The close grip bench press is a core training staple that can build size and strength in your triceps and chest—but are you sure you’re even doing the exercise correctly?
For this basic gym necessity, you shouldn’t settle for anything other than perfect form—especially because it’s such a simple, essential movement that should serve as one of the centerpieces of your training plan. Let Men’s Health fitness director Ebenezer Samuel, C.S.C.S. and associate fitness editor Brett Williams guide you through the move’s subtleties, saving you from the bad habits that are keeping you from unlocking your fitness potential.
Before you slide onto the bench, grip the bar close, and get ready to press, take note that it’s extremely important to pay attention to the subtleties of the movement here. You’ll miss out on the potential back gains if you’re not focused on your hand position and the bar path—and there’s more to the press than you might think.
Not Too Close!
Eb says: The most misunderstood thing about the close-grip press is the closeness of the grip. You’ll often see people grip the bar with their hands nearly touching each other, but you don’t need to go nearly that narrow. Going that narrow limits how much your back muscles can help you create a proper platform for your torso, and it also forces your shoulders into a level of internal rotation. This also takes emphasis off your triceps and forces your chest and shoulders into play. Your chest and shoulders will invariably assist in close-grip pressing, but you’re doing this primarily for tris, so keep the focus on them.
Elbows Tight and Forward
Eb says: You want to eliminate as much shoulder rotation from this move as possible, both to really attack your triceps and to protect your shoulders. That means really screwing in your arms hard. Once you set up with the bar, focus on rotating your elbows so they face downward, toward your legs.
This will do two things: It’ll turn on your lats to help you lower the weight correctly (more on that below), and it’ll also start to turn on your triceps. (It’s also biasing your shoulders into external rotation, another plus!) Do your best to keep applying this pressure throughout each set. You’re also staying in a position that forces your triceps to drive the motion. Your tris are responsible for extending your arm at the elbow, so you want them moving in one plane; once they’re in multiple planes (because you’re flaring out), other muscles are taking over.
Lower to Your Ribcage
Eb says: Conventional bench presses have you lowering the bar to your lower chest, and you may be tempted to try to do that with the close-grip press. Don’t. Instead, think about lowering the bar to your upper ribcage. If you try to lower to your chest, you’ll place unnecessary mechanical stress on your elbows and wrists. That’s going to prevent you from focusing on your triceps. Eventually, it’ll limit your ability to really add weight to the move.
Think about lowering the weight so your arms form an “L” at the bottom. Your forearms should stay perpendicular to the ground at all times. That will allow you to generate upward force primarily with your triceps.
Smart Bench Rules
Eb says: Your arms are executing a different motion than a standard bench press, but your lower body is not. So adhere to all good bench press rules for body position. That means heels flat on the floor, glutes and abs squeezed, and elbows driving into the bench— and never bounce the weight off your torso.