7 Different Bench Press Grips (Take a Targeted Approach)

Barbell bench press grips include the wide grip, reverse grip, narrow grip, and medium grip bench press.

Getting the right grip for a barbell bench press is vital for performing the exercise correctly and getting all the benefits.

It’s also important to choose the proper benching grip for your weightlifting goals and ensure you’re doing different grips with the correct form.

This means considering hand placement, muscles worked, grip strength, and starting position, among other aspects.

We’ll cover all the details relevant to the barbell bench press, giving you clarity and knowledge every time you step into the gym.

The barbell bench press grip width and type you use will vary depending on your experience, the muscles you want to work, and the weight you lift.

There are 7 bench press grips to familiarize yourself with:

  • Traditional grip bench press
  • Close grip bench press
  • Medium grip bench press
  • Wide grip bench press
  • Suicide grip bench press
  • Reverse grip bench press
  • Neutral grip bench press

Before diving into the specific bench press grips, we’ll explore the background information.

That way, you’ll know about areas like range of motion, grip width, muscle groups, bar path, and more.

Each area has a particular relevance to the bench press, and knowing about them helps when choosing between a wide grip, narrow grip, medium grip, suicide grip, or any of the other types covered below.

Bench press exercises, including the barbell variation, exercise the upper chest, upper pecs, inner chest, shoulder blades, and upper back muscles.

The chest muscles are a crucial area that benefits because they’re fan-shaped. This means different fibers run in various directions.

Because of this, changing your grip when performing a standard bench press, flat bench press, or barbell bench press yields significant benefits.

This is useful because research shows athletes benefit more from a “wide grip on a flat bench” when using heavy weights.[1]

These benefits include increased muscle development for the pectoralis major, anterior deltoids, and smaller muscles like the sternal head and clavicular head.

Grip widths also affect your hand placement and the range of motion possible with the bar. These affect the path of the bar.

It’s essential to consider these before starting a series of sets. Otherwise, you could perform the bench press with poor form and not get any of the benefits.

1. Traditional Grip

The traditional bench press grip is most frequently used in the bench press exercise. It provides a good balance between the range of motion and lifting speed.

This grip position also ensures more weight can get lifted than any other grip variation.

The regular bench press grip offers benefits to beginners and those looking to build good all-around upper body strength.

Muscles Worked

As mentioned above, this bench press grip is the best grip for an overall workout. It doesn’t target any specific muscle groups but does enable you to gain strength in the upper chest.

The outer pecs, anterior deltoid, and the biceps brachii in the arms will all benefit. The traditional grip bench press will also help with the upper back muscles.

Want to work the same muscles as a standard bench press? Check out our guide to bench press alternatives!

Benefits

Benefits from the standard grip bench press include providing an all-around workout to benefit the whole body, plus being most convenient for athletes looking to compete in sporting events like powerlifting competitions.

It also offers equal control and comfort, enabling lifters to strike a good balance. This makes the standard bench press grip ideal for a whole-body workout.

Man Doing Traditional Grip Bench Press

2. Close Grip

The close grip bench press involves placing the hands shoulder-width apart, spacing them roughly between 8-12 inches.

A close grip bench press involves a narrow grip, meaning the movement required for the lockout portion is greater.

This limits bar speed but increases the range of motion. Lifters must ensure they don't place their hands too close together in the narrow grip; otherwise, they can incur wrist strain.

Muscles Worked

The close grip bench press works the triceps brachii and the pectoralis major or clavicular head.

This can contribute to the formation of horseshoe triceps, a desirable aesthetic feature, especially for male powerlifters.

In addition to exercising the triceps brachii and the pectoralis major, a close grip also limits stress on the shoulder joint.

This contrasts with the wide grip bench press, where shoulder development is a greater focus.

If you don't have a bench or barbell at home, head over to our guide on the best close grip bench substitute exercises.

Benefits

Beyond exercising the above-mentioned muscles, the close grip is an excellent exercise if you have a weakness in the shoulder joints or need to improve their strength before strenuous exercise.

Also, pressing with a narrower grip is beneficial for preparing for competitive sports.

Man Doing Close Grip Bench Press

3. Medium Grip

An alternative to the close grip bench press to reduce the range of motion is the medium grip bench press.

It’s often used by athletes and everyday gymgoers who have sustained pectoral injuries. This is because the exertion gets transferred from the pectoralis major to the anterior deltoid and triceps.

There are also 3-4 finger lengths of distance between the medium grip bench press and the traditional grip bench press versus 5 between the standard grip bench press and the close grip bench press.

Muscles Worked

With a medium bench press grip width, the muscles worked are in the shoulders and arms rather than the upper chest.

This way, those smaller muscles often missed by other exercises get targeted work through the bench press.

If you don’t have injuries, there aren’t many clear advantages to using this bench press variant, but it’s there if needed.

Benefits

As we’ve covered, this bench press has a grip width suitable for those recovering from chest injuries, giving it a clear advantage.

But the grip position also focuses as much weight as possible onto the triceps and anterior deltoids, providing a convenient means of targeting these muscles while performing a barbell bench press.

