It is Monday morning and you wake up and decide to go to the gym. Maybe you’ll walk on the treadmill, maybe lift a few weights…
But it’s Monday, and that means International Bench Day, and all the benches will be taken up. Inclines, declines and flat benche… oh my!
The barbell bench press
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No matter what variation on bench you use, it is a staple amongst upper body strength exercises. Plus it’ll get you super swole!
The different angles and variations will target different muscle fibers, not only of the pecs but the deltoids also.
In addition to the bench variations, you’ll see lifters play with the positioning of their hands.
Your normal grip is going to be your normal grip.
It’s likely the position you’re going to feel most natural and the strongest. But in order to overcome weaknesses in the bench press, it’s important to add variation to your program.
Change your grip to either Wide Grip or Narrow Grip
What’s the difference and how can you work them into your program?
First off, whether some bench more wide or more narrow is up to their strengths and weaknesses
For example, if someone is recovering from an injury they may choose to select a grip that will protect that previously injured spot.
Preference in grip may also be sport specific.
Certain athletes may choose a wider grip over a narrower grip to gain strength in a broader position.
Lastly, your grip may also depend on your anatomical design. You may predisposed to a certain grip in order to be able to move the bar down to your chest, whereas it may require a great deal of effort to move the bar with a different grip.
As long as that bar can be brought all the way down to your chest without pain, you are in a good position for your body.
Remember, unlike dumbbells which can be manipulated to move around to target specific muscles, any barbell movement will require you to adjust your grip/stance to allow optimal results for your gains. As every person is built and made differently, every grip will have its adjustments based on the person lifting.
A study done by the American Council on Exercise (ACE) found that the wide grip bench press elicited the most activation of the pectoralis major, or your chest muscles, making it an ideal way to build your pecs.
Like previously mentioned, a wide grip on the barbell is a personal preference, however, a word of caution: you want to keep your grip in or on the ringed gaps on the knurling as benching too wide can leave you susceptible for injury.
If you already have a wider grip than most, there is no need to exaggerate the distance you extend into when wide grip benching.
However, if you’re adding variability to your benching program, going out about a half inch from your usual grip will challenge you.
It may not seem like much as a half inch doesn’t sound like a lot, but once you try this new grip you will feel the exercise working areas of your muscles you’ve never worked before.
Targeting new areas of your muscles
Like the ACE study mentioned, a wide grip bench will make you feel your more superior pec muscles and a great deal of recruitment from anterior deltoid.
Wider grip benching is associated with more injury than narrow or close grip benching so be warned to not only have a spotter but work up to an appropriate weight.
Your flat bench working set and your wide grip benching set weights should be close but not the same. If you find it is the same weight or even more, it may be time to adjust your normal grip.
Narrow or close grip benching is the second variation away from your normal grip that you can add to your program. This is going to have a bigger emphasis on your triceps.
Just like with the wide grip, a narrower grip may benefit you if you have a shorter arm than normal.
The shorter length of your arm means that you will be able to move weight easily in a tighter set up, and we all know (especially if you read my Pause Squat article): Tension creates strength.
As a variation, you want to be cautious and not overdo how close together your hands are when pressing. Again, try to bring your hands together only about a half to an inch on either side (depending on how close your set up is already).
As this will be a new grip, you will have to adjust and work up to a suitable working weight which will once again not be as strong as your regular grip.
This position will target less on your pecs and more on your triceps.
You will want to flare the elbows less than you would with a wide grip and think away from the body more about keeping them around 45 °- 50° away from the body, so a slightly tucked position.
Both variations have their benefits. Mainly being, while we change our position, whether it be wide grip or narrow grip, you are now targeting new fibers of that movements main movers.
In the case of the bench press, you can gain strength using these exercises as an accessory lift, which any lifter will be happy they added these to their program.
Depending on your goals, you can also gain hypertrophic benefits.
If you are a bodybuilder, with the proper set and repetition ranges, these movements can help build definition to muscles you normally may not target in your regular bench set up.
Variation builds strength in assisting muscles and our main muscle groups, so why not try these the next time you bench and take your barbell movement to another level.
Connect with Expert Chris Cooper.