Bench Press Grip Width: Close-Grip vs Wide Grip Bench Press

Key Points:

  • In general, people are about 5–6% stronger in a wide grip bench press than a close-grip bench press.
  • The close-grip bench press results in higher velocity and power, while the wide grip bench press results in a higher force.
  • In a wide-grip bench press, your chest and shoulders contribute 78% of the force necessary to lift the bar, while your triceps contribute 22%. In the close-grip bench press, the same numbers are 63% vs. 37%.

What are the main differences between the close-grip bench press and the regular (or wide grip) bench press? And which grip width should you use in your bench press training?

In general, there is a small strength difference between these two lifts, and they also work your muscles slightly differently.

How to Perform the Wide Grip Bench Press

  1. Lie on the bench, pull your shoulder blades together and down, and slightly arch your back.
  2. Grip the bar at about 1.5–2x shoulder width.
  3. Inhale, hold your breath, and unrack the bar.
  4. Lower the bar with control, until it touches your chest somewhere close to your sternum.
  5. Push the bar up to the starting position while exhaling.
  6. Take another breath while in the top position, and repeat for reps.

How to Perform the Close Grip Bench Press

  1. Lie on the bench, pull your shoulder blades together and down, and slightly arch your back.
  2. Grip the bar narrower than in a regular bench press, so that your hands are directly above your shoulders or even closer.
  3. Inhale, hold your breath, and unrack the bar.
  4. Lower the bar with control until it touches your chest somewhere close to the lower end of your ribcage.
  5. Take another breath while in the top position, and repeat for reps.

Close-Grip Bench Press vs. Wide Grip Bench Press Strength Ratio

On average, trained individuals seem to be about 5–6% stronger in the wide grip bench press compared to the close-grip bench press, measured in a 1RM lift.1 2

Bench press grip width strength
Mean 1RM from 14 bench press trained men performing strength tests in the close grip and wide grip barbell bench press. (Larsen, 2020)

This means that most people are capable of producing higher force throughout the wide-grip bench press. The close-grip bench press, however, is generally performed faster and with higher peak power (energy per second).

How Wide is a Narrow, Medium, or Wide Grip in the Bench Press?

The study by Larsen et al used the following coefficients of shoulder-width for each participant:

  • Narrow grip: 1.0
  • Medium grip: 1.4
  • Wide grip: 1.7

More specifically, the coefficients above were multiplied with each participant’s biacromial width.

Bi-what?

Biacromial, meaning, the distance between the acromion of your shoulder blades. Your acromion is the bony point you feel on the top of your shoulders, and your biacromial width is the distance between these outermost points.

My biacromial distance is about 48 cm, meaning that my wide-grip (according to the definition used in the study mentioned above) puts me at 81.7 cm grip widths. Re-heally close to the maximum allowed grip width allowed in powerlifting of 81 cm.

There are no official definitions of what constitutes a close, medium, or wide-grip bench press, so it’s really a fleeting scale. For lack of other definitions, I think the coefficients in the bullet list above seem pretty reasonable, and it is in line with what I’ve seen used elsewhere.

Differences in Muscles Worked Between the Close-Grip vs. Wide Grip Bench Press

The close-grip bench press and the wide grip version style both work your chest, front delts, and triceps, but to a slightly different degree:

  • In a wide-grip bench press, your chest and shoulders contribute 78% of the force necessary to lift the bar through the sticking region, while your triceps contribute 22%.
  • In the close-grip bench press, the same numbers are 63% vs. 37%.
Wide grip bench press 1rm triceps vs chest and shoulder contribution
Close grip bench press 1rm triceps vs chest and shoulder contribution

This means that while your chest and shoulder strength is important in both styles, your triceps gain in importance in the closer grip version.

How Does the Moment Arms Change in the Close Grip vs Wide Grip Bench?

