The more time you spend at the gym, the more you notice the unique training styles of other gym goers. And no exercise takes quite as many forms as the standard bench press.
Feet on the bench.
A 30° incline.
At a certain point, you can’t help but wonder, “Must we reinvent the wheel?” It’s reasonable to be skeptical about new exercises, especially when the standard bench has yet to let you down.
But what if we told you that the wide grip bench press might just be the key to thicker, more sculpted pecs? We know … you’ve heard that one before.
So, here’s an in-depth guide explaining all there is to know about the wide grip bench press!
Table of Contents
- Bench Press Grip: Yes, It Matters
- How to Do a Wide Grip Bench Press
- A Few Things to Remember (& Form Tips)
- What Muscles Does the Wide Grip Bench Press Work?
- 3 Benefits of the Wide Grip Bench Press
- Why Is the Wide Grip Bench Harder than a Regular Bench?
- Wide Grip Bench Press Variations
- What’s Next?
Bench Press Grip: Yes, It Matters
The bench press is the most popular upper body exercise for adding mass and strength to the pectoralis major — the larger section of the chest.
The standard bench press benefits are undeniable:
- A thicker, wider, and more sculpted upper body (V-shaped)
- An effective chest, shoulder, and tricep workout
- Enhanced pushing strength
- Improved posture (assuming you exercise your back equally, of course)
Nearly every split routine includes the regular bench press and possibly a few other chest exercises to finish the workout — like dumbbell flyes or the incline bench press.
But changing your grip on the bar, even by a few inches, can also dramatically impact your results. Let’s compare the close grip, wide grip, and standard bench press!
Regular Bench Press
The regular bench press is the gold standard chest exercise.
Not only is the shoulder-width grip more natural and comfortable (regardless of lifting experience), but the hand position on the barbell targets the pec muscles rather effectively.
The ideal hand position is about shoulder-width apart or an inch wider.
Wide Grip vs. Close Grip
The wide grip (WGBP) and close grip (CGBP) presses are two completely different ball games, but we’ll group them together because they’re the “alternative grips” in this scenario.
The close grip bench press is more a triceps exercise than anything.
With a grip slightly narrower than shoulder-width apart (nearly parallel to your sides), you’ll dramatically increase the distance between the top and bottom of the standard rep.
So, your close grip bench press will be:
- A good amount lighter than your traditional bench press (the triceps are minor muscles)
- A better exercise for arm day than chest day
- A fuller rep, thanks to the extra elbow flexion
The wide grip bench press is most popular among competitive lifters.
With a grip about 4” wider than shoulder-width apart (about twice as wide as the standard bench press), you’ll drastically shorten the bar path and complete each rep with far less effort.
So, your wide grip bench press will be:
- On par with or heavier than your traditional bench press
- More strenuous on your shoulders (we’ll get to that later)
- Quicker, in regards to completing each rep
How to Do a Wide Grip Bench Press
The only two differences between the traditional and wide grip bench presses are the weight you’ll use — the slower bar speed makes heavy lifts more challenging — and a wider grip.
So, here’s a quick “how-to” guide for the wide grip bench press:
- Lie with your back down on the bench, feet flat on the floor, and a weighted barbell above you at eye level.
- Use an overhand grip to grasp the barbell about 4” closer to the plates than normal.
- Lightly push the bar upward to remove it from the rack — the bar should now be hovering over your chest.
- Breathe in as you lower the bar toward your chest, making sure to keep your elbows perpendicular to the rest of your body.
- Once the barbell reaches chest-level, briefly pause.
- Breathe out as you push the bar upward to return to your starting position.
- Rerack the barbell.
A word to the wise: Use just the bar the first time you try the wide grip bench press to get the hang of the motion and teach yourself proper form. Add weight plates as appropriate.
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A Few Things to Remember (& Form Tips)
It could be months before you start seeing the extra width and thickness develop in your pecs. But all it takes is one half-ass rep to put you out of commission and your gains on hold.
