Picking a grip on the bench press is an important decision in order to maximize strength and performance. The grip you choose will impact the muscles used, the distance the barbell needs to travel from start to finish, and the bar path. You’ve probably seen many powerlifters use a wide grip for bench press and have wondered whether that’s something you should be doing as well.
A wide grip bench press is considered a grip that is 1.5-2X the width measured between your shoulders. The wide grip bench press allows you to maximally recruit the pec muscles, which are responsible for producing maximum force off the chest. In addition, a wide grip bench press reduces the range of motion of the movement, which decreases the amount of work required to press the barbell.
At first glance, these are all positive outcomes when using a wide grip bench press. However, there are many individual factors to consider to understand whether a wide grip bench press is well-suited for you. Let’s discuss further!
If you enjoy this article, you’ll probably also like our guide on the 10 BEST BENCH PRESS ACCESSORIES TO INCREASE STRENGTH AND TECHNIQUE.
What Does a Wide Grip bench Press Work? (Target Muscles)
In my guide to the muscles used in the bench press, I discussed that the pecs, shoulders, and triceps are all used in the bench press to varying degrees. The specific muscles recruited depend on three factors:
- The angle of the bench press: whether you’re benching on a flat, incline, or decline bench press.
- The range of motion the barbell is traveling: whether the barbell is traveling in the bottom,, mid, or top-end range of motion.
- The choice of grip: whether you’re gripping the bar in a narrow or wide grip.
On the last point related to the choice of grip, the wider you grip the bar the less triceps and more chest will be used. A wide grip bench is considered to be a grip where you grab the bar 2X the distance between your shoulders.
For example, if the distance between your shoulders is 40cm, and you grab the bar 80cm apart from index finger to index finger (2X the distance), then this would be considered a wide grip bench press.
An analysis conducted by Lehman (2005) on the muscles recruited in different styles of bench press showed that a wide grip bench press recruits the pec muscles twice as much as the triceps when compared with a shoulder-width (narrow) grip. This is because the wider you grip the barbell, the more your elbow will fall directly in line with the barbell throughout the range of motion (not in front). When the elbows tuck inward in front of the barbell, like on a narrow grip bench press, you’ll recruit less chest muscles (more triceps).
Now that we understand the mechanics and muscles used in a wide grip bench press, let’s discuss the reasons why people bench press in a wide grip.
Tempo can also impact the mechanics and muscles used on bench press, which I discussed in my article The Best Bench Press Tempo (How Fast Should You Bring The Bar Down).
Bench Press Grip Width: Why Do People Bench Press In a Wide Grip?
By taking a wider grip on the bench press you lift less range of motion, recruit the larger musculature of your chest, and can better set your shoulders in the start position, which increases stability throughout the entire movement. Additionally, powerlifters use this grip in combination with other technical principles to lift more weight (discussed more below).
You lift less range of motion
A wide grip bench press reduces the range of motion that the barbell needs to travel when compared with a narrow grip bench press. When you do less range of motion, you perform less overall work.
The amount of work is defined by multiplying the force with the distance it needs to be applied over. Therefore, if you need to move the barbell over long distances, then it is a disadvantage as it will require more energy to apply the same amount of force.
If you’re interested in learning more about how range of motion effects the bench press, check out our article 5 Tricks For Bench Pressing With Long Arms.
Play to your strengths (recruit your strongest muscles)
As we’ve discussed, using a wide grip on bench press will maximally recruit the muscle fibers of the pecs.
If you’re a lifter who has exceptionally strong pec muscles compared with your shoulders and triceps, then you’ll want to play to your strengths and pick a grip that helps you recruit these muscles to the fullest extent.
This is not to say that if your pec muscles are strong that you should ignore developing your shoulder and tricep muscles. However, for most people, the hardest part of the bench press range of motion is when the shoulders and elbows are at full flexion and the barbell is at the bottom-end range of motion. If you have strong pec muscles and can leverage your strengths to drive the barbell off your chest with speed, then a wide grip will put you in the best position possible to do so.
