The close-grip bench press is a flat barbell bench press performed with a slightly narrower grip.
While this seems like an insignificant technique tweak, using close-grip bench press form significantly changes which muscles are emphasized during the exercise.
While the conventional bench press is primarily a chest exercise that also trains the shoulders and triceps, the close-grip bench press is primarily a triceps exercise that also trains the shoulders and chest (especially the upper portion of the chest).
To reap the full benefits of this exercise, though, you need to learn and use proper technique. Using sloppy close-grip bench press form not only reduces the effectiveness of the exercise, but can also wreak havoc on your wrists and shoulders.
So, in this article you’ll learn everything you need to know about how to do close-grip bench press. You’ll learn the muscles worked by the exercise and how to do some of the best close-grip bench press variations such as the close-grip dumbbell bench press and the close-grip football bar bench press, and more!
Table of Contents
Like other horizontal pressing exercises, the muscles worked by the close-grip bench press include the pecs, triceps, and shoulders.
Here’s how those muscles look on your body:
There are some benefits that are unique to the close-grip bench, however, such as . . .
Research shows that the close-grip bench press trains the triceps significantly more than other bench press variations.
Based on my experience training myself and working with and hearing from tens of thousands of others over the years, I’d go so far as to say that the close-grip bench press is the single best triceps exercise you can do. And that means, by the way, that it’s also an outstanding exercise for increasing your arm mass because the triceps contribute significantly more to your total arm size than the biceps.
The close-grip bench press is also one of the best “accessory” exercises you can do for boosting your flat bench press. The reason for this is that a lack of triceps strength can become a limiting factor in increasing your bench press.
For example, if your chest muscles are strong enough to bench press 300 pounds, your triceps may only be strong enough to bench press 250. And since you’re only as strong as your weakest link, your bench press likely won’t budge until your triceps “catch up” to your chest.
In this case, doing an exercise like the close-grip bench press can correct this muscle imbalance and allow you to flat bench press significantly more than if you just kept banging away at it.
Many guys make the mistake of overemphasizing the barbell and dumbbell bench press and chest press machines, which primarily train the “lower” (sternocostal) portion of their pecs as opposed to the “upper” (clavicular) portion.
Over time, these folks can wind up with a “bottom-heavy” chest that looks odd and limits their strength in other pressing exercises (if your upper chest is underdeveloped, that’s less muscle you can use to press heavy things).
Thus, by incorporating exercises like the close-grip bench press into your workout routine, you can ensure your upper chest is proportional in size and strength to your lower chest.
The close-grip bench press better mimics the kind of pushing involved in most sports than the conventional bench press, as most sports involve pushing with the arms close to the sides. Think of chest passing in basketball, blocking or stiff-arming in football or rugby, or posting and framing in boxing or Brazilian Jiu Jitsu.
Thus it’s not surprising that research suggests the close-grip bench press is a great exercise for developing this type of pressing strength that’s vital for performing well at many sports.
(This isn’t to say that the conventional bench press isn’t also effective for this, of course, only that the close-grip bench press may provide additional benefits).
If you want to maximize the muscle-building effects of weightlifting, you have to progressively overload your muscles. This means you have to add weight or reps to every exercise over time (get stronger, basically).
Some exercises are much easier to overload than others, which makes them generally more effective for gaining muscle. For instance, the diamond push-up trains many of the same muscles as the close-grip bench press, but overloading as you get stronger gets tricky.
The same thing is true of many other triceps exercises such as dumbbell triceps extensions, triceps kickbacks, and so forth. Not the close-grip bench press, though, which you can safely overload for more or less your entire weightlifting journey.
Due to the way your upper arms are positioned during the close-grip bench press, it places slightly less stress on your shoulders than the conventional bench press while still heavily stimulating your pecs and triceps.
This makes it ideal for people who find the conventional bench press uncomfortable, who are trying to train around a shoulder injury, or who simply want some of their pressing to be more shoulder friendly.
Before we get into close-grip bench press form, make sure you have all the equipment you need to do the barbell close-grip bench press, including . . .
- A barbell and weight plates
- A sturdy flat bench
- A pair of weightlifting wrist wraps or weightlifting belt (optional)
With that taken care of, let’s talk about how to do the close-grip bench press with proper form.
First, lie down on the bench and adjust your body so your eyes are under the bar.
Then, raise your chest up and tuck your shoulder blades down and squeeze them together. A good cue for this is to think of pulling your shoulder blades into your back pockets, like this:
Grab the bar with a shoulder-width grip or slightly narrower, plant your feet on the ground, arch your back slightly, and unrack the bar by locking your elbows out to push the bar off the hooks.