Man Doing Medium Grip Bench Press

4. Wide Grip

The wide grip bench press is an excellent variation of the bench press when it comes to limiting the range of motion and engaging the chest muscles.

It’s performed at 1.5-2x a typical shoulder width, and so long as the shoulders are in the proper position, it will get consistent results for those who use it.

The wide grip bench press is also appropriate for anyone with well-developed chest muscles.

But if your chest muscles are weaker when doing the bench press, the wide grip bench press can also function as good practice.

Muscles Worked

When performing the wide grip bench press, you’ll find it very efficient when moving the bar. This means that less movement is needed to complete a rep.

The downside is it limits the speed, and the upside is that the maximum weight is greater because there is less range of motion.

The wide grip bench press targets the sternal head in the lower chest. It also works the shoulders more than the narrow grip bench press or the medium grip bench press.

Also Check Out - Best Compound Shoulder Exercises

Benefits

The wide grip bench press is an excellent exercise because it targets the shoulder muscles to improve them if there’s a weakness.

The wide grip places more torque on the shoulders than a narrow grip bench press.

Man Doing Wide Grip Bench Press

5. Suicide Grip

The suicide grip bench press is named because of the extra risk involved. The grip is inside shoulder width, but the key difference is that the thumbs are over the bar instead of under it.

This means it can fall and injure you if you aren’t laser-focused on the repetitions you’re doing.

People use this grip because the hand positions take the pressure off the shoulders and transfer it to different muscles.

But if your own history shows you’re not experienced, you should rely on an experienced spotter or even avoid this grip entirely.

Related Article - Which Lifts Require a Spotter?

Muscles Worked

The false grip bench press, as this is also referred to, will exercise similar muscles to the close grip bench press. It can also promote the tucking of the elbow joint, which needs looking out for.

But because of how this bench press hand grip works, the bar is easier to place above the forearm bones.

This creates a good angle to generate force with the bench press. The shoulders will also receive reduced internal rotation, ensuring they aren’t strained.

Benefits

When performing the suicide grip bench press with the proper hand grip, you’ll ensure the greatest amount of force gets generated as you lift.

This makes the weight you use even more beneficial, even if starting with a lower weight.

Beyond this, there aren’t many specific benefits to the suicide grip, and it should only be used in isolation by advanced lifters.

Difference Between Suicide Grip and Standard Grip

6. Reverse Grip

The reverse grip bench press is an unusual form of bench press because there are risks involved with a reverse grip.

These risks are comparable to the suicide grip bench press, as the bar can slip from your hands.

Many lifters roll the bar back to compensate for this, which creates extra pressure on the wrists, leading to problems.

They do this because the reverse grip is an underhand grip with hands a little more than shoulder-width apart.

Muscles Worked

When using the reverse grip bench press as part of your workout routine, you’ll notice potential benefits in the biceps brachii if the exercise is performed in good form.

Achieving this is more likely when a spotter is present than when doing it alone.

This also prevents the biceps brachii from being strained and ensures correct grip width.

Other muscles used with the reverse grip bench press include the anterior deltoid, clavicular head, and triceps brachii.

Benefits

If you’re a beginner, the reverse grip often isn’t the best choice because it can lead to injuries and accidents.

But when done correctly, it’s a good movement for the arms and shoulders because the underhand grip is often a challenging position for the body.

This gives it an edge compared to more conventional grips like the wide grip and the close grip.

Man Doing Reverse Grip Bench Press

7. Neutral Grip

The neutral grip bench press is performed using a Swiss bar and is ideal for those with shoulder pain who can’t perform a traditional bench press.

It’s called neutral because the bench press proper grip for this variation is done using the neutral position on a Swiss bar.

It’s worth experimenting with different grip widths to ensure you feel comfortable when you begin lifting.

Muscles Worked

The neutral grip bench press leads to increased elbow flexion as the elbows need tucking in, and it also helps with the triceps.

In general, this bench press done with an appropriate grip width will exercise your upper body.

Benefits

The main benefit of a flat bench press with a Swiss bar is reduced strain on the shoulders and wrists. This makes it ideal for those with injuries or anyone still at the beginner stage.

It takes some getting used to as the bar is different, but it’s worth familiarizing yourself with.

Man Doing Neutral Grip Bench Press with Swiss Bar

Common Barbell Grip Mistakes & How To Avoid Them

There are 7 mistakes that lifters often make when bench pressing with a barbell, and it’s essential to be aware of them so you can avoid them or correct them if you’re making them now.

We’ve given a heading to each one.

Grip Width

Whether you’re doing a wide grip, close grip, or any grip between the two, it has to be just right. If it’s too narrow while using a close grip, your wrists can get strained.

But if it’s too wide while your grip is in a wide position, you can lose the power you should put into each repetition.

Avoiding it means ensuring that your wrist hovers over your elbow at the bottom side of the bench press after each rep. This means a grip slightly wider than shoulder width in most cases.

