Master the close grip bench press for muscle building and workout variety.
For years, the traditional bench press has been a mainstay of workout programs. People, along with their trainers, believe that the only way to build stronger pectoral muscles, plus bigger biceps and triceps, is to press heavier weight with more repetitions.
But, unfortunately, this does not always generate the fitness and physique that you’re looking for.
Instead, it may be beneficial to look at alternative exercises, such as the close grip bench press.
Consider the Alternatives
Many exercises exist that can build your pectoral, bicep, and tricep muscles. These are some of the key bench press muscles worked, but the exercises you do ultimately comes down to preference.
For example, you may love to do heavy weight exercises with few repetitions, but you may have a friend who prefers to work with light weights and do countless sets and repetitions.
No matter what your exercise style is, some moves pack a lot of bang for the buck. One of these high return exercises is the close grip bench press.
What Is the Close Grip Bench Press?
The clue to what this exercise is can be found in its name. It resembles a traditional bench press with some interesting quirks and has many of the known bench press benefits. The key quirk is when you grasp the bar to lift it, your hands are much closer than they would be in a more traditional lift or press.
So, rather than having your hands wider than shoulder-width apart, you slide both hands in several inches towards the center of the bar.
For most people, this will put their hands directly in a straight line above the shoulder joint or shoulder-width grip on the bar. This gives you two bench press benefits. First, it makes your pecs and your triceps work harder, and harder work builds bigger muscles.
Second, it reduces the strain on your shoulders. A traditional bench press puts a lot of wear and tear on your shoulder and can be really difficult for somebody who already has shoulder problems (which millions of Americans do)! A narrower grip reduces that stress on the shoulder and elbow joints.
The Benefits of the Close Grip Bench Press
As noted above, this modified hand grip gives you a better workout for some key muscle groups. Particularly the pectoral muscles, triceps, anterior deltoid, and triceps brachii, as well as the medial and lateral long head.
These muscles can be a little harder to build, so any extra boost is a great thing. This modified exercise also reduces shoulder strain and can be a great option for someone battling injuries, range of motion problems, or chronic overuse soreness. But, these are not the only benefits of the close grip bench press.
This approach is also great because it mirrors a lot of real-life activities and may translate better into functional fitness.
For example, many of our most popular sports, such as football and basketball, rely on pushing motions when the hands are in a close grip alignment. So, if you can master the close grip bench press, you may achieve better results on the field or the court.
Additional benefits are once you know how to do this modified grip, it is relatively easy to replicate each time at the gym.
Therefore, you can do it safely. However, you may want to ask a qualified trainer to show you the right way the first time, especially if you have been doing traditional bench presses for years. Old habits can be hard to break, so a hands-on demonstration will keep you safe and protect your muscles.
How to do the Close Grip Bench Press
Lie down on a flat bench just as you would for a normal bench press, and line up your hands on the bar shoulder-width apart. With a narrow grip on the bar and in the starting position with your feet flat on the floor, retract your shoulder blades so you have a tense upper back.
Unrack the bar and extend your elbows so the bar is directly over your chest. The closer grip might feel unnatural at first, but over time this new group of muscles will start to strengthen and it will feel more familiar.
Keep the bar path straight to your lower chest, and back up to the extended arm position. With the proper amount of weight, you should be able to comfortably focus on building strength without shoulder pain in the wrist joints or upper arms.
Although there are many potential benefits to this modified grip, it’s a significant difference from a standard bench press move, so we can’t ignore the downsides. It’s a good idea to consider the risks when adding this exercise to your routine.
The Downsides of the Close Grip Bench Press
The close grip bench press very closely resembles a traditional bench press. Because of this and the weight you are lifting just inches away from your chest, you’ll need to consider these potential downsides and common mistakes.
You May Need a Spotter
Just like the wide grip bench press, it is important that you use a reliable spotter when doing this exercise. If a spotter is not available, you may have to resort to different machines in the gym.
