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How do you grip the bar for your bench press?

With your hands? Well, of course. Have you ever thought how you grip the bar might change how you bench? Even the placement in your palm will affect how efficiently you bench. Have a read on and see how.

Wide vs Medium vs Narrow Grip

What's wide to you? What's medium? What's narrow? It all will vary from individual to individual what all those words mean for your bench press grip width. We'd need to standardise what each of those might constitute. Let's look at how the barbell is typically marked out.

This is the diagram for an international powerlifting federation (IPF) standard bar. This is the example we'll use for what we can consider width of grip.

Getting to grips with it

For me, my grip for bench is middle finger on the powerband (810mm band, the bar in my pictures is not to IPF standard). So that'd be what I class a medium/normal width grip. Anything narrower is narrow. Anything wider is wide. For some individuals they bench way narrower, they might be able to have a few different wider positions that they can work with because of that. What would also have to be considered is the comfort of going much wider. My elbows kill me if I go much wider. Some people's mobility allows them to bench in all sorts of widths, so make sure you have the ability to bench if you wish to vary your bench press grip width.

Why would you use these wider/narrower grips than normal?

For a different training effect. Narrow grips typically use more triceps. Triceps are mostly involved in the lockout of the movement. If this is something you struggle with, a narrow grip movement could be useful to help you through that lockout.

Wider grips typically use more shoulders and pectorals. These muscles are mostly involved in the initial press off of the chest. If this is something you struggle with, then you could use this variation. If you are trying to build your chest and want to emphasise those muscles, this variation might be considered. However, consider that this is tough on the shoulders and could increase the chance of a shoulder impingement. Every exercise and variation of will carry pros and cons. Weigh them out and then pick what suits you.

Anything different to what you're used to will force you to lift lighter than normal. You might even find a stronger press, for whatever reason, by changing your grip and find your new favourite grip width. I always tell my clients that, especially on the big lifts, they will evolve over time.

If you are interested in or currently competing in powerlifting, check the federation's rules as to how narrow/wide you can grip for bench press.

Get the bar in the HEEL of your palm

95% of gym goers get this wrong (I made up that statistic, but it has to be the majority I swear). There are a couple reasons for the benefits of finding the bar in this position in your hand. Force works better in straight lines. Pressing through the heel of your palm gets the force exerted straight into the bar, without making for an unnecessary moment arm. A moment arm can be defined as the length between a joint axis (upper arm, forearm, hand) and the line of force acting on that joint or joints (shoulder, elbow and wrist). Every joint that is involved in an exercise has a moment arm. The longer the moment arm is the more load will be applied to the joint axis through leverage, so it would certainly be advisable to reduce the length and number of moment arms.

We can also reduce the stress on the wrist joint by placing the bar in the heel of the hand. With the wrist bent backwards to hold the bar up by the fingers, you're stretching out the front of the forearm. However, what you'll probably find at first is that the stress does get re-positioned into the thumb joint. It's not ideal, but you will get used to it, and because of the increased force output, it's worth that differing stress.

A couple cues that may help you get into the right position for bench pressing:

  1. Drive your hand up into the bar before you unrack it. As far down on your palm as you can go.

  2. Make sure your knuckles face the ceiling.

Correct placement looks like this:

It may feel like the bar is going to roll out your hand. If you feel really unsafe with this (which I do understand, it might take a lot of getting used to) then make sure you have a spotter with you, or get the spotter bars up so that they will catch the bar before you hit yourself. Safety first!

You may also feel a bit weaker with this grip. You'll soon get used to it and surpass what you could previously bench.

Incorrect placement looks like this:

This is an example of incorrect placement. Notice how my wrists have bent backwards. This is creating a strain on my wrists and creating a less than optimal position for efficient pressing.

Wrist wraps

Wrist wraps can help to reduce the strain on the wrist as well as the thumb. If you feel you don't need them, I'd suggest trying to keep from using them if possible. If you feel you need them though, read on.

How to wear wrist wraps

Put the centre of the wrap around the wrist joint, it should act almost as a cast the way it wraps round. Tough to open up the hand and almost impossible to bend the wrist forwards or backwards. If you are interested in buying wrist wraps I'd suggest buying a minimum length of 12" for your wrist wraps. You can get soft or inflexible wrist wraps, find what works for you. If you are looking to compete in powerlifting, then make sure they are IPF approved, or approved by whichever federation you are interested in.

That about wraps (lololololol) it up for today.

Happy benching!



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