The close-grip bench press is a great bench press variation that increases triceps strength and hypertrophy, lockout performance, and can help minimize stress on the shoulders. Strength, power, and fitness athletes can integrate this exercise within strength and hypertrophy programs to boost performance in lifts like the bench press, snatch, jerk, log press, handstand push-ups, and more.
In this article, we will go through everything you need to know about the close-grip bench press, including:
- Close-Grip Bench Press Form and Technique
- Benefits of the Close-Grip Bench Press
- Muscles Worked by the Close-Grip Bench Press
- Who Should Do Close-Grip Bench Presses
- Close-Grip Bench Press Sets, Reps, and Programming Recommendations
- Close-Grip Bench Press Variations and Alternatives
How to Perform the Close-Grip Bench Press: Step-By-Step Guide
Below is a step-by-step guide on how to perform the close-grip bench press with a barbell. Further below we will discuss a wide variety of variations and alternatives.
Establish a Strong Base
Similar to other bench press movements, establishing a strong base in which the (1) feet are planted to the floor, (2) buttocks contacted, and (3) upper back/shoulders gripping the bench is essential.
Make sure to keep the shoulder blades retracted as you assume a strong bench set up, not allowing the shoulders to translate forwards (upwards) off the bench.
Coach’s Tip: Grab the floor with the feet. Then, grab the bench with your buttocks and upper back.
Grab the Barbell and Descend
With the hands inside shoulder width, grasp the barbell making sure to have the bar resting in the middle of your palm. The back should be flexed with the chest up due to thoracic extension.
As you lower the load, be sure to guide the elbows inwards towards the body so that the triceps take on most of the eccentric loading. The barbell should make contact on the lower chest/sternum.
Coach’s Tip: Lower the barbell under control and make sure to not lose tension in the upper back, let the elbows to flare out, or the shoulders to come upwards off the bench.
Elbows In and Press
Once you have made contact with the chest/sternum, forcefully press the barbell off the body using the triceps and chest muscles. The legs, glutes, and back muscles should be contracted as they provide a stable base for you to press from.
Keep your elbows into the body as you press, making sure to maintain tension in the triceps and chest.
Coach’s Tip: Think about pressing yourself deeper into the bench as you press the weight upwards. This will often help lifters maintain rigidity and tension across the posterior side of the body.
3 Benefits of the Close-Grip Bench Press
1. Triceps Strength and Mass
The close-grip bench press is an exercise that can build mass and develop triceps strength. Like the bench press, military press, and push press, the close-grip bench press can be used to highlight pressing strength and performance of the chest and triceps.
When used in conjunction with the other pressing exercises, the close-grip bench press can complete a balances pressing program that targets the shoulders, chest, and triceps.
2. Improved Elbow Extension / Lockout Performance
The elbows must withstand high amounts of stress in strength, power, and fitness sports. Movements like jerks, bench pressing, gymnastics, and overhead movements all require stronger triceps and elbow stability.
The close-grip bench press can be used to increase the tensile strength and performance of the triceps, the muscle responsible for elbow extension and lockout performance. By improving triceps strength and lockout performance, you can also reduce the amount of stress placed on the surrounding ligaments and tendons of the elbow joint, increasing joint health and furthering injury resilience.
3. Reduces Stress on the Shoulders While Benching
Some lifers may find that bench pressing with a wider grip aggravates the shoulder. The close-grip bench press reduces horizontal shoulder extension, which can often be contradictory for lifters with previous shoulder injuries, impingements, or those looking to limit overall shoulder joint stress.
Sport athletes, such as throwers (baseball, football, etc.) and overhead lifters (weightlifters, strongman, etc.) may find that the close-grip bench press allows them to develop triceps and chest strength and lockout performance while minimizing additional strain to the shoulder joint.
Muscles Worked – Close-Grip Bench Press
Individual differences may be seen using a wide variety of grip placements, and therefore coaches and athletes should determine which width maximizes triceps engagement and minimizes stress on the wrist and shoulder joints.
