The close-grip bench press is an awesome upper-body exercise for building horizontal pressing strength. It’s also a great exercise for overloading and packing on mass to the triceps.
If you want to build your triceps and pressing strength harmoniously then using the close-grip bench press can be a great tool for supporting these goals. The close-grip bench press is one of my favorite pressing variations.
If my close-grip bench press guide, I’ll cover how to properly perform this exercise, discuss the muscles it works and some benefits, and I’ll go over mistakes to avoid.
The close-grip bench press is a barbell bench variation that is used to bias and strengthen the triceps. Lifters will typically use this exercise to overload the triceps while also focusing on working through a horizontal pressing pattern.
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Close-Grip Bench Press Form
Establish a strong grip and get set
The first step and arguably the most important step with the close-grip bench press is establishing a grip that will allow you to get the most out of this exercise.
Ideally, you want your hands to be about shoulder-width apart on the barbell. You do NOT want your hands super close as this will lead to wrist discomfort and you won’t be leveraging the triceps to their fullest extent.
Set and brace similar to how you would for your barbell bench press. I would suggest not changing the flow in which you get set. Make sure the feet around grounded, the hips are on the bench, and the upper back is set and ready.
Control the eccentric and load the triceps
After you’ve set and lifted the barbell out of the j-hooks it’s time to brace and perform the eccentric, or lowering portion of this movement. Control the eccentric and avoid rushing this part of the movement.
You’ll ideally bring the barbell to about the bottom of the pec. Where the bar touches your chest should be individual and I’d suggest feeling out what feels strongest for you.
As a general rule of thumb, you’ll typically want to make sure that your bar’s contact point allows the wrists to be stacked over the elbows. This will give you better positioning for loading and using the triceps.
For example, if your wrists are behind the elbows at the bottom of your close-grip bench press then it may be worth exploring bringing the barbell down further on your chest to stack the wrists and elbows better.
Press and squeeze the triceps at lockout
Once you’ve hit your chest you’ll start your concentric or lifting portion of the exercise. For the press, think about keeping the elbows relatively tucked and maintaining that strong stacked position with the wrists and elbows.
By doing this, you’ll be able to better leverage the triceps, pecs, and anterior delts. At lockout, I like to cue lifters to squeeze their triceps as this signals when you’ve completed a rep in its entirety.
At lockout, make sure your wrists, elbows, and shoulders are in alignment. If you’re pushing the bar too far forward or back, then you’re likely accumulating unnecessary fatigue due to poor bar path.
Close-Grip Bench Press Muscles Worked
The close-grip bench press will primarily train three muscle groups and these include the pec major, triceps, and anterior deltoid heads. These are all muscles that are regularly used for horizontal pressing variations.
Close-Grip Bench Press Muscles Used
- Triceps (long, lateral, and medial heads)
- Pec Major
- Anterior Deltoid
*bolded indicates higher degree of involvement
Will the close-grip bench press train muscles outside of the three provided above? Yes, to an extent. However, you’re likely not going to program this exercise for muscles outside of the three main primary muscles above.
Close-Grip Bench Press Benefits
If you’re going to program and use the close-grip bench press then it’s good to understand the “why” behind them. Generally speaking, there are three close-grip bench press benefits that I like to keep in mind when using this exercise for me and my clients.
Benefit 1: Great for Overloading the Triceps
The first close-grip bench press benefit to keep in mind is that this exercise can be a great option for overloading the triceps. To build strong and dynamic triceps, it’s a good idea to perform a wide range of exercises.
The close-grip bench press can be a great tool when you want to load the triceps heavily as you can do so easily with this exercise. I also like that you can use the close-grip bench press for power, strength, and hypertrophy goals depending on how you program it.
In general, though, if you program heavier and more strength-focused close-grip bench presses and then follow them with isolation exercises like triceps extension and skull crushers then you’ll cast a wide net to truly grow the triceps.
Benefit 2: Awesome Carryover for the Barbell Bench Press and Overhead Press
In both the barbell bench press and barbell shoulder press the triceps need to be strong as they play a major role in lockout. More specifically, the triceps can be make or break as you pass that 90-degree range of motion with the elbows.
Anecdotally, I’ve always found that my bench press and barbell shoulder press increase really well with more consistent heavy close-grip bench pressing. The ability to bias the tris with the close-grip bench press has a good performance carryover to these exercises.
