The position you place your hands on the bar when you bench press has a significant impact on the muscles that are trained, the safety of the movement, and ultimately how much you can bench press.
It is key to get down a solid bench press grip if you are serious about pushing a lot of weight. In this article, I will discuss a variety of grip variations that you can use in the gym.
Best Bench Press Grip
The ideal bench press grip has several features. The most important things to consider are grip width, wrist position, and thumb position. First, I will break down grip width.
The closer your grip is, the higher the load placed on your triceps. Additionally, the closer your grip, the more stress is placed on your wrist, especially your grip is narrower than your torso (as many lifters do during a close-grip bench press. However, and this is a big thing for many lifters, a closer grip takes a significant amount of load off the shoulders.
A wide grip does emphasize the chest more and many lifters will find themselves initially stronger in this position. As a result, the average guy in the gym opts for this type of grip 9 times out of 10.
With that said, it places a lot of stress on the shoulders! Take a look around at the average gym and you will notice every other lifter is rubbing his shoulder and trying to “loosen up his rotator cuff” after each set of bench pressing.
The best bench press grip is just a bit wider than torso width. You can generally get a good grip width by getting down in a comfortable push-up position and using that as your width on the bench.
Your ideal width should allow you to descend with the bar while keeping your elbows at about a 45 degree angle to your torso. This position seems to be the optimal compromise between benching power and shoulder safety.
When switching over from a wide grip to the more narrow bench press grip, many lifters will find that their pressing strength will initially tank. However, in a few months you will catch up and ultimately surpass your previous total.
One of the biggest benefits of this bench press grip is that you are able to bench more frequently with less shoulder pain. For that a reason alone, your pressing strength will ultimately improve with a narrow grip.
My experience parallels this. When I was benching about 300 with a wide grip, I struggled to move past this plateau. The main problem was that I could not bench press with a high intensity more than once per week without serious shoulder pain.
I brought my grip in about 2 inches in each side. I initially struggled with 275, but I was able to bench comfortably twice per week. Within a few weeks, I was back up to 315. In just a short few months, I benched 350.
I have had a similar experience with clients. I trained a young high school athlete that was benching 210 pounds with a very wide grip. We moved his grip and while his strength took a dive for the first two weeks, within the month he was able to press 235!
Bench Press Grip – Thumbs or Thumbless?
This is a big controversy in the bench press world. Most lifters say the thumbless grip is dangerous and should never be used. If your wrists buckle, the bar can drop out of your hands and fall onto your chest. There are many videos of this grip disaster on YouTube.
While I agree that this grip is dangerous, it is not entirely useless. In particular, the main advantage of thumbless bench press grip is that it is very gentle on the shoulders and elbows. If you hurt your elbow or shoulders, this grip can be a great transition to work back into regular bench pressing.
To counter the inherent danger of this grip, I only use it when pressing in a squat rack with the safety pins set up to catch the bar. I do all of my partial pressing, close-grip pressing and overhead pressing with the “suicide grip” to save my shoulders for real bench pressing. I always have the safety pins set so if I drop the bar, it lands on the safety pins, not on me!
If you do use this grip, do so at your own risk and be sure to take proper precautions!
This is is the easiest aspect of the bench press grip. There is no debate; you should place the bar in your hand so that the bar, your wrist, and your elbow make a straight line that is completely vertical. Do not let your wrist extend so the bar sits “behind” your wrist.
By using the appropriate bench press grip, you will not only bench press more weight but also be in less pain and be healthy enough to bench press for years to come.