Close-Grip Bench Press Alternatives: How to Target the Same Muscles

published by: Debbie Luna
Last Updated:
April 8, 2022

The close-grip bench press is a variation on the traditional barbell bench press wherein the exerciser alters the position of their elbows and narrows their grip along the barbell in order to significantly alter the biomechanics and muscular activation pattern of the exercise.

However, due to the significant stress this variation of the bench press places on the joints of the arm, or due to the fact that it retains its compound exercise capacity despite the purpose of the exercise, individuals may wish to alternate it out with an exercise more suitable for their particular training goals.

This is generally achieved by the exerciser first identifying what exactly they require from an alternative exercise prior to choosing one that best fits said requirements, with such exercises like the triceps cable pulldown fulfilling the role of a moderate intensity triceps isolation exercise, and block bench presses fulfilling the role of a powerlifter sticking point rehabilitative exercise.

Issues with the Close-Grip Bench Press

The close grip bench presses’ primary issue for the majority of exercisers is in the precarious position it can place the elbows and wrists in, with the particular angle of resistance involved during the eccentric portion of the exercise placing the exerciser at significant risk of injury.

close grip bench press

This is also in combination with the distinctly longer range of motion that is a natural consequence of the exerciser extending their arms further away from the torso, thereby reducing the total amount of weight they are capable of moving as the time under tension throughout the repetition is increased further than what would be found in a traditional bench press repetition.

Additionally, though not quite considered an issue in certain training programs, the usage and original purpose of the close-grip bench press is in its significantly increased activation of the triceps brachii muscle group, shifting it into the primary mover muscle for the entirety of the exercise.

This, while serving its purpose perfectly, also retains its nature as a compound upper body exercise, and as such will also activate other muscle groups normally involved in the traditional bench press, such as the pectoral muscles and the anterior deltoid head.

What to Look for in a Close-Grip Bench Press Alternative

Though what particular alternative exercise to use will depend on the exerciser’s own training goals and conditions, several key factors are shared among all suitable close-grip bench press alternative exercises, especially those pertaining to primary muscle mover activation and level of complexity.

Primarily, the alternative exercise must activate the triceps brachii either as a major component of a compound movement or as the singular focus in the case of an isolation type alternative exercise.

This is because the primary reason the traditional bench press is modified into the close-grip bench press in the first place is to maximize triceps brachii muscle recruitment, and as such choosing an exercise that does not focus on this particular muscle group defeats the purpose of alternating out the close-grip bench press entirely.

Additionally, though the bench press is considered a novice to intermediate level exercise in terms of complexity, individuals seeking to alternate it out with another exercise must also take into account the complexity of the alternative, as a novice level lifter choosing a highly complicated alternative to the close-grip bench press may perform the exercise improperly or become injured due to improper form.

How to Substitute the Close-Grip Bench Press

The close grip bench press most often takes the form of a secondary compound exercise performed after more intense and heavier compound exercises such as the bench press are completed, wherein the close-grip bench press may fatigue the triceps brachii and fulfill any additional needed training stimulus in said muscle group.

As such, any alternative exercise meant to replace the close-grip bench press will also subsequently take such a role, save in the situation that a triceps brachii isolation exercise is instead utilized, wherein the exerciser may also need to supplement pectoral and deltoid muscle group isolation exercises in order to make up for the lost training stimulus.

In the ideal situation, a compound exercise performed secondary after the barbell bench press or a similar upper body push type compound exercise is the perfect alternative to the close-grip bench press, with any isolation exercise alternatives instead being placed later in the workout routine alongside other isolation exercises so as to avoid premature triceps brachii muscle fatigue.

Other Bench Press Variations

With the best possible alternative exercises to the close-grip bench press being those that share many of its positive characteristics and other similarities - it stands to reason that any other variation of the bench press exercise can take the place of the close-grip bench press, especially if an upper body focused compound exercise is what is required by the exerciser’s training goals.