Flared Elbows

Regardless of whether you’re performing a wide grip bench press or a narrow grip bench press, you can sometimes flare out the elbows too far.

It creates poor form, distorts the bar path, and increases the risk of a shoulder injury.

Avoiding it gets done by tucking your elbows in at a 45-degree angle and working from there.

Rolled Wrists

As mentioned in the previous sections, some unconventional grip styles can cause your wrists to roll back.

When a barbell stacked with weight plates is involved, this can get dangerous fast. It also causes you to lose power in your press and often feels very uncomfortable.

Fixing it involves making sure the barbell rests in the fleshy portion of the hands so that the load is well-balanced.

Relaxing Your Feet

It’s easy to neglect the importance of your feet when lifting lots of weight with a bench press.

Without the stability provided by good foot positioning, your lifts won’t reach their full potential. Instead, you’ll be left feeling unstable and uneasy as you move the bar.

Ensuring this doesn’t happen is simple. You just need to keep your feet grounded during your lifts and ensure they don’t lift off the floor.

Bouncing The Bar

If you’re new to lifting or have recurring chest pain while working out, the chest press grip you use while benching with the bar could be wrong.

You can judge it by seeing whether the bar moves down very fast and hits your sternum. It can lead to your back loosening, plus limits the power in the press.

To fix it, the ideal solution is to pay serious attention to your form so that you’re not losing control when you’re lifting and lowering the bar.

Coming Off The Bench

If you’re getting stuck into your bench press routine and suddenly notice that your hips are lifting off the bench, then that’s a problem.

It often means that you’ve added excess weight to the bar because added weight causes a “significant change in the phase structure of the bench press.” [2]

This means you can correct it by taking off some excess weight and having your form checked out by a spotter or personal trainer.

Scapula Protraction

If you want to ensure that the weight you move is shifted efficiently, regardless of whether you’re on a decline bench or flat bench, you’ll need to make sure your shoulders aren’t inwardly rounded at the peak of your bench press.

This is known as protracting the scapula, and it can pull your back away from the bench, reducing rep quality. The solution is to keep your scapula retracted throughout the bench press.

man in gray shirt doing barbell bench press

Important Safety Tips When Benching (Setup and Technique)

Now that you know all about the different bench press grips available, it’s important to be aware of some crucial tips to apply when setting up your bench press and beginning to use it for lifts.

Attach Safety Arms

Safety arms are there for a reason, and you’ll typically place them below where the barbell touches your chest.

It’s always worth adding them or keeping them in place. This is because you can roll the barbell onto them if you’re having trouble lifting the weight.

Avoid Collars On The Barbell

Although it’s common practice to put collars on barbells to prevent the weight plates from sliding off, you’ll want to give the weight room to move if you’re bench pressing.

That’s because if you struggle to lift a rep after exhausting yourself, you can let the weight plates slide off by tilting the bar.

This could save you from trauma if you don’t have a spotter with you.

Never Use A Thumbless Grip Alone

The thumbless grip is another name for the suicide grip, and as we mentioned before, you should always do it under supervision. The barbell could slip and crush you if you fail to do this.

It might feel more comfortable for your wrists if you go thumbless, but the risks to your safety are too great. Stick with a typical thumbs-around grip.

Safety Tips When Benching

Frequently Asked Bench Press Grips Questions

How do you know which bench press grip is right for you?

The bench press grip that’s right for you will depend on the muscles you’d like to target and the results you’d like to achieve. The best way to know for sure is to try the safe variations at home and see how you feel. If in doubt, ask a spotter or trainer to advise you.

What grip is easiest for beginners?

The standard grip is the best if you’re just starting because it will help you condition most of the muscle groups involved in bench pressing. This way, you’ll build foundational strength before using any other grips.

Which is better: close grip or wide grip bench press?

Neither the wide grip nor the close grip is better than the other because they’re simply different grips for different target muscles. You may start with one and progress to the other or stick with one to reach a particular workout goal.

How deep should you go when benching?

Although you might see many lifters going all the way down on both a decline bench and a flat bench, we recommend that you stop 1-3 inches above your chest. This will ensure you don’t press the bar too deeply into your chest cavity and cause any injuries.

Should you keep your wrists straight when benching?

Yes, you should. Using a locked or straight wrist is the safest way to perform a bench press. This is because it prevents the smaller muscles in the wrist from being strained by the heaviness of the weight on the bar.

How many times a week should I bench press?

The specific number of times will depend on how much progress you want to make over how long a time, but the general rule is 2-4 days per week. This ensures you can train the different muscle groups involved.


Conclusion

There are many grips in the barbell bench press, plus various mistakes to be aware of and safety tips to follow before you begin and while lifting.

You should now be familiar enough with all the key elements to start bench pressing as soon as tomorrow if you can get to a gym near you.

For any further details, you can take the headings in the article and use them for research.

Reference: 

1. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5504579/
2. https://journals.lww.com/nsca-jscr/Fulltext/2017/05000/Effect_of_Barbell_Weight_on_the_Structure_of_the.21.aspx

Paul J

Last Updated on December 18, 2022