Check out my article on the 16 Best Tricep Exercises To Increase Strength On Bench Press
Put your shoulders in a more advantageous position
When you set your shoulder position for the bench press they should be retracted (pulled back) and depressed (pulled down). Here’s a decent video showing you what that looks like:
You should be able to hold this position as you unrack the barbell and bring the weight to your chest. If the scapula moves off the rib cage at any point, which will feel like the shoulder blades sliding apart or lifting upward (like a shrug), you’ll automatically lose stability in the shoulder while bench pressing.
This loss of position will transfer to a lack of strength, decreasing your ability to produce force as you drive the barbell off your chest, and may increase the chance of injury to the shoulder.
In a wide grip bench press, it’s easier to keep your shoulder blades retracted and depressed through the full range of motion. In a narrow grip, you might not notice any difference as you start the movement, but the closer the barbell gets to your chest, the more your shoulders will want to roll up and forward.
Combining a wide grip with other powerlifting technique principles is a winning combo
In the sport of powerlifting, using a wide grip bench press is the default position. In fact, it would be somewhat strange to see a world-class bench presser use a narrow grip. This is because powerlifters want to optimize for the least range of motion as possible when lifting a maximal weight.
As we already discussed, the wide grip bench press will reduce the range of motion; however, powerlifters try to reduce the range of motion even further by pushing their chest high up on the bench and using a special technique called the bench press arch.
When you combine the wide grip style bench press with other technical principles to reduce the range of motion, then the movement becomes a lot easier than it otherwise would, and powerlifters can lift more weight by doing so.
If you’re interested in learning about the bench press arch, how to implement it, and some of its benefits, read our in-depth guide HERE.
Switching From A Narrow Grip to Wide Grip Bench Press (3 Things to Consider)
If you’re convinced that you should start bench pressing in a wide grip, there are a few things you need to know before implementing it into your training.
1. Your touch point is going to differ
Depending on the length of your arms, the touch point will vary between your nipples and sternum.
However, if you’re used to benching in a narrow grip, and you now want to take your grip out wider, the bar path will change slightly, and you’ll find yourself touching higher on your chest (closer to your nipple line vs. sternum).
It’s important to recognize the difference in touch points because if you were to touch the same point on your chest as you were doing in a narrow grip (lower on your chest) it would be a significantly weaker position. The new touch point (higher on your chest) might feel awkward at first, but over time, it will begin to feel more natural.
2. Move your hands out one finger-length at a time
Since the wide grip bench press requires a significant amount of strength from your pec muscles, if you jump into a wide grip right away you might lack the strength necessary to handle the same loads you previously were doing.
I’ve seen lifters make this mistake and they become discouraged that the wide grip bench causes a decrease in training load. They try the wide grip for a couple of workouts and then go back to using the grip they were using before. The lack of initial strength on the wide grip bench is not necessarily because of the grip itself, it only happens when rushing into a grip where your muscles aren’t used to the additional load.
For example, if you were previously more of a ‘tricep-dominant’ bench presser using a narrow grip, and you start doing a wide grip bench press, then it’s to be expected that your chest needs some time to catch up to the level of strength required.
Therefore, here’s what I recommend when starting to widen your grip on bench press:
- Start by moving one finger-length wider per side
- Practice with this grip for 3-4 weeks
- If it feels comfortable and you’re still maintaining the same level of strength (or increasing), move your grip out another one finger length per side
- Continue to do this over several months until you’ve achieved a wide grip that’s somewhere around 2X shoulder-width distance
3. Must ensure mobility and shoulder health are in good shape before attempting
A wide grip bench press may place the shoulder in a vulnerable position if you lack shoulder mobility or previously had a rotator cuff injury or shoulder impingement.
For lifters lacking shoulder mobility or have a history of shoulder issues, Fees (2008) recommends bench pressing with a grip no wider than 1.5X shoulder-width distance.
