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Proper Bench Press Grip Width

by
author image Dan Ketchum
Dan Ketchum has been a professional writer since 2003, with work appearing online and offline in Word Riot, Bazooka Magazine, Anemone Sidecar, Trails and more. Dan's diverse professional background spans from costume design and screenwriting to mixology, manual labor and video game industry publicity.
Proper Bench Press Grip Width
Though a standard grip width does your body good, you might want to switch it up for variety's sake. Photo Credit FS-Stock/iStock/Getty Images

Even though you might call your workout schedule a "routine," exercise is anything but — variety not only makes fitness more effective, but more engaging as well. That's why there's not just one push-up; there's the incline push-up, the decline push-up, the single-arm-raised push-up, the pseudo planche push-up and the you-get-the-idea push-up.

So when it comes to your bench press grip width, sure, there is a standard position. And it's important to nail that position if you want a safe, effective exercise. But as the old saying goes, variety is the spice of chest day.

The Standard Bench Press Grip

The American Council on Exercise defines the proper bench press grip width as "hands slightly wider than shoulder-width," which the American College of Sports Medicine-recommended site ExRx.net further describes as a "wide [...] overhand grip."

As you grip the bar, your wrists and elbows should be aligned when the weight is in the downward position. Throughout the lift, your hands shouldn't shift and your elbows shouldn't bend. You'll notice knurled, textured portions on most barbells — these are grip indicators, so if your hands are on the texture, you're on the right track.

Read more: Bodybuilding Bench Press Proper Form

Going Wide

On an Olympic bar, you'll notice smooth marks on either side of the knurled sections — lifters call these the rings. For a wide grip, your little finger touches the outside ring and your elbows are at about 90 degrees to the ribcage at the bottom of the movement. Keep in mind that the widest possible grip allowed of pro powerlifters is the index finger on the outside ring.

Going wider than the standard grip primarily affects which muscles your bench engages. You'll still be hitting all the same muscle groups, but some will have a bit more focus than usual.

Both wide and standard grips excel at hitting the sternocostal head of the pectoralis major. This "middle-pec" area is the fan-like muscle that shapes the front middle portion of your breast. And as a bonus, you get more muscle activity in your lats, too.

Read more: What Does the Wide-Grip Bench Press Work?

Getting Narrow

While wider grip positions engage the sternocostal head, narrower grips may work the clavicular head a little better. In addition to focusing more on these upper pecs, going narrow also increases muscle activity in the triceps compared to both standard and wide positions. [4]

Going past the rough texture into the smooth is too narrow.
Going past the rough texture into the smooth is too narrow. Photo Credit cirano83/iStock/Getty Images

Though these grip variations affect your muscle engagement, they won't likely affect your sticking point, or the point at which your muscles can't overcome the resistance. In a 2016 study by the Journal of Sports Sciences, narrow, medium and wide affected joint angles, but they didn't significantly affect sticking points.

Get a Grip

Do you like to go wide for big chest gains, like a pro bodybuilder? Do you prefer keeping things standard, or maybe switching things up to focus on the upper chest with a narrow grip? If you've got a grip width that you stick with, let others know in the comments below

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