While keeping your arms locked, move the bar horizontally until it’s directly over your chest.
Keeping your elbows tucked close to your sides, lower the bar to just below your pecs, around the bottom of your breastbone. The bar should touch your chest at a point several inches lower than it does during the conventional bench press.
Once the bar has touched your torso (touched, not bounced off of), you’re ready to press.
Push the bar toward the ceiling to get it off your chest, and keep pushing until your elbows are almost locked. Remember to keep your shoulder blades “down and back,” your elbows tucked, your lower back slightly arched, your butt on the bench, and your feet on the floor.
The bar should move up toward your chin in a slight arc, ending where you began with the bar directly over your chest.
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The problem: Many people make the mistake of thinking that the closer your hands are together, the better the exercise is for your triceps, and so they grip the bar with their hands almost touching each other. This isn’t better than a shoulder-width grip, and in fact, it often causes wrist and shoulder pain (which reduces how much you can press and can lead to injury over time).
The fix: When you set up for the close-grip bench press, adjust your grip so that your hands are directly over your shoulders or just inside shoulder-width apart. This will put your hands about 10-to-16 inches apart for most people. Once your hands are in position, take a mental note of where they are in relation to the knurling (the rough, sand-papery pattern) on the bar. This will give you a reference point for finding the proper grip width every time you do the exercise.
The problem: Placing your hands closer together while bench pressing changes the biomechanics of the exercise so that it’s nearly impossible to press the bar straight up and down. Some people try to do so anyway, and this limits strength and can aggravate their shoulders and wrists.
The fix: Start each rep with the bar above your chest, then lower it in an arc so that it touches your torso at or slightly below your nipples. The best way to get this right is to not think about it—just focus on pressing the bar into the ceiling and lowering it to your lower chest, and you’ll find that the bar naturally moves in the correct way. If you want to check your form, though, have a friend take a video of you from the side while performing the exercise.
The problem: One way to “cheat” during any type of barbell bench press is to let the bar descend so quickly that it bounces off your chest. While this boosts your one-rep max (and ego), it causes several problems:
- It reduces the amount of work your triceps, chest, and shoulders have to do, making the exercise less effective.
- It increases the risk of injury (especially your shoulders).
- It makes it difficult to track your progress because you may “bounce” the bar more on some reps than others.
- It makes you look like a lummox.
The fix: Lower the bar in a quick but controlled manner so that the entire descent takes about a half second or so. Although many people recommend taking 1-to-2 seconds to lower the bar, this significantly reduces how much you can lift and isn’t any better than lowering it in a fast but controlled manner, especially as the bar approaches your torso. A good cue for getting this right is to imagine that there’s an egg on your chest, and you’re trying to touch the egg without breaking it.
If you have trouble getting this right, here are two more strategies to help:
- Try pausing with the bar on your chest for a split second before pressing it up.
- Place a pencil between your pecs (right on top of your breast bone) before you start each set. If you try bouncing the bar, it’ll push the pencil into your chest, serving as a painful reminder to control the descent.
The problem: Not pulling your shoulder blades back and down before you do any kind of pressing exercise causes two problems:
- It puts your shoulders in a vulnerable position, increasing the risk of injury.
- It destabilizes your torso and allows your body to shift position mid-rep, which wastes energy and reduces strength.
The fix: During your warm-up sets, practice pulling your shoulder blades back and down and keeping them in this position during every rep. The only part of your body that should move while pressing is your arms—your shoulders shouldn’t budge.
Some helpful cues for getting this right:
- “Back and down.”
- “Squeeze a pencil between your shoulder blades.”
- “Tuck your shoulder blades into your back pockets.”
The problem: Some people believe you shouldn’t fully extend your arms while close-grip bench pressing to “keep tension on your triceps.” This is wrongheaded. Your triceps’ main job is to extend your elbows, so by only pressing through a partial range of motion, you’re actually making the close-grip bench press less effective for training your triceps.
The fix: Press the bar until your arms are straight at the top of every rep. While you don’t need to fully lock out your elbows, they shouldn’t be visibly bent, either.
The close-grip dumbbell bench press is the same as the barbell close-grip bench press except it’s performed with dumbbells instead of a barbell.
The benefit of doing the close-grip bench press with dumbbells instead of a barbell is that it can help you identify and correct muscle imbalances because both sides of your body are forced to lift the same amount of weight independently (one side can’t “take over” from the other).
The downside, however, is that it can be more difficult to control dumbbells (your hands may not stay shoulder-width apart throughout each rep), and you won’t be able to lift as much weight as you would with a barbell.