It is important for them to adjust the rate of exertion prior to utilizing a bench press variation as a substitute to the close-grip bench press, as the risk of overtraining and excessive fatigue that may affect other areas of their training is significant - especially if performing the alternative exercise alongside another upper body compound movement.

Traditional Barbell Bench Press

The classic king of upper body exercises, a traditional barbell bench press will admittedly not activate the triceps brachii in a manner as significant as the close-grip bench press, but will nonetheless rival it in intensity and equipment used - making such a substitution economical, time saving, and as effective in terms of pectoral and deltoid muscular hypertrophy stimulus.

barbell bench press

This being said, the traditional barbell bench press shares many of the drawbacks that the close-grip bench press possesses, with a significant risk of injury to the various joints of the arms and shoulder being present if the exerciser utilizes far too much resistance or improper exercise form.

Despite this, it is advisable for exercisers to increase the total amount of weight loaded onto the barbell if choosing to substitute the close-grip bench press with its more traditional alternative, as the somewhat reduced range of motion will allow for a higher level of resistance to be utilized.

Board Bench Press

A variation of the standard bench press wherein the barbell is prevented from making contact with the exerciser’s sternum by a elevated board or other platform that forces the exerciser to utilize a longer time under tension and less of their pectoral muscle activation.

board chest press

This greatly alters the mechanics and muscular activation of the exercise, placing a great deal of emphasis on the triceps brachii instead of the deltoids and pectoral muscle groups (though in a type of contraction that is somewhat different from the close-grip bench press).

The board bench press is most commonly utilized by advanced athletes or powerlifters wishing to greatly increase the muscular endurance and explosiveness of their upper body push muscles, and as such may substitute the close-grip bench press in those particular circumstances, or in the case of a physical therapy patient wishing to reduce pectoralis contraction during a bench press movement.

Pin Press

Quite similar to the board bench press in terms of form and exercise mechanics, the pin press utilizes the pins or catch bars of a power rack or squat rack in order to force the exerciser into performing the concentric portion of the repetition at a certain angle and distance from the sternum.

pin press

This alters the muscular activation pattern, form cues, muscular contraction type and intensity of the exercise, bringing it further from the traditional bench press and instead focusing on the explosive lock-out abilities of the triceps brachii, scapula and anterior deltoid head.

Much like the board bench press, the pin press is excellent for training a bench press form sticking point issue or for maximizing force output by the triceps brachii, replicating or even surpassing the close-grip bench press in those particular functions.

When substituting the close-grip bench press with the pin press, a slightly higher volume of repetitions is advisable as the greatly reduced range of motion will equate to the exerciser being able to move more weight for more repetitions - all at the benefit of a reduced injury risk, so long as proper form is followed.

Triceps Isolation Alternatives to the Close-Grip Bench Press

Apart from its biomechanical and functional benefits, the close-grip bench press is generally utilized in a resistance training program for the purposes of increasing triceps brachii muscular activation and subsequent muscular hypertrophy beyond what the ordinary bench press is capable of.

Keeping this in mind, it is by no stretch of logic that the list of possible alternative exercises to the close-grip bench press will include isolation movements that serve the very same purpose - being even more useful than the close-grip bench press itself in the circumstance of the exerciser wishing to remove additional muscle group activation from the pattern.

Skullcrushers

A classic intermediate level triceps isolation exercise with a hot debate behind its mechanical and biokinetic efficacy, the skullcrushers are generally performed with an EZ curl bar or pair of dumbbells as the exerciser lays atop a bench and lowers the weight behind their head - hence the term skullcrushers.

barbell lying skullcrusher

This will have the effect of inducing great contraction in the long and medial head of the triceps brachii, of which are also utilized to a large extent in the close-grip bench press, making the skullcrusher not only an excellent triceps isolation alternative to said close-grip bench press, but also one of similar specific muscle head activation.

