Written by Jamie Wykes
All too often in the gym, triceps training is commonly associated with push-downs and other isolation movements, with little to no regard for muscle building compound movements. Compound movements are essential to training in terms of muscle growth in size and strength, calorie expenditure and hormonal response. There are so many more added benefits but those three alone should be enough to convince anyone that they should incorporate them into their training program.
The three most renowned compound exercises for the triceps are the close grip bench press, the tricep dips and the close grip press up. As you can tell, the grip positioning can turn a general upper body exercise into a tricep movement within seconds, simply by narrowing the grip. The close grip bench press is a variation of the standardised flat bench with a twist; the focus is shifted from the chest/shoulders and placed onto the triceps. Whilst 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 or even athletic performance.
Here are a few reasons why
Contribution to Other Compound Exercises:
Almost any upper body exercise incorporating a push movement will be assisted by the triceps. For example, whilst the primary working muscle during the military press is the shoulder, the triceps is the secondary. For example, during the shoulder press, the triceps causes the arm to extend and drive upwards by generating a flexion/extension at the elbow joint. Having stronger triceps will cause this phase of the exercise to be much greater and efficient. The close grip bench is one certified way to make these 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. In order 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 being 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! Whilst biceps training does have its time and place, training your triceps efficiently is what is going to lead to a more rounded, aesthetic arm appearance overall. The reason for this is that the triceps are a larger muscle group than the bicep and it contains larger muscle fibres within it. To put it simply, the biceps make up about one third of your arm, whilst the triceps make up the remaining third. If you were to walk into the gym and perform bicep curls throughout your arm session, then essentially you are ingraining two thirds of your arm – madness! Find a balance but certainly never ignore the triceps. Incorporating exercises such as the close grip bench press is going to help achieve this massively.
Triggered GH and Testosteron Release:
When we implement compound movements into a training plan such as the close grip bench press, we can expect various different benefits. One of these is a triggered growth hormone and testosterone release. Once these two muscle building hormones have been released, training can be made a lot easier and there is a far greater likelihood of muscle growth and stimulation.
Two Birds With One Exercise:
Whilst the tricep pushdown and dips will target specifically the lateral head of the tricep, the close grip bench press will target the medial and the lateral head also. So not only is the close grip bench press targeting more than one muscle simultaneously, but it is targeting more than one muscle.Within the muscle! This fact alone should be enough to convince you to incorporate this into your next arm session.
Whilst the benefits of the close grip bench press may seem very attractive to most, the technique and form of the exercise is what lets most people down. Due to the fact that everyone is so accustomed to the regular bench press as it is the most common upper body exercise, the close grip bench can take some getting use 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 can perform an incline or decline method also).
- Grip the barbell applying a close grip. Whilst it is all 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.
- Whilst inhaling your breath and keeping your close grip, gradually lower the barbell until it has come down to about chest level.
- The way in which this exercise will maximise tricep stimulation is by preventing the elbows flaring at all times. Keep the elbows close to your torso and make the mind to muscle connection of squeezing the triceps from start to finish.
- Once you are in this position, pause for a second before explosively pushing upwards.
- As you push the barbell back to the starting position, exhale your breath and again, keep your elbows tucked in at all times.
- Likewise with any 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 2-3 Seconds, Pause at the bottom for 2 seconds before pushing up powerfully as quick as possible whilst squeezing the triceps at the same time. Essentially, perform slowly for the eccentric, pause and perform powerfully for the concentric.
- Once you have performed this movement for the designated number of repetitions, carefully re rack the barbell.
- It may be a suggestion to have a Spotter or an assistant to over watch you throughout the exercise.
Gripping The Barbell Too Close:
Because of the name, many people performing this exercise assume that you must have your hands positioned and gripping the bar as close as possible. The truth is, this is completely false! Gripping the barbell closer than roughly shoulder width apart will not recruit anymore tricep fibres and instead, all that will happen is there will be considerable unpleasant strain placed on your wrist and elbow joints. For a sufficient, safe and effective grip; aim to position each hand around 7-8 inches away from each other or alternatively position them circa shoulder width apart if you don’t have your measuring stick on you at the time!
Lifting Yourself Off The Bench:
This is applied to bench pressing in general, not just the close grip alternative. The main reason why people tend to do this nowadays is that it shortens your range of motion and it therefore makes it easier to do the repetitions. Not only is this technically performing half of the work and therefore half the potential results, but it is also maximising the risk of lower back injury. In order to prevent this from occurring, constantly remind yourself to keep your backside on the bench and to leave your ego at the gym door. Good, proper form should be chosen over cringe ego lifting with zero form every single time.
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. In order to prevent this from occurring, aim to stop elbow flaring by keeping them tucked into your side at all times. Whilst the angle to which you tuck your elbows in will depend largely on your arm/shoulder length, try to constantly focus on them being brought into your torso as much as possible. Furthermore, it may help to film yourself performing it for video analysis of your form, or alternatively have a training partner critique.
Excessive Warm Up Sets:
With any compound movement, it is suggested that we perform warm up sets. This is for various reasons; to prepare the working muscles for the exercise that is about to take place, to master proper form leading up, to get blood to the working muscles etc. However, where do we draw the line? Sometimes we find ourselves doing warm up sets and taking ourselves past the point of fatigue! This is extremely relevant with the bench press and its variations (Close Grip). In order to prevent this from occurring, properly structure your warm up sets and ensure that you are not going to or past failure each set, leave that to the working sets!
Whilst bench pressing and for many upper body movements, thumb positioning can massively influence the way in which we grip the piece of equipment we are using, whether it be dumbbells, barbells, machines etc. However, when performing a risky (Weight placed over your head) free weight exercise, this can prove a rather dangerous technique to apply. One grip that many people like to use is the thumbless grip, simply not using the thumb allows some to have a more comfortable grip and certainly puts less stress on the wrist. However, when applying serious free weight; there is more susceptibility for the barbell to slip out of the grasp of the person due to the fact that the thumb is not there to stabilise the grip as a whole. In order to refrain from doing this, only apply the thumbless grip for weight you are seriously comfortable with, otherwise apply a full grip when it is heavy weight and have a spotter to assist you during the movement from start to end.