The standard bench press is a basic compound weight training lift to increase strength, mass, and power. There are several bench press variations, each with its unique benefits. Varying the grip on the bar can make a significant change to how this exercise works your body. In this exercise, we shine the spotlight on the wide grip bench press to find out whether it’s a good option to include in your training program.
Wide Grip Bench Press Overview
You may have noticed that a lot of competitive bench pressers use a wider grip than you normally see in the gym. This is often done with the main objective of reducing the distance that the bar has to travel. The definition of a wide grip is that the grip is 1.5-2X shoulder-width distance.
As you probably know, a narrow grip bench press places maximum stress on the triceps to the exclusion of the pectorals. The same happens in reverse; the wider the grip, the greater the pectoral activation and the decrease in tricep activation, resulting in more chest growth.
Muscles Worked by the Wide Grip Bench Press
Whenever you do a bench press, regardless of the angle used, you are working three key muscle groups:
- Pectoralis Major
The degree to which each of those muscles is activated depends on the angle of the bench, the width of your hand distance, and the range of motion through which the bar travels. One study showed that a wide grip, with the hands set at twice shoulder width, recruited double the number of pectoral muscle fibers than when the hands were set at standard bench shoulder width. So, the wide grip produces greater chest muscle activation.
Benefits of the Wide Grip Bench Press
- Increased muscle fiber recruitment of chest muscles
- Shortened bar path
- Enhanced shoulder stability
- Reduced horizontal elbow displacement
- Greater leverage
- Flatter resistance curve
When your bench press is viewed from the side, a wide grip will allow the elbow to be more stacked under the bar in the bottom position of the movement. This allows you to better transfer force while placing less stress on the triceps and producing greater leverage.
When you go with a wide grip, your pecs will be in less of a maximum contraction position as you push the bar up to lockout. This allows for a more natural range of motion with fewer sticking points than on a moderate grip bench press.
Drawbacks of the Wide Grip Bench Press
- Shortened bar path
- Minimal shoulder and triceps recruitment
You may notice that I’ve listed shortened bar paths in both the Pro and Con columns. The reason is that, if your goal is to lift as much weight as possible then the shortened travel path will be an advantage. However, if you are doing the bench press primarily to build your pectoral muscle mass, you will need to move the muscle through its full range of motion. The wide grip bench press will not allow you to do that.
If you are on a bodybuilding program where you are doing specific exercises to build different body parts, then being able to isolate the pecs to the exclusion of the deltoids and triceps is a plus. However, if you are doing the bench press to work for as many muscle groups as possible, then a narrower grip will allow you to hit all three key muscle groups.
How Wide Should You Bench Press?
Medium Grip Bench Press Benefits
- Greater force transfer resulting from joints beings tacked vertically
- Faster workout recovery
- Builds more muscle
When you have a moderate bench press grip width, the wrist is stacked more directly above the elbow. This allows for greater force transfer into the bar. If you are carrying a decent amount of muscle mass, this position is probably going to be better for you in terms of strength ability. The wider grip transfers force to the bar less efficiently.
When you perform a traditional bench grip, you will find yourself recovering from your workout faster than if you use a wide grip. The wide bench press grip width is hard work on the chest and the shoulders, being not nearly as natural as a medium grip bench. This may mean that a wide grip bencher cannot handle as much training volume as a medium grip bencher.
The evidence is pretty convincing that the medium grip barbell bench has greater muscle hypertrophy potential than the wide grip. There are numerous research studies done with EMG testing and plenty of empirical evidence that a wide grip is not as effective at putting on mass as a moderate grip. The main reason is that you are moving the muscle through a greater range of motion. The more muscle you have, the more strength potential you will accrue.
Does the Wide Grip Bench Press Make You Stronger?
Based on what we have discovered so far, we can now answer the question about whether or not having a wider grip for bench pressing will make you stronger.
When you have a wider grip for bench pressing, the bar has less distance to travel. This results in greater overall work per rep. As a result, you will notice the immediate benefit that you can get one or two more reps with a wider grip than you could when pushing that same weight with a medium grip. But that doesn’t necessarily mean that you have greater bench press strength.
When you increase your grip width to the extent that your wrists are beyond your elbow position, your force transfer is actually decreased. In addition, the wrist is in a less desirable position to transfer force to the bar. On the other hand, the wide-grip hand positioning puts the elbows in a better position to transfer force. In the end, these two factors will probably cancel each other out.
The biggest factor to consider regarding bench press strength and the wide grip versus the standard bench grip is the fact that you can build more muscle with a moderate grip as a result of the greater range of motion that the muscle is traveling through in this bench press position. Over time, that increased muscle mass will make you stronger, allowing for greater contractile force when you are using the bar up from your chest.
Wide Grip Bench Press Guidelines
In deciding whether you should use a wide grip or a moderate grip on the flat bench, keep these points in mind:
- People who already have a lot of muscle mass in the chest, delts, and triceps will do better with a moderate grip.
- If you can arch your back well on the flat bench, go with a wide grip, especially if your goal is to move as much weight as possible.
- If you have strong arms and are explosive, you will do better with a moderate grip.
- If you have naturally long arms, go with a wide grip.
- Only use the wide grip flat bench press if you have good shoulder mobility.
- Only use a wide grip flat bench press position on your flat bench lifts. Stick with a medium to narrow grip on your incline bench work.
Transitioning to a Wide Grip
If you are used to flat bench pressing with a medium grip, you should transition gradually to a wide grip from a standard bench grip width. If you make too dramatic a change in bench press grips, you will probably find that your poundage will go down as a result of the unexpected increased load on the pectorals.
To avoid this, start by taking your hands out by just an inch wider than normal. It will take you a few weeks to get out to the wide grip that you want, but the gradual transition will mean that you shouldn’t lose any strength in the movement.
You also need to know that, when you move from a medium to a wide grip, your contact point on the chest will change. With a medium grip, you will find that the touchpoint of the bar is at or close to the sternum. With a wider grip, that will move up slightly to at or just above the nipple line.
Some guys make the mistake of forcing the same touchpoint as they were using on the narrower grip. This is an unnatural position that will make you weaker in the movement.
The wide grip flat bench forces your shoulder joint to do more work than the medium grip version. If lack of shoulder mobility is an issue for you, keep your grip less than 1.5X shoulder-width distance.
A complete chest exercise routine, in addition to the flat bench press, should include the following exercises in your training routine:
- Dumbbell Flyes
- Incline Bench Press
- Decline Bench Press
- Chest Dips
The wide grip bench press allows for a reduced range of motion. However, this is offset by greater force transfer through the wrist to the bar. At the end of the day, you need to decide which benefit is more important to you based on your training goals.
If you are training the bench press as a chest exercise, I recommend varying your grip between a wide, medium, and narrow grip bench press in your workout routines. For pure strength development, your choice between wide and shoulder-width grip will depend on your arm length and arching ability.
Frequently Asked Questions
What does the wide grip bench press work?
The wide grip bench press works the three key muscle groups that are activated in every bench press; the pectorals, deltoids, and triceps. However, the wider grip places greater emphasis on the pectorals and less on the delts and triceps. You will also get greater upper chest activation on the wide grip compared to a standard grip.
Which is Better for Building Strength: Wide Grip Bench Press or Narrow Grip Bench Press?
The wide grip bench press does a better job of building size and strength in the pectorals, whereas the close grip bench press places emphasis more on the triceps and less on the pecs and delts. Because the pecs are a much larger muscle group, you can lift a lot more weight in the wide grip version, so the wide grip bench press will do a more effective job of building overall upper body strength. For complete development, your upper body exercise routine should include both of these bench press variations.