The close-grip bench press, also known as the narrow grip bench press, is a variant of the bench press that poses a different challenge.
The close-grip bench press is one of the most effective variations for improving the bench press strength and technique for several reasons, in this as you loosen your grip on the bar, the triceps have to do more work. This is undesirable when you’re focusing on training your chest, but it’s one of my favorite ways to train the triceps.
Step-by-step close-grip bench press (narrow grip bench press)
When doing a close-grip bench press, your grip should be slightly narrower than shoulder-width apart and not closer. You’ll notice that many people place their hands a few inches apart, and that’s a bad idea—it puts the shoulders and wrists in a weak, compromising position.
The narrow grip places athletes in a more biomechanically disadvantageous position, making the movement 10–30% more difficult than a standard grip or wide grip position. Improving strength in this position does wonders for increasing your PR on all other variations, as a standard grip width will feel relatively easy in comparison.
The narrow grip press does wonders for teaching athletes proper form and mechanics, as it reinforces the idea of tucking the elbows in and contracting the lats. It also tends to be much easier on joints, tendons and connective tissue.
Many athletes have difficulty tucking their elbows on barbell pressing variations, as the pronated grip is less natural for elbow tuck and lat contraction techniques. However, this is much less of a problem with a close grip.
Many people make the mistake of using an exaggerated closed grip position, often involving a grip position that places the hands 12 inches (ca. 30 cm) apart or closer. In addition to putting undue stress on the wrists and elbows, going too close on the bench press can actually cause the elbow to turn out and flare, which can put undue stress on the glenohumeral joint.
This is because the shoulders become crowded due to insufficient space for them to retract and sag, as there is no room for them to move around the body. As a result, this compromises the natural scapulohumeral rhythm, as the shoulders are essentially stuck in a slightly longer and higher position.
Here’s how you set up the close-grip bench press with proper form:
Step-1: Lie on the bench
- Lie on the bench and “screw” the shoulder blades into the bench, slight arch in the lower back, and the feet are flat on the floor.
- The chest should be lifted as if you are going to show it to someone, and you will want to keep it “up” like this for the entire lift.
Step-2: A “thumbless” or “suicide” grip
- Do not use a “thumbless” or “suicide” grip, as it is aptly called, in which the thumbs are next to the index fingers as opposed to wrapped around the bar.
- While people give various reasons for preferring the thumbless grip, its disadvantage is clear: When you’re going heavy, it’s surprisingly easy for the barbell to slip out of the hands and fall onto the chest, or worse, the neck.
Step-3: Keep the bar in the palm of the hand
Keep the bar in the palm of your hand, not your fingers, as this causes wrist pain.
Step-4: Grip the bar hard
Grip the bar hard, try to squash it like spaghetti, as this will give you a slight boost in strength.
Step-5: Create a stable lower body base
- Create a stable lower body base by placing the feet directly under the knees, which should be facing out, tightening the quads and activating the glutes.
- The upper part of the leg should be parallel to the floor.
- The bottom part should be vertical, making a 90-degree angle.
- This allows you to push through the heels as you climb, creating the “leg drive” you’ve probably heard of, the powerlifting style of bench press, with the heels, well, if you like it.
Step-6: Maintain throughout the lift
Once you’ve done all of the above, position yourself in the position you want to maintain throughout the lift.
- Unlock the bar by locking the elbows to take the bar off the hooks, and move the bar into position with your elbows.
- Don’t try to bring the weight directly from the hook to the chest, and don’t drop the chest and slouch the shoulder blades.
- As you release the rack, as this will cause you to push the bar off the shoulders.
- Bend the elbows to increase triceps involvement during the lift. Maintain a neutral spine and keep the butt on the bench.
- To lower the weight, bend elbows and spread shoulders until the bar touches your lower chest, and extend straight overhead. Do not pause at the bottom. Transition quickly into focused repetitions.
- If your shoulders or wrists feel uncomfortable at the bottom of the lift, simply widen your grip about a finger’s width and try again. If it can’t handle it, widen your grip by another finger’s width and repeat until it’s comfortable (but not so wide that you turn it into a standard bench press!).
- Extend elbows and flex shoulders to push weights up until arms extend with elbows bent, staying in lockout; Squeeze triceps at top.
- Reducing the range of motion only reduces the effectiveness of the exercise, and with improper technique, the shoulders are only at risk of injury. By using the full range of motion with proper form, you’ll maximize muscle growth while preventing injury.
- Don’t look at the bar while moving, as this will likely cause you to change its descent and ascent angles. Instead, pick a spot on the ceiling to look up during the exercise and watch the bar move up and down in relation to it. The goal is to get it in the same spot for each rep. 1
The close-grip bench press is an upper body compound moves that primarily targets your triceps muscles. The secondary muscles worked are the chest and shoulders. Using a narrower grip is a great alternative way to increase upper body pushing strength. 2
Because the chest and shoulders assist in the movement, the close-grip press has the potential to lift heavy loads and achieve maximum strength. The movement can be performed safely with progressively heavier resistance, combined with the position of the body on the bench. A narrow grip reduces the chance of injury. 3
Narrow grip bench press is a great way to add variety to the upper body and advance the muscle workout. According to research, athletes who use a close push action, such as football, basketball, or rugby, especially benefit from this type of sport-specific exercise.
Pressing with a narrow grip is also beneficial for lifters whose shoulder injuries prevent them from performing traditional bench presses. When the width of the grip is reduced, it creates less abduction of the shoulder, said to limit the stress placed on the shoulder joint.
- Source: Bigger Leaner Stronger: The Simple Science of Building the Ultimate Male Body. By Michael Matthews. Available here: https://amzn.to/3S7dyYD
- Lockie RG, Callaghan SJ, Moreno MR, et al. “An investigation of the mechanics and sticking region of a one-repetition maximum close-grip bench press versus the traditional bench press”. Sports (Basel). 2017;5(3):46. doi: 10.3390/sports5030046.
- Saeterbakken AH, Stien N, Pedersen H, Solstad TEJ, Cumming KT, Andersen V. “The effect of grip width on muscle strength and electromyographic activity in bench press among novice- and resistance-trained men”. Int J Environ Res Public Health. 2021;18(12):6444. doi: 10.3390/ijerph18126444.