Who Should Perform the Close-Grip Bench Press?
Strength and Power Athletes
Improving triceps strength and lockout performance is a key training outcome for many strength sport athletes. Movements like bench pressing, jerks, and other overhead lifts all rely on triceps strength and elbow stability.
- Powerlifting and Strongman Athletes: Bench pressing, log presses, and other vertical and horizontal pressing exercises are all dependent on the triceps and chest. Integrating the close-grip bench press within training programs can enhance overall pressing strength, triceps mass, and lockout performance.
- Olympic Weightlifters: The close-grip bench press is a good accessory exercise to increase upper body muscle mass, triceps health, and lockout strength necessary for the snatch and jerk. While this movement is not performed in the vertical plane, it can still be used to increase overall body mass and strength while minimizing additional stress on the shoulders. This can be particularly beneficial for beginner lifters or lifters who my lck upper body strength and muscle mass to withstand progressively increased loading.
Competitive CrossFit and Fitness Athletes
Competitive CrossFit and fitness athletes can use the close-grip bench press within training programs to increase upper body strength and muscle mass, especially of the triceps. Strong triceps play a key role in al overhead pressing and stability movements (overhead squats, Olympic lifts), as well as handstand walks, handstand push-ups, wall balls, and more.
It is important to note that beginner lifters and women tend to have less muscle mass in the upper body (physiologically speaking in comparison to trained males). Performing more focused upper body strength work can improve performance in many of the exercises above.
Sports Training and General Fitness
In addition to the benefits discussed above, the close-grip bench press can potentially translate directly to some sporting movements. In sports like wrestling, American football, basketball, rugby, boxing, and martial arts; the close-grip bench press can enable athletes to unload force forwards into an opponent.
For general fitness purposes, the close-grip bench press can be done to increase chest and triceps strength while minimizing shoulder stress as it limits the amount of horizontal shoulder extension. Individuals with shoulder issues, previous surgeries, and/or impingements may find that the close-grip bench press allows them to train a pressing movement without negatively impacting shoulder health/recovery.
Close-Grip Bench Press Sets, Reps, and Weight Recommendations
Below are two primary sets, reps, and weight (intensity) recommendations for coaches and athletes to properly program the close-grip bench press specific to the training goal. Note, that the below guidelines are simply here to offer coaches and athletes loose recommendations for programming and are not the only methods to program this movement.
Muscle Hypertrophy – Reps, Sets, and Weight Recommendations
The close-grip bench press can be trained in a variety of repetition ranges when the goal is hypertrophy. Some lifters may find certain rep schemes and training volumes to be more effective than others.
It is suggested that lifters experiment with various repetition schemes and loading to determine which works best for their bodies.
- Sets and Reps: 4-5 sets of 8-12 or 15-20 repetitions with a moderate to heavy load.
- Modifications: Tempos, pauses, and partials can be done throughout the range of motion to induce additional muscular damage and hypertrophy.
Strength – Reps, Sets, and Weight Recommendations
For building general pressing and triceps strength with the close-grip bench press, standard strength programming sets, reps, and intensities can be used. In general, moderate to low repetitions, moderate training volumes, and heavier loads can elicit strength gains.
Additionally, these can be done as an accessory in strength programs. Using more moderate hypertrophy ranges after heavier pressing movements can further stimulate growth of the triceps and chest.
- Sets and Reps: 4-6 sets of 3-5 repetitions with very challenging loads.
- Modifications: The close-grip bench can also be with a variety of specialty bars and accommodating resistance to further enhance strength development.
3 Close-Grip Bench Press Variations
1. Close-Grip Dumbbell Press
The close-grip dumbbell bench press is a unilateral variation of the standard close-grip barbell bench press. By using dumbbells, you can address any asymmetries and muscular imbalances that may go unnoticed with barbells.
