Wide Grip Bench Press: Benefits, Muscles Used, and More

published by: Debbie Luna
Last Updated:
March 18, 2022

The bench press is considered king among upper body push type exercises, with the ability to impart significant muscular hypertrophy and other forms of training stimuli to the chest muscles, shoulders, triceps brachii and a variety of other muscle groups found in the upper body.

However, certain training requirements - especially in more advanced athletic training - will require that a variation of the bench press be used so as to impart a similar but somewhat altered angle of resistance or training stimuli.

One among these bench press variations is the wide grip bench press, with the primary difference between the two being the angle of resistance imparted to the lifter by a change in their grip width and shoulder stance.

What is the Wide Grip Bench Press?

The wide grip bench press is a compound upper body exercise of moderate to high intensity, much like the traditional bench press itself - though with a different level of muscular activation spread between each muscle group in concern.

barbell wide grip bench press

With a closed kinetic chain and unilateral muscle activation, the wide grip bench press is a favorite among moderate to high level gym goers and athletes seeking to intensify the pectoralis muscle group activation beyond what one would normally find in a traditional bench press.

This, of course, comes at the cost of a significantly reduced triceps brachii activation and subsequent decrease in the training stimuli said triceps brachii muscle group can receive from the wide grip bench press.

This alteration in the lifter’s hand placement and subsequent biomechanic repositioning will often cause a reduction in the incidence of shoulder joint related injuries as well as allow the wrist to conform to a more natural angle as the repetition is performed.

How is the Wide Grip Bench Press Performed?

The wide grip bench press is performed in a manner quite similar to the bench press, wherein the exercise will begin with the lifter placing themselves flat on a bench beneath a loaded barbell with their shoulder blades and scapula retracted in order to reduce the chance of injury.

They will then arch their back somewhat while retaining contact with the bench through their upper back and buttocks, creating the safest possible position from which to perform a bench press movement.

barbell wide grip muscles

It is at this point wherein the wide grip bench press differs from the traditional bench press, as instead of placing the hands at shoulder width or somewhat narrower a distance, they will instead place them at one and a half the distance of their shoulder width to as far as twice said distance.

The distance at which the exerciser can place their hands apart is, of course, up to their own individual biomechanics and physical measurements, and as such it is best for the exerciser to go by feeling instead of any mathematical standard - if they feel that their pectoral muscles are being stretched better than with a traditional hand grip, then it may be considered a wide grip bench press.

Once the appropriate hand placement has been determined by the exerciser, they will then unrack the barbell and lower it to their sternum or mid chest, allowing the bar to come within an inch of touching them if not outright touching their skin.

The eccentric portion of the repetition now completed, the exerciser will then contract their triceps brachii and pectoral muscle groups, causing the bar to be pressed away from their chest as their arms reach nearly full extension above their torso.

This completes a single repetition of the wide grip bench press, with subsequent repetitions not requiring that the barbell be unracked again unless it is the start of a new set.

What Muscles are Worked by the Wide Grip Bench Press?

Being a large scale compound movement made for the purposes of activating the majority of the push muscles located in the upper body, the wide grip bench press utilizes both primary mover muscles as well as secondary movers muscles in order to produce the main force behind the movement.

In addition to these, other muscle groups that are not necessarily contracted in a dynamic manner are still utilized so as to stabilize the weight, reduce the chance of injury and prevent overextension of the primary and secondary mover muscles - with the former group being referred to as stabilizer muscles.

Primary and Secondary Mover Muscles

The primary muscle groups utilized throughout the entire exercise are that of the pectoral muscles, triceps brachii, serratus anterior as well as the trio of deltoid heads - though it is primarily the front or anterior head of the deltoid that is activated during the movement.

The proportions at which these primary and secondary mover muscle groups are activated will vary between which portion of the exercise is being performed at the moment, with the pectoralis minor and pectoralis major being activated in a slightly larger capacity during the eccentric portion of the movement.

This is in opposition to the triceps brachii, which, while activated to a lesser level in comparison to the traditional bench press, is nonetheless utilized at a larger level during the concentric portion of the wide grip bench press, equalling or overpowering the pectoralis muscle group.

Stabilizer Muscle Groups

Stabilizer muscle groups are muscles contracted in an isometric or otherwise relatively minor capacity for the purposes of retaining stability of the weight being moved, the body itself, as well as to reduce the incidence of injury from overextension or improper muscle activation.

The muscle groups acting in a stabilizing capacity for the wide grip bench press are the medial and posterior heads of the deltoid group, the biceps brachii during the eccentric portion of the exercise, the abdominal stabilizer muscles as well as the gluteus muscle group, if the proper form is being used.

Is the Wide Grip Bench Press Safe?