Here are four musts when adding the wide grip bench to your routine:
The shorter range of motion of the wide grip bench press can certainly help you lift heavier — some say 5% more than your traditional bench working weight.
But there’s a caveat (of course).
The wider grip puts an unnatural amount of torque on your delicate shoulder muscles.
And since your triceps take a backseat during the wide grip bench press, this 50% increase in shoulder pressure can increase your chances of injury, tears, and impingements.
Push your ego to the side: Start light, and stop when something doesn’t feel right!
Ease Into the Grip
Jumping from a traditional bench grip (shoulder-width apart) to an extra 8” between your hands is a huge change and requires time to adjust.
It’s not that the wide grip bench press is reserved for the pros.
But if you’re still building foundational strength in your chest and shoulder muscles, a completely controlled wide grip bench press might be out of the question.
So, start with a traditional bench grip for a month.
Every few weeks, position your hands about ½” wider in each direction. That way, you can start increasing the width and work your way toward the real thing while not sidelining pec strength.
Don’t outright replace your standard bench press with a wide grip bench press.
Use a Spotter (or Smith Machine)
The shift in muscle activation between the standard bench and wide grip bench press can complicate your workout.
The shorter ROM can throw you off, and the shoulder torque is undeniably awkward.
Translation: It’s much harder to read your body.
Where you once knew how many reps you had left in the tank, you’re now left to guess whether it’s 1, 3, or 5 more. You might find yourself halfway through a rep with no safe way to rerack!
Whether you’re a gym vet or a complete newbie, you need a spotter or a Smith machine.
Cut Down on the ROM
Nothing will put stress on your anterior deltoids (instead of your pecs) quite like doing complete repetitions on the wide grip bench press — where the bar touches your chest.
Now, usually, we’d tell you to do more.
But since the wide grip bench press can be uncomfortable or even dangerous for the shoulders, there’s nothing wrong with toning down the range of motion a bit.
It’s 100% fine to leave a few inches between the bar and your chest. While you might not reap the most size or strength benefits, a shortened rep certainly comes with peace of mind.
What Muscles Does the Wide Grip Bench Press Work?
The wide grip bench press is almost an exact replica of the traditional bench press. Of course, aside from positioning your hands up to twice as wide on the barbell.
Just like the regular bench, the wide grip variation targets your lower pecs mostly. But the change in grip allows the wide grip bench press to also activate the following muscles:
- Upper pecs
- Anterior deltoids (the front of your shoulders; the shoulder press muscle)
- Triceps (back of the arms; as a synergist to support good form)
The wider the grip, the less of a workout your triceps get, and the more you bring your anterior deltoids and pecs into the exercise (as evident in the close grip version).
3 Benefits of the Wide Grip Bench Press
Should you completely phase out the traditional bench press from your current routine and replace it with the wide grip bench press instead?
Does the wide grip bench press have perks that the other two grips don’t?
Let’s take a closer look at four reasons the wide grip bench press at least deserves some consideration the next time you overhaul your routine.
1. Heavier Lifts
Anytime you’re doing partial (or shortened) reps, you’ll find that you can lift a hell of a lot heavier. For example, compare squatting at a 45° angle versus dropping down to a complete 90° bend.
A completely different story.
In the case of the wide grip bench press, the shortened bar path makes a heavier workload possible (though not guaranteed). That’s because it takes less effort to complete a “full rep.”
Studies show that the difference in 6RM loads can be as much as 5-11%. In other words, you might be able to turn your 200-pound bench press into a 210-222-pound wide grip bench press.
Now, aside from being able to brag about adding an extra few plates to the bar, lifting heavier has another crucial benefit that we think you’ll appreciate:
Putting your pecs under increased stress will cause more microtears with each workout. So, adding the wide grip bench press to your routine can possibly trigger more chest growth!