May Require Trying Different Machines and Equipment
The first option is using a Smith Machine. It provides built-in safety mechanisms to prevent a potentially crushing injury. The other option, in situations where your gym does not have a Smith Machine, you could replace your barbells with dumbbells.
With the dumbbells, your hands will again be at shoulder width or slightly narrower. The important thing to remember is that as you push the dumbbells up, your palms will face inwards toward each other.
Weight Could Bounce off Your Chest If You’re Not Careful
With all pushing exercises, it is important to do the exercise slowly and with control. This is especially important when we are talking about the close grip bench press. You want to control the process of pushing up the barbell or dumbbells, always making sure to lock your arms at the top of the lift.
This arm lock will ensure that your triceps are fired up (and build long-term muscle fiber). You also want to engage your muscles as you are bringing the weight back to the chest. You NEVER (!) want the weight to bounce off of your chest. Don’t overload the bar, too much weight is the fastest way to injury.
May Cause Pain if Grip is Wrong
Even though the close grip bench press is a relatively easy exercise to learn to do correctly, especially if a qualified trainer shows you how to do it the first time, some people may struggle with the grip. Because of this, you may notice wrist pain or discomfort.
If you experience wrist pain or discomfort, reach out to your trainer. They can check your grip and make sure that you are doing things correctly, and they may also be able to suggest various modifications that could reduce the discomfort.
It’s important to keep your shoulder blades in proper form by retracting the scapula. By stabilizing your should joints you will be better equipped for injury prevention.
Speaking of grip, it is important to have a good grip that ensures your bar is stable in your hands. The key to a good grip is making sure that your thumb and your fingers are on opposite sides of the bar. If your fingers and thumb slide and end up on the same side, you risk dropping the bar.
Additional Things to Consider
Adding a close grip bench press compound exercise to your upper body workout can be a great addition to your program. It’s one more way of helping build pectoral and tricep muscles. However, before adding this exercise to your routine, there are several caveats to keep in mind.
#1 Contact your Provider Beforehand
If you are not already engaging in an active exercise program, make sure to check with your provider before starting to work out. This check-up will give you a baseline and alert you to any potential health problems, ideally before they become serious.
#2 Pace Yourself
If you are already working out, you probably know the importance of going slow and steady. It is the tortoise, not the hare, that wins the race. In terms of weightlifting, this means picking a reasonable weight to press to begin with.
Then, only add more weight and additional repetitions, as this becomes achievable for you. You want to challenge yourself, but you do not want to push your body for the risk of injury. For many, this can be a difficult line to balance.
#3 Don’t Forget About Your Form (and Breathing)
Lifting weights is not all about muscular strength. It is also about form. Some tips on the correct form for close grip bench presses have been mentioned above. In addition to working with a qualified trainer, it may also be helpful to watch videos on YouTube so that you can see examples of how this lift is executed.
Also, make sure to take a peek in the mirrors around you in the gym. Check that your grip is correct and that your hands are a good distance from each other.
In addition, make sure that you are locking your arms at the top before beginning your controlled lowering of the bar.
Don’t forget to focus on your breathing too! Breathing is an important and often overlooked part of weightlifting programs. Breathe in and out in a relaxed manner while you are doing this press.
Do not hold your breath. If you notice this is happening, it may be a great clue that you are trying to lift too much too soon.
The Close Grip Bench Press Revealed
Many athletes, including weight lifters, regularly bench press to build up key muscle groups, chest muscles, and access all the bench press benefits. But, often, the results of these efforts are not as eye-popping as you might think. As a result, they may end up looking for alternative ways to build up their chest and arm muscles.
One great alternative, as revealed here, is the close-grip bench press. By sliding your hands in on your barbell to shoulder-width or even slightly narrower, you add an additional bang to your workout buck.
In addition, this modified exercise might be the best way to boost your pecs and your triceps, which are two of the key bench press upper chest muscle groups worked.
And, for many people, it will also reduce unwelcome shoulder strain that often happens with more traditional presses.
If you haven’t given the close grip bench press a try yet, it might be a good time to add this chest exercise to your workout routine or training program for improved muscle growth.