This can also allow lifters some customization of wrist, elbow, shoulder joint angles in the event the predetermined barbell positioning is found to be uncomfortable or straining to the joints.
How to Perform Dumbbell Bench Presses
Set the Back
Start by lying supine on a bench (face up) with a dumbbell tightly grasped in each hand.
With the back and hips engaged, squeeze the dumbbell handle and pull the weights down to the sides of the chest, keeping the shoulders away from the ears and the elbows slightly tucked inwards towards the body.
The elbows should be directly underneath the wrist, as this will help keep the shoulder joint in proper positioning and allow for maximal back tension.
Lower the Dumbbells, Then Press
At the bottom of the press, the weights should be slightly outside the torso, with the shoulder blades retracted and depressed (down towards the hips) to help maintain upper back stability.
When ready, press the dumbbells back to the returning position without letting the elbows flare out directly to the sides.
Think about pressing yourself deeper into the bench and/or pushing yourself away from the dumbbells.
2. Close-Grip Floor Press
The close-grip floor press is a combination pressing movement that can almost entirely target the triceps and lockout strength.
By combining the floor press with the close-grip bench press, coaches and athletes can target triceps strength and hypertrophy.
How to Perform Floor Presses
Setup Underneath the Barbell
Start by positioning yourself on the floor underneath the barbell (eyes should be underneath). With the legs either straight or bent, be sure to place the feet, hips, and upper back on the floor, similar to that of a bench press.
Note, that this relationship with the floor is essential to the floor press. Often, individuals who struggle with this on a bench may find it easier to develop greater back tension in the floor press in the early learning phases.
Grip the Floor, Bring Elbows Downwards
With the body actively gripping the floor, firmly squeeze the barbell and pull the elbows down towards the torso, on a slight angle to ensure that the back muscles and posterior shoulders are being activated.
Be sure to pull the barbell to the base of the chest (just above the sternum) so that the elbows are roughly 45 degrees from the torso.
Gently Contact the Floor, Then Press
Once you have gently made contact with the back of the elbows to the floor, remain in tension and reverse the movement so that you go into the concentric pressing phase of the floor press.
Note, that lifters can pause at the bottom of the press (which I prefer) to help increase stability, control, and gain a deeper understanding on how to develop and maintain tension and strength throughout the full lift.
Lock Out, Prep for Next Rep
Once you have returned to the top of the movement, repeat for the prescribed repetitions, rest, and repeat.
Make sure to not over protract at the top when completing a rep, as this could throw your positioning and base out of line.
3. Close-Grip Push-Up
The close-grip push-up is another useful variation of the close-grip bench press. This movement could be considered a regression and could be a useful variation for newer athletes working to improve their form on the bench.
If you find that you want additional lighter volume for the triceps with a movement that is very similar to the close-grip bench press, then close-grip push-ups are a great option.
How to Perform Close-Grip Push-Ups
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!
3 Close-Grip Bench Press Alternatives
1. Board Press
The board press is a partial range of motion bench press that isolates the triceps and chest, similar to the close-grip bench press. By performing a close-grip bench press to a board (placed on the chest), the range of motion is decreased the thickness of the board. This in turn limits shoulder horizontal extension, resulting in higher demands placed upon the tricep to extend the elbows.
2. Pin Bench Press
The pin press is a bench press variation that can be done to isolate weaknesses in lockout strength and triceps performance. By setting the pins at a predetermined height, usually 1-3 inches off the chest in the bottom of the bench press, the lifter must rely on concentric strength of the triceps and chest muscles to lift the load from the pins. This can also be done to attack specific ranges of motion in the bench press that may be deficient.
3. Push Press
The push press is a great overhead pressing movement that stresses the triceps and shoulders. Similar to the close-grip bench press, the push press is highly dependent on triceps lockout strength.
Additionally, this exercise can be done to overload the triceps to reinforce elbow extension and lockout performance.
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