A variation of the extremely common bench press exercise wherein the exerciser places their hands closer together than what is traditional so as to induce a more intense training stimulus in certain muscle groups, the close grip bench press is nonetheless considered a highly effective exercise for the purposes it is used in.
With this being said, it is no surprise that the close grip bench press is quite well known for the benefits it is capable of inducing into the exerciser or patient who regularly performs it with proper form and an appropriate level of resistance.
Such benefits like the far more significant activation of the triceps brachii muscle group as well as a translated improvement in the proper form of other exercises are all directly achieved through the usage of the close grip bench press in an exercise routine.
The close grip bench press is primarily added to workout routines and physical rehabilitation programs for the purposes of shifting the bench press’s load to the triceps brachii located along the rear of the arms, in direct comparison to the pectoral muscles which make up the chest.
This is done by the exerciser placing their hands far closer together than what the majority of individuals would do when performing the traditional bench press, thereby moving the angle of resistance and placing a larger emphasis on the arms, of which will have to work harder to move the weight without as much assistance from other muscle groups.
The close grip bench press is usually combined with other upper body compound exercises such as the chest press machine or overhead press so as to provide a more well rounded but nonetheless highly intense upper body workout.
While it is true that the triceps brachii bear the brunt of the load while the close grip bench press is being performed, certain other muscle groups involved in most push type movement exercises are also brought into play – though, naturally, in lesser capacities as secondary mover muscles or as stabilizer muscles.
These are primarily that of the anterior deltoid head, the pectoralis major that makes up the upper portion of the chest, as well as the various smaller muscles located in or around the shoulder joint of which are collectively referred to as the rotator cuff muscles.
With a muscular activation profile such as this, choosing to substitute the close grip bench press with a single isolation exercise or set of isolation exercises may prove rather time consuming and physically taxing, and as such it is best to retain the close grip bench press in one’s exercise routine as much as possible due to its difficult to alternate nature.
First and foremost among the various benefits provided by the close grip bench press is that of a significantly improved athletic ability in the exerciser, whom will find that after repeatedly performing the close grip bench press over a period of time (and when combined with a proper diet and adequate rest) their ability to output upper body explosiveness, power and strength have all increased noticeably.
This is due to the fact that the triceps, deltoids and pectoralis muscles of the exerciser’s upper body are all trained to a moderate or intense degree during the performance of the close grip bench press, reinforcing the density of their muscular fibers, improving neuromuscular fiber recruitment and strengthening connective tissue so as to aid in force output by said muscle fibers.
An extension of this is also found in the volume of repetitions the exerciser may perform, with higher volumes per set equating to the muscles and cardiovascular system of the exerciser receiving sufficient enough training stimuli to adapt to such a test of its endurance, translating to prolonged and improved function when faced with time under tension.
By way of the unique angle of resistance provided by the close grip bench press, few exercises are as capable of inducing as effective and intense a muscular activation of the triceps brachii as the close grip bench press itself, making it one among the many benefits of adding such a compound exercise to one’s workout routine.
The close grip bench press presents a particular focus on the lateral or outermost head of the triceps, especially when performed with the usage of proper form in a diamond-like pattern instead of bringing the bar straight down towards the sternum, which may both result in injury and ineffective training stimuli induction.
If so desired, the exerciser may further exemplify this particular benefit of the exercise by first training their pectoral muscles beforehand, of which will allow the triceps to take an even larger role during the repetition by bearing a larger portion of the resistance and thus receiving further training stimuli.
Of course, the exerciser should be careful not to overtrain their chest muscles if utilizing this particular technique.
The close grip bench press is a particular favorite among competitive weight lifting athletes due to the fact that it may improve certain portions of the form of other heavy compound exercises, in particular the launch off of the bench press and similar movements.
This is due to the concept of a form “sticking point” where said portion of the exercises’ form abruptly requires an explosive increase in strength output, such as in the bottom of the bench press repetition wherein the exerciser pushes it away from their sternum to complete the concentric portion of the lift.
The close grip bench press aids in the overcoming of the sticking point by not only replicating that particular portion of the bench press’s form but also by increasing the exerciser’s explosive strength potential, resulting in a reduced difficulty in said sticking point of the other exercises.
Much like how the close grip bench press is capable of reducing the difficulty in a sister exercise’s sticking point of form, it is also capable of aiding greatly as a training exercise in the sports of Olympic weightlifting and powerlifting, both of which are rather intense exercises that make use of free weight resistance equipment in order to employ the athlete’s strength.
The close grip bench press improves the athlete’s function in these particular sports by not only inducing muscular hypertrophy and neuromuscular strength gains but also in bodily coordination due to the rather delicate form and control required of the exercise.
While the close grip bench press is doubtless a truly excellent exercise suitable for the majority of most exerciser’s fitness goals, there are a few drawbacks to this particular exercise, potentially limiting its use for certain individuals or in some circumstances.
Due to the fact that the exerciser utilizes a somewhat different form when performing the close grip bench press in comparison to the more traditionally gripped bench press, a subsequent range of motion increase is inevitable.
This, in simpler terms, simply means that the exerciser will undergo a longer period of time where their muscles are placed under tension due to the fact that the bar (and in connection with their arms) must travel a greater distance between resting points either at the bottom or start of the repetition.
An increase in the range of motion of an exercise is not always necessarily a bad thing, as an increased time under tension can aid in the development of further muscular hypertrophy, improve venous blood flow as well as improve aerobic and anaerobic endurance.
On the other side, however, is that the increased range of motion may make the exercise more difficult and as such reduce the total amount of weight the exerciser may use, as well as place increased strain on the joints and other connective tissues.
By extension of the increased range of motion found in the close grip bench press, another drawback of the close grip bench press is the fact that a lower total amount of weight must be used so as to both prevent injury and to maintain proper form during the repetition.
As such, most individuals will find that the maximum weight they may utilize during a close grip bench press is around half of what they are capable of when performing the traditional bench press instead.
This may result in a lower level of perceived intensity and by extension a reduced capacity for muscular hypertrophy, depending on the exerciser’s individual biomechanics and level of weightlifting experience.
Also a side effect of the rather unique form employed by the close grip bench press, the relative angle at which the exerciser’s arms and shoulders are placed at throughout the repetition places a moderate level of strain on the shoulders, elbows and wrists, potentially resulting in a slightly higher chance of injury.
This is especially pronounced in exerciser’s with a susceptibility to such injuries or those individuals of poor flexibility, both of which may reduce their chance of accruing impingements or overuse and strain injuries by utilizing a proper stretching and warm-up routine prior to their workout, as well as first consulting a licensed professional.
1. Lockie, Robert & Moreno, Matthew. (2017). The Close-Grip Bench Press. Strength and Conditioning Journal. 39. 1. 10.1519/SSC.0000000000000307.
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. 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.
3. 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.