It was rationalized that this 1.5X shoulder-width grip places the shoulder below a 45-degree abduction, and as such, decreases the shoulder torque on the rotator cuff and bicep tendon. It was also cited that this is simply a general recommendation and there are several lifters who fit in this category who very well could go wider and still be safe.
More than the grip itself, lifters who display a limited range of motion in the upper body or have shoulder issues, should modify the load, and then perform stretching techniques and rotator cuff stabilization exercises as they widen their grip.
Practical Recommendations: How Wide Should You Grip The Bench Press?
I stated above that a wide grip bench press is considered 2X the distance measured between your shoulders.
This is a common formula that many powerlifters use to determine their grip width, including 10X World Powerlifting Champion Jennifer Thompson as described in the video below.
However, there are some additional factors that should help determine your ideal grip, which might change whether or not you grip the bar 2X shoulder-width distance.
Powerlifters can’t go beyond 81cm
If you’re a competitive powerlifter, the powerlifting rules for bench press state that you cannot grip the bar greater than 81cm apart. The hashmark on the bar provides this distance for you, and so, at a maximum, your index finger on both hands must be covering the hashmark. While you can grip the bar narrower, you cannot go beyond this point.
Let’s say you have broad shoulders and measure the distance between them at 42cm. If you double this distance the grip-width would be 84cm, which falls outside of the 81cm hashmarks. This is a grip that you cannot use, and therefore, based on your body mechanics, you cannot double your shoulder-width distance to fit the 2X recommendation.
Grip width on bench press will depend on arm length
You need to consider your own arm length when determining your ideal grip width for bench press.
Someone with longer arms will want to naturally grip the bar wider than someone with shorter arms. This is why it’s important not to compare your grip width with another person’s, especially if they have a different arm length, which they undoubtedly will.
If you’re someone who has long arms based on the graphic above, but are benching with a shoulder-width grip, you would be a strong candidate to start widening your grip for bench press.
Use a general range of 1.5X – 2X shoulder-width distance
In the exercise science community, the broad recommendation for a wide grip bench press is 2X shoulder-width distance.
However, it’s clear that based on the powerlifting rules for bench press, and someone’s limb lengths/proportions that a fixed 2X shoulder-width grip is not practical in the real world.
This is why we should use more of a range between 1.5X – 2X shoulder-width distance to determine the optimal grip for bench press. There are many strong bench pressers who fall within this range, and you’d likely be able to maximize your bench press strength within this range as well.
One other aspect that we can’t ignore is someone’s personal preferences.
A lifter might commit to widening their grip out over several months, but after a long-term commitment, if they still don’t feel comfortable in this grip despite their best efforts, then they should not blindly keep a wide grip. A more moderate grip closer to the 1.5X shoulder-width distance might produce better results for them.
Is it Easier or Harder To Bench Press In a Wide Grip?
One other question I get about wide grip bench pressing is whether it’s easier or harder.
A wide grip bench press will only be harder if you don’t have strong pec muscles and shoulder stabilization. You can get stronger in a wide grip bench press if you move your grip out slowly over several months (one finger length at a time), work on increasing the size and strength of your pec muscles, and improve your shoulder stability.
The wider you grip the bar the more your chest muscles will be involved to produce force. Most powerlifters bench press in a wide grip that’s somewhere between 1.5-2X shoulder-width distance, but your exact grip should be based on your individual body mechanics and personal preferences.
Clemens JM, Aaron C (1997). Effect of grip width on the myoelectric activity of the prime movers in the bench press. Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research; 11(2): 82-87
Gilbert G, Lees A (2003). Maximum grip width regulations in powerlifting discriminate against larger athletes. Journal of Sport Sciences; 21(4): 299-300.
Green, C., Comfort, P. 2007. The affect of Grip Width on Bench Press Performance and Risk of Injury. Strength and Conditioning Journal, 29(5). DOI: 10.1519/00126548-200710000-00001
Lehman, G. The Influencer of Grip Width and Forearm Pronation/Supination on Upper-Body MyoElectric Activity During The Flat Bench Press. Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research. 2005;19(3):587-591) [Semantic Scholar]