The Bench Press is the holy grail of upper body workouts. A powerful compound move that’s widely accepted as the bedrock of pec development.
It offers enough meat in its basic iteration. But off late, the close grip bench press, a sibling of the common bench press has been gaining traction. The fact that many self-proclaimed fitness gurus (Athlean-X) have been raving about how this is probably the secret sauce you were missing all this time, hasn’t helped either.
While we love the close grip bench press and have used it for years to overload our triceps, it is not the ideal exercise for everybody.
There are some fundamental rules that one must adhere to, while performing this exercise. Else, it can bludgeon your shoulders. What makes it tricky is a very slim margin of error. Even a small mistake can shift focus to areas that you can do without.
That’s why we have created this list of alternatives to the close grip bench press. If you have been unable to perfect the close grip bench press (we don’t blame you), then this article will shine some light on the best alternatives for you. Strap in and enjoy the read.
What Is Close Grip Bench Press Exercise?
The Close grip bench press is a variation of the standard bench press, that’s performed with a narrow grip where your hands are closer to each other on the bar.
It is generally performed on a flat bench and engages the same three muscles that the standard bench press does. There’s a difference though and it’s a big one. The focus shifts heavily on to the triceps with the close grip bench press, whereas it’s the chest that does the heavy lifting on the standard variation.
So look at this as a triceps exercise rather than one for the chest.
Equipment Required to Perform Close Grip Bench Press Exercise
The equipment that you need to perform the close grip bench press is exactly what you need to perform the standard bench press. Here’s the list.
A Flat Bench
It’s not uncommon for trainers these days to include incline and decline close grip bench presses in their training programs. But the most common version of this exercise is performed on a flat bench. Just about any sturdy flat bench should do the job, especially because you will not be able to lift as much weigh as you can with a wider grip.
Top Pick - Rogue Utility Bench
The Rogue Flat Utility Bench 2.0 is a no-brainer choice really. It’s made from 2x3 11-gauge steel tubing, stays as steady as a rock and comes with a mammoth max weight rating of 1000 lbs. At just $195, it’s an equipment that will probably outlast you.
Budget option - CAP Barbell Flat Utility Bench
The CAP barbell flat utility bench is our pick for budget-minded shoppers. This is a sturdy bench crafted from 1. 5-Inch steel tubing, and features a 600 lbs. max weight rating. It can easily handle up to 1000 lbs. though. Costs $120 on an average. Hard to find a better deal.
How to Do Close Grip Bench Press Exercise?
Let’s talk about doing the close grip bench press, the right way.
- Set the bar at a comfortable height that allows you to get it off the hook without having to push too much. Ideally, 1-2” is the max that you should have to push to get the bar off the support racks.
- Lie down on the flat bench. The bar should be at eye level, just like you’d set it up for a conventional bench press. Feet flat on the ground, and the shoulders drawn in slightly.
- Now grip the bar with a grip that’s slightly narrower than your normal width. The difference should only be slight though. You do not want to go too narrow, or allow your hands to touch on the bar like some people would have you believe. That’s a recipe for disaster.
- Lift the bar with your shoulder blades retracted, even when your arms are straight. This is your top position. Now lower the bar slowly, in a controlled fashion. Your wrists must be neutral.
- Lower it until it is about 5-6” above your sternum. There’s a lot of debate about how much you should lower the bar. Some experts opine that you can go all the way until the bar touches your chest. But that can cause potential problems with your shoulder joints. It’s best avoided until you gain more control with your form.
- Keep your core braced and slowly lift the bar up again to the top position. Complete your reps and rack the bar safely.
What Muscles Are Worked with Close Grip Bench Press Exercise?
All variations of the bench press engage the same group of muscles. That’s the chest, the shoulders and the triceps. The difference is that the primary target muscle changes as you alter the grip on the bar. Other easier exercises that work the same muscle areas include the overhead cable curl, the single arm French press and dumbbell or barbell shrugs.
When you grip the bar shoulder width apart, the primary muscle is the chest while the shoulders and the triceps are the secondary ones.
When you go narrow grip, the triceps are the primary muscle group while the pectorals and the shoulders are put on the backburner.
Medial Head of the triceps
Most common triceps exercises target the lateral head. But if you seek all-round triceps development, you must target all three heads of the muscle. The close grip bench press is one of the best exercises for targeting the medial head.
Lateral Head of the triceps
It also engages the lateral head of the triceps, which again is a difficult muscle to isolate. If you can go heavy with close grip bench press, you can really overload your triceps, leading to strength, thickness and overall development.
Pros and Cons of Close Grip Bench Press Exercise
Coming to the big question. Is the close grip bench press as great as it is cracked up to be? Here are the pros and cons of this exercise.
- Excellent exercise for isolating the medial and lateral heads of the triceps, which are vital for overall triceps development
- Adds some variation to a conventional chest routine
- You can move more weight with a narrower grip. This can help you increase your push strength, eventually leading to better bench press performance on the whole.
- Controlling the bar with a narrow grip, especially with tons of weight on it, requires a fair bit of core strength and stability. This will develop as you keep working on your close grip bench press.
- Can be added to your arms day routine (if you have a separate one).
- Comes with a learning curve. Beginners will discover that the bar wobbles as they unrack it. You might accidentally push too far up or lower it more than you should. For this reason, we recommend that you have a spotter/coach around when you try this for the first few times. Form is critical to getting this right.
- If you don’t have the right form, the close grip bench press can quickly accelerate shoulder injuries.
Beginner Mistakes On The Close Grip Bench Press
That segues into the next topic. Here are some rookie mistakes that are made while performing close grip bench press. While we have labelled this section as beginner mistakes, sometimes even seasoned lifters with years of experience are guilty of doing these.
