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 strength and muscle builder. However, it does come with an important limitation that may be more significant to some lifters and not as important to 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 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.
Here's how to do a close grip bench press: Place 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 your standard bench press grip.
The trick is actually to test out the lift, and if you can feel your triceps engage, the grip is probably good. If not, adjust and try again.
The close grip bench press was included in my article on the Best Bench Press Variations. Check it out for more exercises to include in your bench press programming.
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.
Note: If you can't feel the triceps in the close grip bench press, then check out my article on 5 Tips To Feel Your Triceps In The Close Grip Bench Press.
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.
Check out our other training guides for training arms:
- Best Tricep Exercises To Increase Bench Press Strength.
- Best Tricep Pressdown Alternatives
- Best Lateral Head Tricep Exercises
- Can You Train Triceps 2 Days In A Row? (Pros & Cons)
- Best Close-Grip Bench Press Alternatives
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.
If you are going to use a narrow grip, your bench press wrist position is going to be different than normal. Check out my other article that explains this in more detail.
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 a 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 comfortably pressing, 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.
Note: The narrower you grip the barbell, the more angled your bar path is going to be, which means your touchpoint is going to be lower on the chest. Check out my complete guide on where you should touch the barbell on your chest.
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. recommended 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 would be basketball players who pass the ball off the chest to other players but also include netball, boxing, rugby, and American football athletes.
Therefore, beyond powerlifting, many athletes include bench presses for the purposes of upper body development. However, if you are not competing as a powerlifter, you may benefit from closer grip bench press work instead of the more widely accepted wide grip.
Read more about Exercises That Will Improve Your Bench Press Strength.
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 to strengthen their triceps and improve their lockout strength.
With that in mind, including close grip work and increasing the lift's range of motion 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 also beneficial for anyone training in a home gym where space or budget may not allow multiple equipment pieces. With a single bench press, you can kill two birds with one stone by working on different grip styles and training your strength and arms.
The close grip bench press is only one type of grip you can use on the bench press. Learn more about the Different Types Of Bench Press Grips.
Close Grip Bench Press Drawback
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 can 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 be still 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.
Take a look at my article on Is The Close Grip Bench Press Harder?
How To Setup A Close Grip Bench Press
The setup 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 on the bench and firmly plant your feet on the ground. Ensure you have all points of contact on the bench, including your glutes, upper back, shoulders, and 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, lift off 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 as you have programmed.
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.
The close grip bench press was named as one of my top dip alternatives (click to check out the other exercises that made the list).
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 the triceps and the upper chest need extra attention, switching to a 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.
Curious to know what grip you should take for overhead press? Read: What Is The Best Overhead Press Grip Width.
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 choose, ensuring that you are challenging yourself adequately and getting 1-3 reps shy of failure.
Many lifters ask whether they can train the bench press for their triceps. We answer that question in our article Is Bench Press Good Enough For Triceps?
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 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.
None of the recommendations mention doing heavy sets of 1-5 reps 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.
Check Out Our Other Bench Press Guides:
- 6 Decline Bench Press Benefits (Plus, 1 Drawback)
- Reverse Grip Bench Press: How-To, Benefits, Muscles Worked
- 3-Board Bench Press: Technique, Benefits, How To Program
- Reverse Band Bench Press: How-To, Benefits, Why Do It?
- Dead Bench Press: How To, Benefits, Muscles Worked
- Touch and Go Bench Press: Should You Pause or Not?
- The Slingshot for Bench Press (Complete Guide & Review)
- Cambered Bar Bench Press: Benefits, How-To, Technique
- Isometric Bench Press: How-To, Benefits, & Should You Do It?
- Negative Bench Press: What Is It, How-To, Benefits, Mistakes
The close grip bench press is a great exercise for building strong triceps and improving your bench press lockout. It can also help to reduce elbow flaring and stress on the shoulders. To do a close grip bench press, set up a bench press with the bar set at chest height. Place your hands shoulder-width apart, or even closer, on the bar. Lower the bar to your chest, keeping your elbows close to your sides. Press the bar back up to the starting position.
The close grip bench press is a good exercise for anyone who wants to build strong triceps and improve their bench press. It is also a good option for people with shoulder problems, as it can help reduce stress on the shoulders. However, it is important to note that the close grip bench press does not work the chest as much as the regular bench press. So, if you are looking to build a big chest, you should also include regular bench presses in your routine.
Here are some tips for doing the close grip bench press safely and effectively:
- Use a weight that is challenging but allows you to maintain good form.
- Keep your elbows close to your sides throughout the movement.
- Don't arch your back too much.
- Lower the bar slowly and controlled.
- Press the bar back up explosively.
- Focus on squeezing your triceps at the top of the movement.
If you are new to the close grip bench press, start with a light weight and gradually increase the weight as you get stronger. And always listen to your body and stop if you feel any pain.
About The Author
Elena Popadic has worked within the fitness industry for over 6 years, is co-host of the Squats and Thoughts podcast and trains and competes as a powerlifter. She has a BSc in Life Sciences from McMaster University, a Postgrad Certificate in Public Relations from Humber College and is currently pursuing a MSc Occupational Therapy at Western University. Connect with her on Instagram or LinkedIn.