Somewhat simplified, the moment arm that your …

  • chest and front delts work against can be approximated by the horizontal distance between your shoulder joint and where your hand grips the bar.
  • triceps work against can be approximated by the horizontal distance between your elbow joint and where your hand grips the bar.
Bench press grip width
Wide grip (81 cm) vs close grip (45 cm) bench press. Notice how the hand positions change in relation to the shoulder and elbow joints. Image courtesy of mysquatmechanics.com/bench/.

Imagine that we were to look at the bench press from above.

  • In the wide grip bench press, your hands are far from your shoulders but almost directly above your elbows. Thus the elbow moment arm is short and the shoulder moment arm is long.
  • In the close grip bench press, your hands are a little closer to your shoulders but much further from your elbows. Thus the elbow moment arm is longer and the shoulder moment arm is slightly shorter.

What Is the Distance between the Ring Markings on the Barbell?

On a standard powerlifting barbell, the ring markings are 81 cm (about 32 inches) apart from each other. This is the widest grip allowed in powerlifting competitions, and you have to cover the rings with your hands. Thus, keeping your index fingers on the rings is the widest grip you can use in competition.

But, to complicate the matter, not all barbells have their ring markings 81 cm apart.

Barbells designed for powerlifting have the ring markings 81 cm apart, but barbells designed for weightlifting have their rings 91 cm apart (about 36 in).

Other, often cheaper, barbells might just have their ring markings at any random distance. Others again have both the powerlifting and Olympic markings.

What to do?

Unless the barbell is properly marked as a powerlifting barbell (usually at the short end), the only way to be sure of the rings’ distance is to use a measuring tape. If you don’t want to bring a measuring tape to the gym, a compromise that I and many others have used is to cut a piece of string to the correct length at home and bring that to the gym.

Which Bench Press Grip Width Should You Use?

If your goal is to lift as much weight as possible, you should try out various grip widths and techniques to see which one you can lift the biggest amount of weight in. The odds are that you will be slightly stronger with a wider grip than a closer grip. Note that the widest grip allowed in powerlifting competitions is 81 cm (about 32 in) between your hands.

If you want to build your chest muscles and anterior deltoids, both bench press styles are good alternatives, but using a wide grip (1.7x biacromial width) might be slightly superior. For the best triceps development, a close grip (~1x biacromial width) is preferable, along with direct triceps work.

Of course, a medium grip (1.4x biacromial width) would serve as a happy medium between these two, with the details depending on exactly how wide you grip the bar.

How to Find Your Strongest Bench Press Grip Width

As previously stated, odds are that you are at your strongest with a wide grip. The widest grip allowed in powerlifting competitions is 81 cm, and you should give it a fair chance.

But what should you do if you don’t currently use a 81 cm grip width? Should you just move out to the maximum allowed width right away?

  • If you are still fairly new to the bench press, you might just be able to shift to 81 cm grip width right away. It will probably feel a little off for the first few workouts, but you should get used to it quickly.
  • If you have been training the bench press for a long time, you might want to take things a little slower. One approach is to move out one finger’s width per week, until you reach the maximum width. Go easy on the weights for some time, in order to give your muscles and tendon time to adapt to the new loading pattern.

If the maximum grip width still feels off even after a month or more of practice, you might be better off with a narrower grip. Try moving in one finger’s width at a time, until you find something that feels strong, stable, and comfortable.

Bench Press Grip Width and Shoulder Injury

Is one bench press grip width inherently more dangerous than the other?

Logically, because the wide grip bench press loads your shoulder joints more and the narrow grip bench press loads your elbows more, these two exercises would also carry a higher relative risk of injury to each respective joint.

In my opinion, however, that is no different from stating that the bicep curl has a higher risk of elbow injury than the squat, and the squat has a higher risk of knee injury than the bicep curl. Both exercises simply load that joint more. That means greater risk and reward.

Load your joints too much and too soon, and you risk injuring them. Load them progressively, and you’ll strengthen them.

Therefore, one could rightly argue that the wide grip bench press is also superior for strengthening and injury-proofing your shoulder joints.

