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Troubleshooting 101: Close-Grip Bench Press

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One of the photos below shows a critical but common mistake on the close-grip bench press. Can you spot which one is wrong?

By Jimmy Peña MS, CSCS

About the Close-Grip Bench Press

The close-grip bench press is one of the few compound (or multijoint) exercises for the triceps. The triceps have three distinct heads, the lateral, medial and long heads, and all three are called upon for maximal recruitment during the close-grip version of the bench; few moves will overload this trio of muscles better.

CloseGripBench_A

Spot the Error

Many bodybuilders swear by this exercise, and for good reason! It loads up the triceps as well as any other triceps move in your arsenal of choices. However, too many bodybuilders use a very close grip (less than 6 inches apart), thinking that the closer the hands are on the bar, the more emphasis is placed upon the triceps to do the work. However, research confirms that lifters who use a grip with their hands 6 inches apart or closer actually used no more triceps musculature than those who used a grip just slightly less than a shoulder width. In fact, the only increase the super-close grip actually proved was in the amount of stress on the wrist and elbow joints.

CloseGripBench_B

Fix It

If your grip is more narrow than say, 8–10 inches, you need to spread your hands out along the bar. You don’t want to widen your hands so much that if feels like a standard bench press, but you also don’t want to narrow your hands so much that you remove tension from the target. Plus, going too narrow not only puts undue stress on the joints, but it also means you won’t be able to lift as much weight and balancing the bar becomes more difficult. The best alternative is to split the difference between a super narrow and a standard grip, which should fall somewhere between 8–10 inches.

Beginner’s Tip

Bring the barbell to your lower-pec/upper-ab region while keeping your elbows in tight to the torso. Hit the close-grip bench press early in your triceps routine when your muscles are freshest. Doing so will allow your triceps to endure as much stress as possible, safely. If you don’t have a spotter, try this in a Smith machine or power rack. And after your multijoint moves, do isolation exercises such as pressdowns and overhead extensions to flush the triceps full of fluid.

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