Due to the isolating nature of the skullcrusher, utilizing a repetition range far higher than what is normally performed in a set of close-grip bench press repetitions is the best possible choice, with a repetition range anywhere between 8 to 20 being an appropriate amount of volume.

Cable Tricep Extensions

Another triceps brachii isolation exercise that makes excellent usage of the constant time under tension and safety mechanisms involved in cable machine exercises, the cable triceps extension activates the triceps brachii in an angle somewhat different from the close-grip bench press, but with nonetheless the same capacity for inducing muscular hypertrophy.

cable tricep overhead extensions

Much like in the case of the skullcrushers exercise, the cable triceps extension is best used as a substitute to the close-grip bench press in the capacity of a much higher volume exercise, and in the context of the exerciser requiring an alternative that does not also activate the pectoral and deltoid muscle groups, either due to complex workout programming or the risk of overtraining.

Compound Exercise Alternatives to the Close-Grip Bench Press

For the purposes of retaining a similar muscle group activation pattern while avoiding the usage of the close-grip bench press entirely, substituting said exercise with a compound movement of similar mechanics and muscle usage should be more than sufficient for the majority of training goals.

Unfortunately, the list of potential alternative compound exercises to the close-grip bench press is rather small, especially owing to the fact that the pectoral muscles are only fully activated in a rather small range of motion, leaving only a few substitute movements possible.

Diamond Push-Ups

A variation of the standard body weight pushup wherein the exerciser places their hands closer together so as to form a diamond shape with their arms, diamond push-ups are one of the few compound exercises that place a more significant emphasis on the triceps brachii muscle group while still retaining pectoral muscle activation in its muscle group activation pattern.

Being a bodyweight exercise, however, the diamond push-up is not as intense as the close-grip bench press, and as such will take a longer stretch of time and vastly more repetitions to induce the same level of muscular hypertrophy, making the diamond push-up better used as a secondary compound movement in combination with a heavier and more intense exercise.

Weighted Dips

Bodyweight dips with the addition of extra weight so as to up the difficulty and thus the level of training stimulus achieved, weighted dips are another possible compound alternative to the close-grip bench press, though with a different percentage of resistance loading between each muscle group utilized.

weighted dips

When substituting the close-grip bench press with weighted dips, the total amount of volume used must be in accordance with the proportional resistance used, with low weight high repetition sets of the close-grip bench press also being substituted by low weight high repetition sets of the weighted dip.

However, this particular equivalency has a limit, as too much resistance utilized during the weighted dip will often result in elbow and shoulder injuries due to the position they are placed in during the exercise.

As such, while the weighted dip is doubtless an acceptable alternative to the close-grip bench press, utilizing a bench press variation instead should be the higher priority for the exerciser whenever possible.

References

1. Lockie RG, Callaghan SJ, Moreno MR, Risso FG, Liu TM, Stage AA, Birmingham-Babauta SA, Stokes JJ, Giuliano DV, Lazar A, Davis DL, Orjalo AJ. Relationships between Mechanical Variables in the Traditional and Close-Grip Bench Press. J Hum Kinet. 2017 Dec 28;60:19-28. doi: 10.1515/hukin-2017-0109. PMID: 29339982; PMCID: PMC5765782.

2. Lockie RG, Callaghan SJ, Moreno MR, Risso FG, Liu TM, Stage AA, Birmingham-Babauta SA, Stokes JJ, Giuliano DV, Lazar A, Davis DL, Orjalo AJ. 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 Jun 24;5(3):46. doi: 10.3390/sports5030046. PMID: 29910406; PMCID: PMC5968970.

3. Green, Carly M. CSCS; Comfort, Paul MSc, CSCS The Affect of Grip Width on Bench Press Performance and Risk of Injury, Strength and Conditioning Journal: October 2007 - Volume 29 - Issue 5 - p 10-14

Debbie (Deb) started powerlifting and Olympic lifting in High School as part of her track team's programming; She continues to train in order to remain athletic. Inspire US allows Deb to share information related to training, lifting, biomechanics, and more.
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