The close-grip bench press is one of the best bench variations for improving tricep strength, and it’s often a variation that gets performed incorrectly. Typically, close-grip bench press form mistakes will be a bit more prevalent in beginners, however, even experienced athletes can use some fine-tuning from time-to-time.
When it comes to the close-grip bench press, there are typically three common pressing mistakes seen across the board and these include,
- Grip Width — Being too narrow.
- Bar Path — Assuming the same bar path as a traditional bench press.
- Elbow Tuck — Tucking the elbows too much.
In this article, we’re going to cover these three close-grip bench press mistakes, why they’re problematic, and discuss how to fix them. If the close-grip bench press is a tricep staple in your program, then it’s always a good idea to ensure you’re performing them properly to get the most out of the movement.
Close-Grip Bench Press Mistakes
1. Grip Width
What’s Wrong: Scroll through any generic close-grip bench press article and you’ll generally see photos of individuals gripping the barbell way too close. If the hands are touching or under roughly six inches from each other, then grip is more than likely too narrow. An example can be seen below.
Why It’s Problematic: Besides simply being uncomfortable, gripping the barbell too narrow can result in two issues. First, it’s going to internally rotate the shoulders, which puts them in a compromised position when trying to press, and this position can also add unwanted stress to the shoulder joints.
Second, there’s no mechanical advantage and carryover to working through this loaded movement pattern. When in sports or strength sports do you ever press something away from the body with a grip that narrow? Very rarely, if at all, so it makes no sense to spend time practicing this movement pattern in the gym.
The Fix: The simplest way to fix close-grip bench press grip width is to bring the hands above the shoulder joint when in a rack position with the barbell. For most lifters, this is typically the most comfortable position to ensure form is efficient and the width ranges between a 95-100% biacromial distance.
Biacromial width is the distance between the shoulder joints, so 95-100% would be pretty much in-line with the shoulders.
For additional context, a study published in 2018 in the Sports Journal compared loading ranges and peak power outputs between the traditional bench press and close-grip bench press. In this study, authors defined close-grip bench press width as being roughly 95% of a lifter’s biacromial distance (1).
Another 2017 study published in the Journal of Human Kinetics compared mechanical differences between the traditional bench press and close-grip bench press, and in this study, authors also defined close-grip bench press width as being 95-100% of a lifter’s biacromial distance (2).
2. Bar Path
What’s Wrong: A bar path that is hitting around the bottom of the sternum/pecs in a similar position to a normal bench press.
Why It’s Problematic: A closer grip on the barbell will result in a slightly different elbow position throughout the close-grip bench press. If the point of contact on the chest is kept similar to a traditional bench press, then the elbows will more than likely flare out to a higher degree.
Outside of not being an efficacious way to press, this can create unwanted additional stress on the wrists and shoulders, as the wrist joints will not be stacked on top over the elbow joints.
The Fix: Bring the bar path’s point of contact slightly lower on the body than your normal bench press. A great way to self-check your bar path is to watch the wrists and elbows. At the bottom of the press, the wrists should be stacked on top of the elbows — similar to your traditional bench press.
3. Exaggerated Elbow Tuck/Flare
What’s Wrong: Tucking the elbows to a degree where they are nearly touching the sides of the body, or flaring them out and displacing all of the weight into the shoulders is incorrect for the close-grip bench press.
Why It’s Problematic: The act of tucking the elbows is not the problem in this scenario, it’s over tucking them to a degree that creates friction with the elbows and the sides of the body. This is an inefficient way to press and can also take away from some of the work the close-grip bench press prime movers are doing by disengaging the upper back and shoulder’s set position.
On top of tucking the elbows too much, flaring them out is equally problematic. This will shift a majority of the weight into the shoulders, which can add unwanted stress to the joints. Similar to the traditional bench press, the elbows should not be flared to a high degree in the close-grip bench press.
The Fix: There are two easy ways to assess how much you should tuck the elbows in the close-grip bench press.
First, you can think about keeping the elbows at a 30 degree angle from the body. This is an easy way to always remember mechanics if you have great proprioception of the body.
Second, you can perform close-grip push-ups and take note of the elbows throughout the movement. Generally, this exercise will provide you with an accurate idea of where they should be during your press.
Check out the close-grip bench press guide below for more!
Establish Hand Placement
Assume a normal push-up position and place the hand narrower than your normal grip. A good rule of thumb is to go shoulder width or narrower and base hand placement on what’s most comfortable.
Coach’s Tip: Using a diamond push-up setup works fine, but often times, this grip can be uncomfortable.
Begin the Descent
Once you’ve established your grip and push-up position, begin the descent by gripping the floor and keeping the elbows tucked.
Remember that the goal is to target the pecs and triceps, so think about loading these areas the most during the eccentric.
Press Up and Squeeze
After you’ve hit the full eccentric, squeeze the pecs and triceps and press through the floor to return to your starting position.
Coach’s Tip: Remember to consistently grip the floor and be mindful of where you’re shifting force to!
The close-grip bench press is an awesome bench press variation for isolating and training to improve tricep strength, size, and pressing power. Similar to the bench press, the close-grip bench press’s form needs attentiveness and constant checking to ensure you’re obtaining the most bang for your buck!
1. Lockie, R., Callaghan, S., Orjalo, A., & Moreno, M. (2018). Loading Range for the Development of Peak Power in the Close-Grip Bench Press versus the Traditional Bench Press. Sports, 6(3), 97. doi:10.3390/sports6030097.
2. Lockie, R., Callaghan, S., Moreno, M., Risso, F., Liu, T., & Stage, A. et al. (2017). Relationships between Mechanical Variables in the Traditional and Close-Grip Bench Press. Journal Of Human Kinetics, 60(1), 19-28. doi:10.1515/hukin-2017-0109