Get the best upper-arm workout through the bench press.

Written by The FLEX staff

May 23, 2008


If you are a true bodybuilding fanatic, then you know every exercise like the back of your exhausted, calloused hands, and know which ones you’re dreading to face in each day’s gym session.

You know which exercises suck, and which ones suck more. Squats, bench presses, and hanging leg raises, to name a few, probably cause your muscles to wince at the very mention of these ligament-tearing movements. Another awkward and painful favorite, however, are the torturous close-grip bench press tricep workouts.

These babies are the double-edged swords of the weightlifting kingdom. Doing them incorrectly runs you the risk of snapping your wrists in half or straining them far beyond the point of excruciating pain, but for truly bitchin’ tris, this exercise is the only thing that will get them pumped like no other.

Here, we give you the rundown of this feared calisthenic, and how to avoid all the scary results caused by improperly training your triceps.

The most common and legitimate complaint against close grips is wrist pain. If your grip is extremely close and you have plenty of weight on the bar, that’s inevitable.

The closer your hands, the more your wrists will bend as you lower the bar, and the more weight you have on the bar, the more stress will be placed on your wrists. You’re then faced with the choice of using either a wider grip or less weight. If you use a wider grip, your wrists don’t have to bend as far and are thus relieved of some stress, but this also reduces the load on your triceps, because more of the work will be taken over by your chest. By using less weight reduces wrist stress, but that also reduces the mass-building effectiveness of the movement.

The other complaint is that, since the close-grip bench press also works the chest and shoulders, it is not efficient enough because it doesn’t isolate the triceps. Get the best upper-arm workout through the bench press.

Written by The FLEX staff

May 23, 2008


You can ignore all these objections. By using various hand placement techniques, you can utilize this exercise safely to its fullest degree, and avoid wrist fractures and ligament strain. It’ll still hurt like hell though.


Use a grip that is just at the inside of your pecs, and bring your elbows in toward your sides, so they are the same width as your hands. Now, as you lower the bar, you will notice that your entire arm moves through a single plane, slicing upward and downward parallel to the long axis of your body.

Since your elbows are not twisting and rotating from outward to inward, they underqo less stress; also, since your arms are against your sides, rather than away from your body, you will get a deeper contraction in your triceps and be able to press with more power. Yes, your pecs are involved to a great extent, but so what? Your triceps are pressing more weight than is possible in any other triceps exercise.

As you lower the bar, tighten your entire body, so you can explode off the bottom. Get a good extension, but don’t concern yourself with a peak contraction; you’ll be using so much weight that you’ll be lucky to lock out, as it is. Besides, your peak contractions come with the next exercise.


To complete the circumferential mass of the triceps, use a second technique of close grips in which your hands are thumbs-width apart. This isolates the outer and inner heads with a degree of power unmatched by any other movement.

Elbow position doesn’t matter here; let them move naturally, to wherever they are most comfortable. Your focus now is in contrast to the previous chest-width bench presses. Where those are all power, calling upon the mass of your triceps to explode off the bottom with your elbows against your body, these repetitions need to be smooth and controlled. The pace of the reps must be steady and, since the elbows are in a more vulnerable and unsupported position, not explosive.

You’re trying to build a burning pump in those outer and inner heads all the way to a full lockout at the top, where you also get a hard peak contraction. That’s where you’ll discover one of the major advantages of this movement: The bar fixes your hands in a position that forces an extra twist at the top. You might feel more stress in your wrists, but your external triceps heads receive maximum benefit.

As far as your workload is concerned, you can use the same reps and sets as in any other exercise. A good example can be an initial set of 15 reps, then three all-out working sets of eight to 12 reps each.

Hopefully, we’ve put all those misconceptions about close-grip bench presses to rest so that you can continue working toward the ripped triceps you’ve always wanted, and much deserve. This does not mean, however, that you should fear them any less.