The JM Press is named after its creator, powerlifter JM Blakely, who wanted a more effective exercise for emphasizing his triceps after heavy bench pressing.
The JM Press is a combination of the close-grip bench press and triceps extension, and it effectively isolates the triceps more than the close-grip bench press and trains it through a greater range of motion. Many people also find that it’s slightly easier on the shoulders than the close-grip bench press, which makes it a great accessory exercise for training your triceps after your chest is bushed from heavy benching.
You have to start light and progress slowly with the JM Press, though. If you try to handle too much weight too quickly, you’ll likely run into elbow pain.
The incline close-grip bench press combines the flat barbell close-grip bench press with the incline barbell bench press. The thinking behind this is that since both of these exercises train your upper chest, combining the two will train your upper chest even more.
While it’s an interesting theory, I haven’t found it to pan out in practice. For one thing, it’s a very awkward exercise, and I’ve found I can lift much more weight if I do these exercises separately instead of trying to shoehorn them together.
Thus, the incline close-grip bench press isn’t a “bad” exercise, but it’s unnecessary if your workout routine already includes the close-grip bench press and the incline bench press.
The one instance where the incline close-grip bench press could make sense, I suppose, is if you find the incline bench press more comfortable with your hands closer together . . . but I’ve yet to meet someone who can’t comfortably incline bench press.
The Football Bar, also known as the “Swiss Bar,” or “multi-grip bar, is a type of barbell that allows you to hold the bar with a neutral grip (your palms facing each other).
Many people find pressing with your palms facing each more comfortable because it takes some of the stress off your shoulders. It also naturally places your elbows closer to your sides, which ensures your triceps do the lion’s share of the work.
The downsides of doing the close-grip football bar bench press are that you probably won’t be able to press as much weight as you would using a regular barbell, and many gyms don’t have them.
The diamond push-up is a push-up variation where you bring your hands close together under your chest to form a diamond shape with your thumbs and forefingers.
Research shows that doing push-ups with your hands close together emphasizes your triceps over your pecs in a similar manner to the close-grip bench press. This makes the diamond push-up one of the best bodyweight exercises for training your triceps if you don’t have access to a gym.
The downside of the diamond push-up, however, is that you’re limited to using your body weight, which severely limits the strength and muscle building potential of the exercise. (And as mentioned earlier, although you can add resistance with a backpack, rucksack, or bands, this quickly becomes awkward).
While no single exercise is absolutely essential for gaining muscle and strength, some exercises can help you reach strength and physique goals more efficiently.
The close-grip bench press is a particularly good exercise if you goals are to add triceps mass, build your upper chest, or increase your bench and overhead press one-rep maxes.
It’s also a good substitute for the conventional bench press if you find it uncomfortable.
One thing studies have shown, however, is that increasing your grip width beyond 150% of shoulder width increases your likelihood of getting injured. Thus, I don’t think the potential benefits of wide-grip pressing are enough to warrant the risks, which is why I don’t wide-grip bench press and don’t include the exercise in my programs for men and women.
Instead, I recommend you use a slightly-wider than shoulder-width grip while bench pressing and a shoulder-width or slightly narrower grip when close-grip bench pressing.
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It’s impossible to say what a “good” weight is for the close-grip bench press because the answer depends on how much you weigh, your experience level, and whether you’re a man or a woman. (Heavier, more experienced men can generally close-grip bench press much more than lighter, less experienced women).
That said, most people will be able to close-grip bench press around 80% of the weight they normally use for the barbell bench press.
For example, if your barbell bench press one-rep max is 200 pounds, you should be able to close-grip bench press about 160 pounds. If your close-grip bench press is significantly less than this, it’s probably a sign that your triceps are underdeveloped.
If you’re new to the close-grip bench press and unsure about how much weight you should use, figure out your starting weights the same way you would for any other exercise:
- Load the bar with a weight that you’re confident you can press for about 10 reps
- Do as many reps as you can until you feel like you could only complete another 2-to-3 reps with proper form, then rack the bar.
- If you got more than 6 reps, add 5 pounds to each side of the bar (10 pounds total) and do another set. Continue until you get 4-to-6 reps for a single set and then write down the number. This is your new “working weight,” which you’ll use in your next close-grip bench press workout.
+ Scientific References
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- Lockie, R. G., & Moreno, M. R. (2017). The Close-Grip Bench Press. In Strength and Conditioning Journal (Vol. 39, Issue 4, pp. 30–35). Lippincott Williams and Wilkins. https://doi.org/10.1519/SSC.0000000000000307
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