The bench press is the king of exercises for guys who want a big chest.
But if all you do is bench in the good old regular way, you are missing out on some pretty awesome variations.
One of them and perhaps the best, is the close grip bench press. Let’s take a look at what makes it special:
- Benefit 1: Increased Tricep Activation
- Benefit 2: Improves Lockout Strength
- Benefit 3: Upper Chest Activation
- Benefit 4: Fixing Over-reliance On Pec Muscle During Regular Bench Press
- Benefit 5: Easy To Set Up
- How To Do The Close Grip Bench Press
- Wrap up
Benefit 1: Increased Tricep Activation
When you move your hands closer on the bar, more of the load goes to the triceps and less to the sternoclavicular portion of the pecs.
This is why the close grip bench is often used to strengthen the triceps, if they are proven to be a weakness in your pressing strength.
The easiest way to figure out whether that is the case with you or not is to look at your regular bench: if you were to do a max rep set, would you fail at the top, or at the bottom?
If you answered at the top, it likely points to a tricep issue (and if at the bottom, you should work more on your chest).
Benefit 2: Improves Lockout Strength
As mentioned in point two, many powerlifters and others who want to bench huge amounts of weight use the close grip to improve their tricep strength and as a consequence, their lockout.
If you find yourself failing at the top of the lift, incorporate this exercise to help you with the tricep strength and hypertrophy.
To see significant results, you should use it in your program at least for a few weeks with an increased focus on it. That can be done in conjunction with the regular bench press, or you can switch it out completely for a period of time.
Benefit 3: Upper Chest Activation
Barnett (1995) reports that the close grip bench press on the smith machine not only increased tricep activation, but also upper chest involvement. Of course, this does depend on the exact form you’re using.
The muscle group your focus on the most will be the one that will get worked the most. This goes back to the old bodybuilding mind-muscle connection adage, but it holds true.
By keeping close attention to which muscles are worked the most, you will find the correct versions for chest and triceps.
Also, you can feel like Arnold doing it and become one with the iron.
Benefit 4: Fixing Over-reliance On Pec Muscle During Regular Bench Press
Do your elbows flare out when you bench press?
That might be because your triceps aren’t strong enough to handle the weight and the body adjusts the form to use your chest more.
If so, you will probably have to use relatively light loads on this exercise to bring your weakness up.
That, combined with focusing on form before weight, will in time correct this technical error and ultimately allow you to bench more weight and get stronger.
Benefit 5: Easy To Set Up
This might not be a huge benefit if you go to a gym with full equipment and have ample time.
However, for people working out in a home gym or someone pressed for time, this can be a big benefit.
Think about it: you’ve just completed your regular bench press sets. Now, it is time for a movement that targets the triceps more. You could do dips, but you need a station for them and very likely, you will also need to weigh them, which takes time. You could do diamond push-ups, but they are awkward to load.
Or instead, you could just strip some plates from the bar and go right into close grip bench press. Easy, fast, simple, effective.
How To Do The Close Grip Bench Press
No matter the benefits, if you don’t do the exercise correctly, you won’t get any of them.
The technique for the close grip bench press is actually quite similar to the regular press. Most cues still apply: retract your shoulder blades to set up a stable base to press from, anchor your glutes on the bench, creating a slight arch in your back and drive with the legs.
To set up the correct width, raise your arms straight in front of you, then widen them slightly. If the angle between your upper arm and body is 45 degrees in the regular version, it should be 30 or a little less in the close grip variation. Lower slowly, touch between the nipples and sternum (where exactly will depend on your proportions) and explode up.
A common mistake is setting up with the hands too close. This puts unnecessary pressure on the wrist and elbow joints; it also limits the amount of weight you can use and ultimately, how strong you get from the exercise. To prevent this, always keep your elbow directly below your wrist.
How To Incorporate It Into Your Routine
As far as usage goes, you will have to decide what your goals are in choose the rep ranges appropriately.
If you want to use it for strength development, 3 sets of 3-5 repetitions will work well. If size is your goal, do more sets with more reps (anywhere from 8 to 15 reps for 5 or more sets): volume is the most important factor when it comes to building muscle. The more you can do, the more your body will have to adapt and grow.
While there are many exercises that one can choose from to build their triceps, this is the one that allows you to handle the most weight and therefore has the greatest strength development potential.
If you want to bench big weight or bring up your tricep size, strength and definition, the close grip bench press will be a part of your program at least from time to time, if not a mainstay.