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All too often in the gym, triceps training is associated with push-downs and other isolation movements, while muscle-building compound movements are forgotten. Compound movements are essential to training in terms of muscle growth in size and strength, calorie expenditure and hormonal response. There are many more benefits, but those three alone should be enough to persuade anyone to include them in their training program.
The three most renowned compound exercises for the triceps are the close grip bench press, tricep dips and close grip press up. The grip positioning can turn a general upper body exercise into a tricep movement instantly , simply by narrowing the grip. The close grip bench press is a variation of the standard flat bench: focus is shifted from the chest and shoulders and on to triceps instead. While still incorporating the shoulders, inner chest and scapula, the majority of the muscle stimulus is placed onto the triceps. The close grip bench press is an exercise that should certainly be considered for anyone looking to develop their triceps in terms of aesthetic appearance, strength, power and even athletic performance.
Close Grip Bench Press Benefits
Contribution to other compound exercises
Almost any upper-body exercise incorporating a push movement will be assisted by the triceps. For example, while the primary working muscle during the military press is the shoulder, the triceps is the secondary. Another example is during the shoulder press, the triceps causes the arm to extend and drive upwards by generating a flexion-extension at the elbow joint. Stronger triceps will make this phase of the exercise to be much greater and more efficient. The close grip bench is one way to make the triceps stronger.
Less tension on the shoulders
One of the most common injuries drawn from the regular barbell bench press is shoulder strain and rotator cuff tear. This is due to the weak muscles in the shoulder being put under severe resistance and tension in a compromising angle. To prevent this, there should be serious rotator cuff work in order to act as injury prevention and to stop this occurring. However, due to the differentiated grip on the close grip bench press, there is a far lesser chance of shoulder injury. That said, there is considerably more tension placed on the elbow and wrist joints during the close grip variation, so for those with previous injury history in that region, time and careful consideration should be placed when performing this exercise.
The following statement may come as a surprise to most— training biceps won’t lead to bigger arms. While biceps training does have benefits, training your triceps efficiently is what will lead to a more rounded, aesthetic arm appearance overall. This is because triceps is a larger muscle group with larger muscle fibres than biceps.
To put it simply, biceps make up about one third of your upper arm, while the triceps make up the remainder. If you were to walk into the gym and perform bicep curls throughout your arm session, you’d essentially be ignoring two thirds of your arm. Find a balance but certainly never ignore the triceps. Incorporating exercises such as the close grip bench press is one good way to achieve this.
Including compound movements such as the close grip bench press into your training plan can have various different benefits. One of these is the release of growth hormone and testosterone which can help your training and improve muscle growth and stimulation.
Target both the lateral and medial heads
While tricep pushdown and dips will target specifically the lateral head (outer) of the tricep, the close grip bench press targets both the medial (inner) and the lateral head, so works more muscles.
The clear benefits of the close grip bench press may seem attractive, so it’s important to ensure good technique and form. The regular bench press is the most common upper body exercise and many people are accustomed to it, so the close grip bench press can take some getting used to. Below is a step-by step-guide on how to perform the exercise correctly.
- Position yourself lying down on the flat bench press. You could even perform an incline or decline method if you prefer.
- Grip the barbell applying a close grip.
- While it’s generally down to preference, a grip about shoulder-width apart is generally advised.
- Carefully un-rack the barbell and position it just above your chest.
- Ensure that your back and head are kept flat on the bench throughout the exercise.
- While inhaling your breath and keeping your close grip, gradually lower the barbell until it has come down to about chest level.
- The key to maximising tricep stimulation is by preventing elbows flaring at all times. Keep your elbows close to your torso and make the mind-muscle connection by squeezing the triceps from start to finish.
- Once you’re in this position, pause for a second before explosively pushing upwards.
- As you push the barbell back to the starting position, exhale and again, keep your elbows tucked in at all times.
- As with all exercise, form and tempo should always be considered and applied to training. For tempo on the close grip bench press, lower the weight down slowly for roughly two or three seconds, pause at the bottom for two seconds before pushing up powerfully as quickly as possible while squeezing the triceps at the same time.
