The close grip bench press is an interesting exercise that is often either used incorrectly or not used nearly enough. Today we will go over what the exercise is, exactly what does the close grip bench press target, proper form, and alternative methods of using the exercise for success in your weight lifting program.
You use a regular bench press station for this exercise with the primary difference in form being hand placement. Your hands should be placed shoulder width apart on the bar or even an inch or two closer together. You will have to experiment to find out what is the most comfortable based on the range of motion for your wrists.
After un-racking the weight you will perform a bench press motion. You can either keep your elbows close to your ribs, letting your elbows travel in a straight-line up and down, or let the elbows go out wide with more of an arc when moving the bar from lock-out down to your chest and back. As with a bench press the bar should travel smoothly and in control down, touch the chest lightly, and then travel back up. In this exercise it helps to hold the lock-out and squeeze the triceps for a 2-count.
Most people utilize the close grip bench press as a triceps exercise. Primarily it will activate the medial (middle) head of the muscle or the outer head depending on elbow range with the other head being secondary. The pectorals, primarily the inner section, and the front shoulders both get secondary work from this exercise.
Really this is a great heavy mass building exercise for the triceps much like using dips. The chest and shoulders can assist with the lift to allow a heavier weight to be lifted compared to doing extension exercises. Plus the position of the weight over the elbow makes the arm less vulnerable to injury even with using heavier weights. You can activate more inner chest on the exercise by trying to press your hands together as you press the bar up which causes you to squeeze the pectorals harder as they contract at the top of the motion.
The standard method of doing a close-grip bench press is using a normal flat bench. Keeping your elbows tight to your body will work more of the outer head while letting your elbows go wide works more of the medial head. In addition you can switch to an EZ-Curl bar which changes the wrist position allowing you to perform a hybrid exercise that hits all three heads.
Using the Smith Machine is an excellent variant for this exercise to ensure that you have a built-in spotter when using very heavy weight. You can also do this exercise with dumbbells. The advantage of dumbbells is allowing you to shift wrist positions to hit the muscles from different angles. If you perform them with palms facing each other the motion is similar to doing a dip but with much less lower chest involved.
The Bottom Line
The close grip bench press is a really great exercise that should be a staple of any triceps routine. For variety try the alternative methods to find out if different angles work better for you in hitting your arms. Along with confusing your muscles, many people find that some variations fit them better than the original exercise based on natural body mechanics.