doing the clean and jerk.
The close grip bench press can be used as an accessory that will better transfer to a jerk when compared to a wide grip bench press because of its focus on elbow extension and tricep strength. For crossfitters, it will transfer to not only the clean and jerk but also handstand and other pressing movements common to crossfit training.
Additionally, weightlifters and crossfitters rely on the health of their shoulders to compete well, so the added benefit of the close grip bench press is the reduced stress on the shoulders.
Interested in pursuing weightlifting? Check out my article on How To Switch From Powerlifting To Weightlifting.
While multiple bench press variations can be considered even among bodybuilders, if triceps and the upper chest are areas in need of extra attention switching to close grip may be the answer.
Bodybuilders should consider including close grip bench press because of the added stimulation to the triceps and the upper chest. It is a compound lift that can be included as a primary movement especially for those concerned with aesthetics over maximal strength, to be followed by additional tricep and chest isolation work.
Check out 13 differences between the powerlifting vs bodybuilding bench press.
Other sport athletes
Athletes who train in sports like basketball, boxing or football where passing, throwing, defending or punching is a key component to the sport should also consider adding in close grip bench press to their training.
These types of sport athletes would benefit because they require strength and power from a position where the elbows are kept close to the body or they need strong elbow extension.
General gym go-ers who are just concerned with overall fitness are welcome to choose between wide or close grip bench press depending on their goals. If the triceps or upper chest are an area of interest, or if they are struggling with locking out wider grip bench presses, a close grip will be a good option.
This is especially true for anyone in the general population with a history of shoulder injuries, surgery or anyone experiencing discomfort or pain with a wider bench press grip.
How To Set Up A Close Grip Bench Press
The set up for a close grip bench press is very similar to that of a regular bench press with slight adjustments to the placement of your hands.
To start, lay down on the bench and plant your feet firmly on the ground. Ensure you have all points of contact on the bench including: your glutes, your upper back, shoulders and your head.
Tip: Because your arms will be in a more narrow position, you will want to set up your bench rack height at least 1 level higher than you normally would for a wide grip bench press.
With arms straight above you, grab the barbell about 5 finger widths inside of your standard bench press grip. Your hand will likely land just outside or may even cross inside the start of the knurling depending on how broad your shoulders are.
With your shoulders retracted, unrack the weight. You will notice a tendency to allow a little more protraction with the close grip bench press than with a wide grip because of reduced lat engagement; however, you still want to ensure your upper body stays on the bench as firmly as possible and you should resist the urge to let your shoulders go loose.
Lower the bar to your chest, landing slightly lower on your chest than you normally would with a wider grip bench press. Also keep your elbows tucked close to your body and do not allow any flaring. Your forearms should be at a 90 degree angle relative to the floor throughout the movement.
Finally, press the bar up and away from your chest and repeat for as many reps you have programmed.
Close Grip Bench Press Programming Considerations
Those looking to build their triceps and upper chest should approach adding close grip bench press to their program differently than a powerlifter looking to add more bench volume to a week of competition bench pressing.
If building your muscles using the close grip bench press is your primary goal you can use it as a primary movement in your training before you add more isolation arm exercises.
For hypertrophy and building overall volume stick to 3-5 sets of about anywhere from 6-20 reps at about 55-70% of your 1 rep max.
The amount of reps you do will depend on the loads you are choosing, just ensuring that you are challenging yourself adequately and getting 1-3 reps shy of failure.
Strength or Skill Building
If your goal with the close grip bench press is to build a bigger bench press and you’re concerned with building strength in the triceps I would recommend making it a primary or secondary lift on at least one of your training days.
Especially for powerlifters, Instead of adding an additional day of bench pressing you can just swap out one day where you do your competition bench press, with the close grip variation instead.
In this case you will want to stick to a range of 3-4 sets with about 6-10 reps at about 60-70% of your 1 rep max.
You can also alternatively add a few sets of close grip as a secondary lift after your wider grip bench press sets. In this case you can opt for even higher rep and set schemes of 4-5 sets of 6-20 reps with lighter loads of about 55%-70% of your 1 rep max.
The reason none of the recommendations mention doing heavy sets of 1-5 reps is because with the close grip bench press the shoulder retraction isn’t as strong and the lift itself can be hard on the elbows so moving challenging weights may not be ideal.
Beyond just sets, reps and loads, there are some additional considerations you may want to think about when programming based on your goals.
If you are looking to increase tricep muscle growth, you may want to add a tempo with a longer lowering portion of the bench press in order to increase time under tension for the triceps.
Additionally, adding pauses at different points in the lift can also add an extra challenge and exploit any weaknesses off the chest or at the sticking point of the lift.
The close grip bench press, although limited in its ability to build maximal strength, can be used as both a main lift as well as an accessory lift depending on your goals.
Those looking to build up their upper body will appreciate the close grip bench press for its emphasis on the triceps and upper chest, while powerlifters and those concerned with strength will appreciate it for its ability to improve the lockout and elbow positioning.
In particular, the close grip bench press is a particularly important lift for anyone with shoulder concerns or athletes looking for more sport specific skill transfers and overall should not be ignored by those looking to improve their performance in the gym.