Build a Super Strong Posterior Chain With Good Mornings
Good Mornings work your lower back, abs, and hamstrings while adding variety to your daily routine. When done correctly, Good Mornings can strengthen muscles that might become neglected over time.
It’s a great technique to isolate and build up your core, improve posture, bolster leg strength, and supercharge your entire posterior chain.
What are Good Mornings?
The good morning exercise is a weight training technique designed to strengthen the erector spinae muscles of the lower back, glutes, and hamstrings. The exercise is named because it mimics the motion of getting out of bed in the morning.
Good mornings are one of the most underrated exercises because of their ability to target a specific and important list of muscle groups.
It’s a great exercise that will lead to gains in other lifting moves, such as the squat and deadlift, because of the complementary areas of focus. But most of all, it will strengthen your core, give you a strong posterior chain, and keep your posture strong to support almost every activity you participate in.
How to do Good Mornings Step-by-Step
Step 1. Beginning the good morning lift is similar to a squat. Grip the barbell slightly wider than shoulder width, and rest the bar on your shoulders in the low-bar position.
Step 2. In the standing position centered under the bar with feet shoulder-width apart, push your hips forward to raise the bar off the rack. Your toes will be slightly pointed outward, but most importantly, find a comfortable position with the weight evenly distributed across your foot, not on your toes or your heels.
Step 3. Your head position will be slightly leaning forward, with your eyes looking straight ahead. Elbows will be angled back slightly rather than straight down directly under the bar.
Step 4. To begin the move, take a deep breath to brace your core and tighten the spinal erectors of your lower back.
Step 5. Push your hips straight back and keep your shins vertical. Unlike a squat where you break at the hip and knee simultaneously, the good morning breaks at the hip first, then slightly at the knee after.
Step 6. Similar to the Romanian Deadlift, the good morning will result in a strong hamstring stretch as the hips move back. The straighter the knees, the more the hamstrings are stressed and stretched.
One of the main differences to the squat you will notice immediately is the bar does not remain centered over the feet. With the good morning, the bar will move forward as your hips move backward.
This is why good form is so important and why beginning with a lighter weight will enable you to keep the proper form to prevent injury.
Step 7. As your back begins to approach parallel to the ground, you will feel your hips wanting to “round.” This signals to reverse the movement and begin moving the bar back to the upright position and straightening your back.
You might not be able to lower the bar where your back is even close to parrel with the ground. This is because your hamstrings might not be flexible enough to allow your back to bend any further.
Go slow and stop short of parrel, especially when beginning. You will gain flexibility and movement in your hamstrings over time.
Step 8. As you raise your back and the bar upward, be sure to maintain tightness in your lower back and rear delts.
The Body Weight Good Morning
Most importantly, any new move should be with the correct amount of weight. When in doubt, start with a lighter weight. Injury prevention is your number one concern. That being said, new moves and techniques add variety to sometimes mundane or stale workouts.
New workout moves such as the Good Morning have the potential to strengthen areas of your body that have been neglected with a basic workout.
A great approach to almost any new lift is, to begin with body weight only. Slowly go through the motions of each step, from start to finish, without a bar on your shoulders. This will allow you to develop perfect techniques.
Personally, I like to do ten or twenty body weight good morning moves before getting under the bar.
I can get a sense of any tightness, soreness, or other pains before I load my body with weight. Injury prevention is always your first priority, so make body weight movements the first step in introducing any new lift.
Posture Health and Good Mornings
Not only will good mornings help you add pounds to your squat and deadlift, but they will also improve your posture. By strengthening your entire posterior chain, your posture will improve dramatically.
I’ve noticed my posture improve since practicing good morning exercises. I was notorious for sitting with my entire back rounded, shoulders slumped forward, and head tilted forward.
I could “straighten” my posture by consciously focusing on each area, but after a few seconds, as soon as my mind drifted away, my posture will return to its slumped-over look. Hip hinge movement has helped my overall posture a great deal.
