Whether you’re a novice to weight training or you consider yourself an old time pro who’s been throwing weights around the gym since dinosaurs roamed the earth, most individuals know that the bench press is one of the most beneficial exercises to develop your chest musculature. There are many variations to this exercise, in which you can utilise body weight in the form of press-ups or an external resistance through machines, dumbbells and barbells.
To further add variation to the bench press exercise, an individual can also alter the angle of their chest against the resistance they are about to move. In more simple terms, this can be achieved by placing yourself on a flat, inclined or declined bench. The position chosen will ultimately determine which section of the pectoral muscle fibres are specifically targeted and utilised throughout to move the resistance.
Varying Your Grip
So far, this article has introduced variation to the traditional bench press exercise by altering two potential variables; the type of resistance and the body positioning of the individual performing the exercise. There is one further variable which has a huge effect on muscle recruitment during the exercise and that variable is grip positioning.
Funnily enough, it is grip positioning out of all of the variables which appears to cause the most confusion. On speaking with individuals at the gym, when it comes to placing their hands on the bar, it is apparent that the majority of individuals either guess or opt for comfort and completely ignore any biological explanations. Consequently, this article will contemplate the differences created through simply altering your grip positioning whilst performing the bench press, therefore allowing you to make an informed decision next time you choose to undertake this particular exercise.
Just as moving from an incline, to flat, to decline bench press position shifts emphasis from the upper, to mid, to lower pectoral muscle fibres respectively, a similar phenomenon can be seen when moving from a close to wide grip bench press position. Simply speaking, if you select a close grip position, with both hands being slightly less than shoulder width apart, you significantly shift the load offered by the resistance away from your chest muscles and onto your triceps muscles. It is also important to note that this close grip position also significantly reduces the load placed through the shoulder region but enhances the stress placed on your wrists. This is key, especially if you are suffering with shoulder or wrist related joint problems as it could determine which grip positioning you opt for initially.
Conversely, the wide grip position places the triceps muscles into a position of disadvantage where they are unable to exert as much against the resistance offered. This position however, emphasises the chest and shoulder musculature to a significantly greater extent and places these two power muscle regions into a position where they are able to exert their effects maximally. The wide grip is usually selected by placing each thumb so it is in line with the outer region of each respective shoulder joint. As both the chest and shoulder regions are in a position of advantage here, it does mean that most individuals can lift more in this position. As a result, many will select the wide grip over the narrow grip purely based on this justification.
In summary, the wide grip position will emphasise the chest and shoulder muscles whilst placing a significantly greater stress through the shoulder joint, whilst the narrow grip position will place emphasis on the triceps muscles but also place greater stresses through the wrist joint. For those of you thinking, ‘I can lift more in the wide grip position so what’s the point in even considering the narrow grip position?’ it is worth considering the following; Not only will the narrow grip position enhance the size and strength of your triceps muscle, but it will also over a period of time allow the triceps muscles to contribute more to the wide grip position, therefore allowing you to either shift a greater resistance or complete further repetitions.
With this in mind, why not perform both variations as part of your chest workout and reap these benefits.