So don’t be disappointed if you are a beginner and have made one of these faux pas while performing the exercise.
Going Too Heavy
The close grip bench press is an exercise where you can stretch your max weight limit a tad. But that’s not recommended when you are just starting off. Reserve this for later. Go slow and steady. Going too heavy too early might cause the weight to wobble, and the uneven weight distribution will stress either one of your arms and/or shoulders.
Bouncing the Weight
This is a classic. Regardless of what version of the bench press you are performing, never bounce it off the chest. The movement must be slow and controlled.
Lifting the Hip
This is probably an extension of the first mistake. When you goo too heavy without the right form and strength, you tend to overcompensate by lifting your hips off the bench. Your hips must be flat and on the bench during the entire exercise.
All said and done, let’s look at some of the best alternatives for the close grip bench press.
Best Close Grip Bench Press Alternatives
We are going to look at 3 exercises, which are great substitutes for the close grip bench press. Since we are talking about a compound push exercise, we have listed two alternatives which are also performed on the bench. However, these are easier and will eliminate what we believe are the problematic aspects of the close grip bench press.
#1 – Close Grip Dumbbell Press
Just as you can do the regular bench press with dumbbells or barbells, the same is for the close grip bench press.
The close grip dumbbell press is a great alternative to a barbell press for two reasons. Firstly, it’s easier to control dumbbells as opposed to controlling a loaded barbell. Secondly, you can do this with both hands together or with one hand at a time, which isolates each triceps.
Here’s a video of how to do the close grip dumbbell press
Here are step by step instructions.
- Pick two dumbbells of any weight that you can comfortably push. Lie flat on a bench and position yourself for a conventional bench press. Feet flat on the ground, spine neutral and shoulders tucked in slightly.
- Grip the dumbbells side by side and push them until your arms are extended. Your shoulders should remain on the bench mind you.
- Lower the dumbbells to your lower chest. Just under the nipples, hold for a second and repeat the rep.
- If you are performing this with one hand, push the weight on one side while holding the second one near the sternum.
#2 –Board Press
The board press is the close grip bench press with a board placed on your chest. The idea behind placing the board on the chest is to prevent you from accidentally lowering the bar all the way to the chest. In other words, shortening your range of motion. It also prevents you from bouncing the weight off the chest.
The setup is really simple. Here’s a video showing you the exercise -
Here are step by step instructions.
- Rack the bar and lie flat on a bench.
- Ask a spotter/gym bro to place a board on your chest. Now, this can be any board really. A chess board, a 2x4. Anything works. You are shortening the range of motion and the thicker the board, the harder it gets. So play around with it.
- Unrack the bar and push it until your hands are extended straight.
- Lower it slowly until the bar gently taps the board. That’s it. Do not rest the bar on the board or bounce off it.
- Repeat the reps until you finish your set.
#3 –Skull Crushers
The final alternative to the close grip bench press is the Skull Crusher. The Skull Crusher, or the nose breaker, depending on what part of the body you want to damage, is an excellent exercise that also targets the medial and lateral heads of the triceps. That’s the exact muscles that the close grip bench press engages.
This also can be performed with both, dumbbells and the barbell. In this article, we are going to focus on the barbell version.
Here’s a great video that shows you how to setup and perform this exercise –
Here are step by step instructions to get you going.
- Load an EZ Bar with a sufficient amount of weight. Like the close grip bench press, we recommend starting low. If you go overboard, there’s chances that you might end up crushing your skull for real.
- Grip the EZ bar on the inner knurled grip. This will mimic the close grip on the bench press.
- Sit on a flat bench and rest the weight on your knees. Now push the weight up with your knees as you roll back on the bench.
- Your head should hang off the bench by a couple of inches. Slowly push the weight up, extending your arms. Keep your wrists locked in the straight position. It should not extend or fall backwards.
- Your neck stays relaxed, feet firm on the floor.
- Slowly lower the bar behind your head. Your elbows should stay close to the ears as the bar reaches its lowest position.
- Brace your core, breathe out and push the bar over again into the starting position.
- Repeat the reps and finish the set.
FAQs About Close Grip Bench Press
Now we answer a few common questions about the close grip bench press
What Are the Biggest Benefits of Close Grip Dumbbell Bench Press Exercise?
A. The biggest benefits of the close grip dumbbell bench press is easier control. With dumbbells, you are less likely to experience the bar wobble, or uneven weight shift to any one of the arms or shoulder joints. Also, not all home gym users own a barbell. This keeps you covered.
Is Close Grip Bench Press Necessary?
A. No, it’s not. Sorry if we ruffled some guru feathers there. This exercise is not the be-all, end-all of triceps development. There are some great alternatives as we’ve listed here. That said, if you have the form and can perform it safely, go for it.
How Many Close Grip Bench Presses Should I Do Daily?
A. Just like any other compound exercise, this should not be done daily. Perform it during your chest day or your arms day and space your next workout by 24-48 hours. The average number ranges from 2-3 sets of 8-12 reps each, to 5 sets of 1-5 reps each. Depends on your goal really.
Which Is Better: A Close Grip or A Wide Grip Bench Press?
A. Research suggests that wide grip bench presses greatly increase your risk of injury. So, it’s a straight forward choice. The close grip bench press is a safer bet any day.
Are Close Grip Bench Presses Bad for Shoulders?
A. If you hyper extend the shoulders horizontally, or if you lower the bar all the way to the chest, or if you have pre-existing shoulder injuries, then yes. The close grip shoulder press can exacerbate these problems.
Are Close Grip Bench Presses an Effective Chest Exercise?
A. No, they are not. They will engage the chest for sure. But they are not a primary chest exercise if that’s what you meant. They are more triceps-focused, with the chest being the secondary muscle that’s involved in the exercise.
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