The Importance of Good Mornings
For me, the one thing that has helped my posture more than anything else was the realization that my hip extension positions almost everything above it.
You could try to straighten every part of your body for great posture, or you could simply rotate your hips forward. Everything seems to align when I push my hips forward. This is the best form tip and posture advice I’ve ever received. Try it for yourself and let me know what you think.
Therefore, good mornings strengthen your lower body around your pelvic area and posterior chain muscles, preventing your hips from “rolling over” into a slumped position.
Do you ever notice expensive office chairs boasting “lower lumbar support?” Exercises such as the good morning will help develop muscles in your lower back, so you will no longer need to depend on office furniture to “support” your body.
Proper Form of Good Mornings
One of the most common form issues with good morning exercise is not keeping a tight upper body. If your upper back and shoulders are rounded, the bar will not sit stationary in the correct position and might “roll” up or down your back as you perform the exercise. Again, with the proper weight, you can develop good form with a straight and tight upper body.
Another common form problem with the good morning movement is allowing the knees to bend too much. Some knee bend is ok, but too much knee bend will result in something similar to a squat, which is not the goal of the good morning.
The Dangers of Good Mornings
The most common mistake during good mornings is simply using too much weight. As with all other lifts, beginning with a weight that is too heavy will result in poor form, unnecessary muscle soreness, and potential injury.
Just like any other workout move, done incorrectly, the good morning can result in significant injury. Disc herniation, hamstring tears, and back strains are the most common injuries from good morning exercises.
The risk of injury should be your primary consideration for any lifting or exercise movement. For anyone who’s suffered a back injury, proper care should always be taken to prevent re-injury.
Good Morning Workout Move Variations
There are numerous variations of the good morning. Everyone is at different stages of their fitness journey, and your routine should fit your personal experience level.
You can never say it enough times, so I will repeat it, injury prevention is the key to every workout program. These variations to the good morning will allow you to tailor the move to your specific fitness level.
1. Classic Good Morning
The most common form of the good morning is the classic exercise or bodyweight variation. This is a great way for beginners to work on form and good technique without the stress of additional weight. Develop good form and good habits before adding a heavy bar. You can even add a broomstick or PVC pipe to simulate a bar across your shoulders.
2. Back-Loaded Good Morning
As we discussed earlier, many people practice good mornings with a barbell loaded on their shoulder blades. You can begin with only the bar and no additional weight plates. Add additional plates only when your strength level is ready.
For advanced lifters who practice the back squat regularly, you will find the back-loaded position familiar. Just remember not to bend your knees too much and turn your good morning into a “good-squat.”
3. Front-Loaded Good Morning
The front-loaded good morning is for anyone who doesn’t have a squat power rack or barbell handy. You can still do good mornings with a couple of dumbbells, kettlebells, or medicine ball.
Follow the same form but hold the weights in each hand. Focus on engaging the core to prevent rounding of your back. Again, start with lightweight and move up to heavier weights slowly over time.
4. Seated Good Morning
The seated good morning is a perfect starting point for the exercise. It will focus more on your hamstrings and lower back because you won’t have weight loaded on your upper shoulders.
Keeping your back straight and tight, lower your torso as close to parallel to the floor as possible without rounding your back. Press your feet through the floor to raise your torso back to starting position. This is a great move for beginners to get accustomed to keeping a straight back.
The Good Morning as a Warm-Up
I love good warm-up exercises before lifting heavy weights—jumping jacks, push-ups, sit-ups, yoga, pull-ups, or running.
The benefits of good mornings make a great warm-up exercise because of its low weight and core body muscle group. They can also be done in almost any quantity and rep ranges. Whatever makes sense for your specific routine.
Body weight good mornings or even light-weight good mornings make an excellent warm-up routine for almost any workout.
Good mornings are not just perfect for strength athletes but for anyone trying to perform better. Even as a warm-up to start your day, just as you pop out of bed. Just like the name suggests, doing a few good mornings after you wake up can set you up for success during the rest of your day.