I also think that if you struggle with your lockout strength in the bench press and overhead press then taking a block or two with heavier close-grip bench presses may be the tool and strategy you’ve been missing.
Benefit 3: Bench Press Stimulus Without the Specificity
Another benefit that comes with the close-grip bench press that I think most don’t consider is that it can be a great tool for giving you exposure to barbell horizontal pressing without being as specific as the barbell bench press.
A great barbell bench press requires a high degree of skill and tinkering to ensure you’re leveraging your anatomy and mechanics to their fullest extent. In this context, I don’t always love performing the bench press when I’m not in prep for powerlifting meets.
That said, if I want to keep some degree of barbell horizontal pressing mechanics in my program the close-grip bench press can be a great tool for accomplishing this goal.
In this scenario, the close-grip bench press will allow us to load a heavy horizontal press but not require the same degree of skill focus, and specificity that comes with the barbell bench press.
Close-Grip Bench Press Mistakes
If you’re new to performing close-grip bench presses you’ll want to make sure you’re not making any of these mistakes as they can take away from your gains and progress.
Mistake 1: Gripping Too Closely
The first close-grip bench press mistake that I see beginners make (I made this one, too, when I started out) is gripping the bar with the hands far too close together.
If your hands are touching or within your shoulder’s width then there’s a good chance you need to rework your grip. When the hands are too close together you can run into issues revolving around wrist discomfort and you’ll be missing out on triceps gains.
The triceps won’t be able to as effectively extend the elbows with a grip that’s too narrow and I think as you get stronger you’ll notice that your wrists can take a beating, especially at the bottom of this exercise if you’re gripping too closely.
When in doubt, look at your wrists and elbows. If they’re not stacked, then there’s a good chance you might be gripping too narrow to get the most out of this exercise for your triceps.
Mistake 2: Pressing the Barbell Too Far Back
Another mistake that I see lifters make with the close-grip bench press — and bench press, at that — is pressing the barbell too far back or forward, in some cases.
When bringing the barbell down, you’ll likely be hitting around the bottom of the pecs. As you lock out the weight, you’ll want to bring the barbell, but you’ll want to be conscious of its lockout position.
If it’s too far forward and tracking above the bottom of the pec AKA where you make contact on the chest, then you’ll tax your anterior delts too far, and if you’re pressing the barbell too far back then you’ll have to waste energy pulling the barbell back over you.
As a general rule of thumb, at lockout, you want to see the wrists, elbows, and shoulders all stacked together. This will give you more energy to invest in reps and not lead to wasted energy trying to re-settle the barbell.
Mistake 3: Rushing Reps
Unless you’re performing close-grip bench press for power with a velocity-focused goal or using accommodating resistance it’s usually a good idea to slow down your reps and perform with a smooth tempo.
I like to use a 2-3 second eccentric (lowering) tempo and a 1-2 second concentric (pressing) tempo. If you want more time under tension and your goal is hypertrophy, then you can make these tempos longer and add pauses.
Close-Grip Bench Press With Dumbbells
If you’re not feeling the close-grip bench press with a barbell, then you can opt for dumbbells and get some triceps-focused benefits using them by tweaking how you’re pressing.
To perform a more triceps-focused dumbbell bench press you’ll want to bring your elbows. Similar to how we want to stack the wrists and elbows with the barbell close-grip bench press, we’ll want to keep the elbows tight to the body to bias the triceps with dumbbells.
By doing this, we’ll have the triceps more heavily involved during the press. You can even try turning your hands completely neutral to see if that gives you more triceps. Doing this will replicate what it’s like to press with a football bar.
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)
Q:What does a close grip bench press work?
Q:Is the close grip bench press effective?
Q:How close should close grip bench be for triceps?
Q:Why don't I feel the triceps in the close grip bench?
The close-grip bench press is an awesome pressing variation for targeting and biasing the triceps. This exercise can be great for lifters and athletes from all walks of life.
If you find that you’re struggling with locking out heavy bench presses and overhead presses, then it might be time to add and program more close-grip bench presses.
If you have additional questions about close-grip bench presses, drop a comment below or reach out to me personally via Instagram (@jake_boly or @that_fit_friend).