In practice, you will have to find whatever grip width and bench press technique works for your body. We all have different bone structures and we can’t all lift the same. Experiment with grip width, elbow position, and bar path to find your best groove.

One observation I’ve made is that if you are currently dealing with a shoulder or pec injury, there is usually at least one style with which you can keep training to maintain your strength, while still allowing for your injury to heal. For some injuries and shoulder nags, this might be more of a close grip bench with your elbows close to your sides. Other injuries might require you to keep a wide grip and your elbows far out to the sides. I’ve been through both situations myself.

Another consideration is that older lifters seem prone to shoulder pain, and often have to adopt a more close-gripped bench press style, with their elbows close to their body as they age.

Training with Different Bench Press Grip Widths

Should you incorporate different bench press variations into your training, including training with different grip widths?

I think than can be part of a viable bench press strategy. But I also think you can get very strong and muscular without the variation.

If you always bench press with a high arch and (therefore) less range of motion, incorporating some close-grip bench presses with a full range of motion can probably help increase your chest and triceps strength.

The close-grip bench press can also serve as a form of autoregulation in the sense that it forces you to work with lighter weights. It can also make easier mentally to use light weights, as your ego might be too hung up on your standard bench press numbers. In that sense, the close-grip bench press can be a great accessory exercise for the bench press, to utilize on lighter days.

Conclusions on Bench Press Grip Width & Practical Application

  • In general, people are about 5–6% stronger in a wide grip bench press than a close-grip bench press. If your goal is to lift as much weight as possible, you should probably use the widest grip allowed. In powerlifting, that is 81 cm (about 32 in). But make sure to experiment with different grip widths and elbow positions.
  • The close-grip bench press results in higher velocity and power, while the wide grip bench press results in a higher force. This might mean that the close grip bench press is better for sports where you need speed and power, and the wide grip bench press is better for sports where you need brute strength.
  • In a wide-grip bench press, your chest and shoulders contribute 78% of the force necessary to lift the bar, while your triceps contribute 22%. In the close-grip bench press, the same numbers are 63% vs. 37%. Therefore, the wide grip bench press is probably better for growing your front delts and pec muscles, and the close grip bench press is better for growing your triceps.

Improve Your Bench Press

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Bench Press Grip Width FAQ

Let’s round out this article with answers to some of the most asked questions regarding grip width.

Which Bench Grip Width Is Best for Chest Muscle Growth?

A wide grip, of around 1.5–2 times shoulder-width (biacromial distance). The wide-grip bench press is an excellent chest exercise and could be a staple of any chest workout.

Are Different Muscles Worked in the Close Grip vs. Wide Grip Bench Press?

No. The same muscle groups are worked but to a different extent. The wide grip bench press primarily works your chest muscles and front delts, but the close grip bench shifts some of that work to your triceps.

What Part of the Chest Muscles Are Worked in a Wide Grip vs. Close Grip Bench Press?

The wide grip, flat bench press works your pectoral muscles well. That includes both your upper pecs (clavicular head) and lower pecs (sternal head). In the close-grip bench press, the chest muscles are worked to a lesser extent. Also, if you perform the close grip bench press with your elbows close to your sides, you will mostly target your upper pec muscle fibers, leading to even less training of your lower chest.

More resources:

References

  1. Front Sports Act Living. 2020; 2: 637066. 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.
  2. Sports (Basel). 2017 Jun 24;5(3):46. An Investigation of the Mechanics and Sticking Region of a One-Repetition Maximum Close-Grip Bench Press versus the Traditional Bench Press.
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Daniel Richter

Daniel has a decade of experience in powerlifting, is a certified personal trainer, and has a Master of Science degree in engineering. Besides competing in powerlifting himself, he coaches both beginners and lifters at the international level. Daniel lives in Lund, Sweden with his wife and three kids. On StrengthLog, Daniel geeks out about all things related to his lifelong passion of muscle and strength.