Want to lift even more weight faster? Check out our review of the SBD weightlifting belt and see if this belt can take your bench numbers to the next level.
2. More Pec Activation
Most guys will never experiment with different bench press grips, because why should they? The regular shoulder-width grip works just fine, and their pec growth has yet to stall!
But the wide grip version might be better at chest muscle activation. That’s because the wider grip puts the stress almost exclusively on your pectoralis major and anterior deltoids.
Now, you might be wondering, “Well, what else is there?”
A normal bench press highlights the pecs and deltoids as well, but the triceps also take the brunt of the stress while acting as a stabilizing muscle.
So, just as the close grip bench press becomes a mostly triceps exercise, the wide grip bench press does almost the complete opposite — the triceps are nowhere near as involved!
3. Shorter Distance (Less Range of Motion)
The common mindset in the gym is “bigger, faster, stronger.”
And when you look up to the pros, like Arnold Schwarzenegger, who could bench 500 pounds in his prime, you can’t help but wonder why your bench is lagging so much.
As it turns out, the problem is that you’re not taking shortcuts.
Part of the reason why professional powerlifters can bench so heavy is that they’re strategic with their grip — they’re using a wide grip.
The 25% less distance between the bottom and the top of the rep requires far less energy, allows for more reps per set, and can help you add plates to the bar.
In other words, the wide grip bench press can only enhance workout efficiency!
Why Is the Wide Grip Bench Harder than a Regular Bench?
Okay, now you’re a little confused.
The bar path is shorter, and the research says that you should be able to lift heavier on the wide grip version than the standard bench press.
So, why does the wide grip bench press seem so much harder?
Well, it often comes down to bar speed (or lack thereof).
When you’re accustomed to using momentum to set PRs on the standard bench press, handing more responsibility to your deltoids will slow each rep down considerably.
Even at 100%, your deltoids will always be weaker than your pecs. So, the “push off” at the bottom of the rep could require more effort and strength, making the wide grip bench tiring.
Wide Grip Bench Press Variations
If you’re going to add the wide grip bench press to your chest routine, your best bet is sticking to the standard variation — with a barbell and a bench.
But that’s not always possible.
Maybe you still don’t have the strength to safely bench the bar on its own (we all start somewhere). Or perhaps you don’t have a barbell, bench, and a spotter on hand.
Not to worry!
A few wide grip bench press variations (or alternatives) activate the pec muscles directly — just like the wide grip bench press — but in a slightly different way.
- Dumbbell Wide Grip Bench Press: Ditching the barbell for a pair of dumbbells will force each pec muscle to work on its own. The dumbbell variation of the wide grip bench press can help to correct muscle imbalances and activate more stabilization muscles for proper form.
- Resistance Band Wide Grip Bench Press: Resistance bands are fantastic alternatives if you’re still working on foundational strength or have limited equipment at home. The resistance band wide grip bench press is a great lead-in to the barbell variation.
- Wide Grip Chest Dip: Chest dips are some of the most brutal pec exercises for those with elite upper body strength. The wide grip version will help sculpt the lower and outer pecs for more noticeable gains — a solid finisher exercise!
- Wide Grip Push-Up: The wide grip push-up is essentially the opposite of a barbell wide grip bench press, but instead of using artificial weights, you’re strictly using your bodyweight. Maintaining proper push-up form can also prove to be a core or even a full-body workout too.
Feel free to replace the wide grip bench press with any of the above exercises to keep your workouts exciting while still hitting the outer and lower portions of your pecs.
Unless you have a history of shoulder injuries or your shoulders feel a bit iffy when you attempt wider grip upper body exercises, there’s no harm in adding this exercise to your routine.
But don’t stop there!
Sculpting a thick, wide chest means targeting your pecs (and every minor surrounding muscle) in every which way possible.
So, on top of the wide grip bench press, consider swapping in the:
- Incline Bench Press
- Decline Bench Press
- Close Grip Bench Press
- Reverse Grip Bench Press
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