- Essentially, perform slowly for the eccentric, pause and perform powerfully for the concentric.
- Once you’ve performed this movement for the designated number of repetitions, carefully re-rack the barbell.
- It’s suggested you have a spotter or an assistant to watch you throughout the exercise.
Gripping the barbell too close
Because of the name, many people performing this exercise assume you must have your hands positioned and gripping the bar as close as possible. This is incorrect: gripping the barbell closer than roughly shoulder-width apart doesn’t recruit any more tricep fibres and simply increases strain on your wrist and elbow joints. For a sufficient, safe and effective grip, aim to position each hand around 7-8 inches apart or alternatively position them approximately shoulder-width apart if you don’t have your measuring stick on you at the time!
Lifting yourself off the bench
This advice applies to bench pressing generally, not just the close grip alternative. The main reason why people tend to do this is that it shortens range of motion and makes it easier to do the repetitions. But not only is this technically performing half of the work for potentially half the results, but it also increases the risk of lower back injury. To prevent this, constantly remind yourself to keep your backside on the bench. To make the most of your workout, always prioritise good form. .
Flaring the elbows
Not only will flaring your elbows to the side minimise triceps activation but it will also maximise the potential for shoulder injury. Prevent this by keeping your elbows tucked into your side at all times. While the angle you tuck your elbows in will depend largely on your arm/shoulder length, constantly focus on bringing them into your torso as much as possible. It may also help to record a video of yourself lifting, so you can see your own technique or show a training partner for some advice. .
Excessive warm-up sets
With any compound movement, it’s suggested we perform warm-up sets to prepare the working muscles for exercise, to practise proper form, and to get blood to the working muscles. But how many warm-up sets is too much? Sometimes we find ourselves taking ourselves past the point of fatigue! This is extremely relevant with the bench press and its variations (close grip). Ensure you properly structure your warm-up sets and don’t go to failure each set — leave that to the working sets!
Thumb positioning can significantly influence the way equipment is gripped while bench pressing and for many other upper body movements, whether dumbbells, barbells, machines, etc.
However, this can be a rather dangerous technique to use when performing a risky free-weight exercise, with the weight placed over your head.
One grip that many people like to use is the thumbless grip. Simply not using the thumb allows some people to have a more comfortable grip and less stress on the wrist.
However, when applying serious free weight there is potential for the barbell to slip from grasp as the thumb isn’t there to stabilise grip. To prevent this from happening, only apply the thumbless grip for weights you are comfortable with. Otherwise apply a full grip for heavy weights, and have a spotter to assist you from start to end.
You may not always be able to get on to the correct equipment to do this exercise, so take a look at the following variations in order to fulfil your workout.
Close grip dumbbell press
- Very similar to the close grip bench press exercises.
- Replace the barbell with two dumbbells.
- At first it may feel more difficult that you have to control each hand through the movement.
- If it is difficult to control, rest the dumbbells against each other in the movement for more stability.
- Adjust the bars to an appropriate height (you must be able to mount/dismount safely) with the space between them around shoulder-width apart.
- Place the heel of your hand on each of the bars, with your palms facing towards your body.
- Start at the top, with your elbows locked out (shoulders over elbows, over wrists).
- Lower yourself in a controlled manner until your upper arm is parallel (or slightly further than parallel if you’re mobile enough) to the ground.
- Without swinging or kicking your legs, press yourself back up to the starting position, locking your elbows out at the top again before initiating the following reps.
Close grip push up
- Get down into a press-up position with your hands placed just under or slightly narrower than shoulder-width apart.
- Lower your body until your chest is an inch from the ground then explosively drive up by fully extending your arms.
Take Home Message
An underrated yet useful exercise, the close grip bench press is great if you’re looking to target your arms, particularly your triceps. If you can’t get on the barbell to do it, worry not. There are additional variations you can try when equipment is scarce to help train your arms and get the progress you want.