The wide grip bench press is considered safer in terms of wrist and shoulder joint injury risk due to the more natural angle at which the hands are placed along the barbell, reducing the shear force and other factors that contribute to damage of the connective tissues in those particular areas.

However, this has its limit, as a bench press grip that is far too wide will present significant problems that may entirely negate any sort of improved safety benefits that the wide grip bench press presents, especially in the case of the exerciser spreading their hands further than twice the length of their shoulders.

This is also applicable in cases of a wide grip bench press utilizing the “suicide grip”, wherein the exerciser will completely pronate their wrists so as to allow the bar to rest along the middle of the palm, with the wider grip stance posing a chance of the barbell slipping from the exercisers hands and injuring them.

How is the Wide Grip Bench Press Different from the Traditional Bench Press?

The most obvious difference between the wide grip bench press and the traditional bench press is in the angle of resistance being altered from a wider distance between the hands of the exerciser.

bench press muscles

This can have a variety of benefits from a health, training and safety perspective - though is not without its own set of drawbacks that may make choosing a wide grip bench press over a more traditional one a less advisable approach for certain individuals.

Most noticeably the wide grip bench press presents a significant advantage in terms of pectoralis minor and pectoralis major training stimulus, surpassing that of the traditional bench press and especially that of the narrow grip bench press, of which primarily activates the triceps brachii.

Another large difference between the wide grip bench press and the traditional bench press is the altered angle at which the bar is raised over the body, with the elbows bending less and the scapula being held in a more secure position that allows the barbell to remain stable throughout the exercise.

This, by extension, results in less wrist, elbow and shoulder joint injuries caused by the exerciser improperly moving in an improper manner or otherwise overloading the connective tissues located in the upper body.

What are the Benefits of the Wide Grip Bench Press?

Like all resistance exercises, the wide grip bench press presents a variety of benefits native to the very nature of exercise itself, with only as specific few of these benefits being reserved solely to the wide grip bench press.

As such, while there is no doubt that performing the wide grip bench press alongside other healthy habits such a adequate sleep and proper nutrition can be of great benefit to an individual, we have instead elected to only list the benefits that can only be imparted by the wide grip bench press and exercises similar to it.

Decreased Range of Motion

A benefit both to powerlifter athletes and to individuals with poor upper body flexibility, the wide grip bench press presents a significantly shorter range of motion than a traditional bench press due to the angle at which the arms are placed at.

By addition to this decreased range of motion, the lifter will also find that the amount of weight they are capable of lifting has also increased as the energy required to move it a shorter distance is also decreased, greatly aiding individuals whom compete in strength based athletic competitions.

Higher Stability

The wider grip of this particular bench press variation provides a more stable base along the bench that the exerciser is lying on, as well as less shoulder instability during the dynamic portion of the movement - resulting in an easier time moving the barbell as well as reduced chance of direct and indirect injuries.

This higher stability also has the added benefit of allowing further muscular hypertrophy to occur due to an increased volume of repetitions being performed by the exerciser as their stabilizer muscles are fatigued at a lesser pace, allowing the primary and secondary mover muscles to do their jobs for longer periods.

Specific Muscular Activation

The wide grip bench press may be considered a more advanced form of the traditional bench press due to its more specific training focus, that being of its enhanced pectoralis muscle group activation that may be quite beneficial to experienced athletes whom have reached the point of needing more specific muscular activation.

While it is true that isolation exercises are the best possible choice for highly targeted muscle group activation, shifting the primary mover muscle group in a compound exercise like the bench press can save both time and energy by also training other muscle groups apart from the target muscle itself.

Who Should Perform the Wide Grip Bench Press?

While practically anyone capable of performing the traditional bench press is just as capable of performing a wide grip bench press, it is best used by either experienced athletes seeking to train a weakspot in their pectoral muscles or gymgoers seeking to round out their upper body push day.

References

1. Larsen Stian, Gomo Olav, van den Tillaar Roland “A Biomechanical Analysis of Wide, Medium, and Narrow Grip Width Effects on Kinematics, Horizontal Kinetics, and Muscle Activity on the Sticking Region in Recreationally Trained Males During 1-RM Bench Pressing Frontiers in Sports and Active Livin VOLUME = 2 (2021)(https://www.frontiersin.org/article/10.3389/fspor.2020.637066) DOI=10.3389/fspor.2020.637066    ISSN=2624-9367

2. Saeterbakken AH, Mo DA, Scott S, Andersen V. The Effects of Bench Press Variations in Competitive Athletes on Muscle Activity and Performance. J Hum Kinet. 2017 Jun 22;57:61-71. doi: 10.1515/hukin-2017-0047. PMID: 28713459; PMCID: PMC5504579.

3. 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 Jun 14;18(12):6444. doi: 10.3390/ijerph18126444. PMID: 34198674; PMCID: PMC8296276.

4. 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 10-1l

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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