When it comes to building muscle in any workout, form is key. It has been proven that form does more for muscle growth than the amount of weight you are lifting and if you have the right form you can grow your muscles much more efficiently. The bench press is no different, and with its many variations, it is important to know the right technique to perform a bench press
Where and how to grip a bar on a bench press all depends on the variation of the bench press and the muscles that you want to focus on, this article will go through the different ways to grip a bench press and what exactly they achieve in terms of muscles worked.
What Muscles Does A Bench Press Work?
The bench press works multiple muscles across three major muscle groups, the chest, arms, and shoulders.
The chest is made up of one major muscle called the pectoralis major, this is the muscle that is most used during the traditional bench press. The pec is split up into two heads, the sternocostal head, which connects the upper arm to your sternum and ribcage, and the clavicular head that attaches your arm to your collarbone.
The traditional bench press and the decline bench press will focus more on the sternocostal head than the clavicular head as the sternocostal head is the bigger muscle and more present during the movement of the arm across and in front of the body.
Variations like the incline bench press put more focus on the clavicular head as you are pushing the bar while sitting on an incline, using the upper muscles of your chest more.
The shoulders are another muscle group worked during a bench press. The shoulders are composed of three muscles, all of them called deltoids or ‘delts’. There are the anterior, posterior, and lateral deltoids. The anterior deltoid is at the front of your shoulder, posterior at the back and the lateral at the top of your shoulder.
During any bench press exercise, the posterior and lateral delts aren’t really used, however, the anterior deltoid works with your chest and arms to bring your arms out in front of you, and are therefore used when bench pressing.
The arms are formed of three major muscles, the triceps, biceps, and forearms. The biceps are split into two heads, the biceps brachii, and the biceps brachialis.
When doing a bench press, the triceps is the muscle that is most used, as the triceps is the muscle that is responsible for moving your forearm away from your upper arm, this motion is what helps us lift the bar during a bench press.
However, in some different variations of the bench press, the forearm and biceps are also used. For instance, during a decline bench press, when lowering the bar, your biceps have to work harder to control the descent, and in the close grip bench press, the forearms tighten as you lift the bar.
Where To Grip On A Bench Press
There are three options for gripping the bar when performing a bench press, there's the traditional bench press, the close grip bench press, and the wide grip bench press. All of these grips focus on different muscles in the three muscle groups just stated.
The Traditional Bench Press
When performing a traditional bench press the hands should be placed just wide of shoulder width and grip tightly, the hands should also be facing forward. When using this grip width you have a lot of control over the bar and can work the three muscle groups in the most efficient way without necessarily focusing on one.
However, the traditional bench press does often work the sternocostal head of the pec more than the other muscles due to the sternocostal head being the largest muscle in the chest. This grip should be tight throughout the bench press and it is important to take it slowly when pushing and lowering the bar
The Close Grip Bench Press
To do a close grip bench press, your hands should be closer to each other than they are on a traditional bench press. The close grip bench press requires the hands to be just above the shoulder. You can move your hands closer together, however, if you move them too close together, the control you have over the bar might lessen and you could result in a wrist injury.
The close grip bench press focuses more on the triceps than any other muscle, unlike the traditional bench press that focuses on the chest. Because you have to lift with your arms angled inward, the muscles in the triceps have to work harder for stability.
The close grip bench press also works the forearm muscles as when lifting this weight with arms angled inwards, the forearms will tighten to give your triceps more control. This variation of the bench press is a fantastic workout for anyone who wants to focus on their arms, especially their triceps.
The Wide Grip Bench Press
When performing a wide grip bench press, your arms should be spaced away from each other on the bar about 1.5-2x the width of your shoulders. For instance, if you measure 40cm shoulder to shoulder, then the space between both hands on the bar should be 80cm.
When using a wide grip bench press, you have more stability than any other variation of bench press. This stability allows you to add more weight to the bar than you normally would with a traditional bench press and why it is a popular grip for bodybuilders.
A wider grip on your bench press allows you to focus more on the pec muscles, especially the larger sternocostal muscle head. Although a traditional bench press will also work the sternocostal head, the wide grip focuses on it a little more, and by being able to add more weight, will be able to work it more for experienced weightlifters.
Where you grip the bar while performing a bench press is all about stability and the muscles you’d like to focus on. If you have a close grip you can focus heavily on your arm muscles, but will have to use less weight as the closer grip will be less stable.
If you’re using a wider grip, you can focus on the sternocostal head of your pec, and add more weight due to the increased stability. Whatever your experience in bodybuilding or weightlifting, we always recommend that you bench press with caution and always have a spotter there to help you.