Most intermediate exercisers are no stranger to the close grip bench press – a variation of the standard bench press wherein the lifter will place their hands closer together in order to shift the focus of the movement to the triceps brachii.
Unfortunately, several issues with this particular variation has led many individuals to seek out an alternative that better fits their biomechanics and training program, with a multitude of alternative exercises existing that can more than fulfill the role of the close grip bench press.
In nearly every circumstance that necessitates the close grip bench press be replaced, a possible substitute exists.
For exercisers without access to a bench, there is the floor press, for powerlifters wishing to remedy a particular sticking point in their bench press, there is the pin press – with quite a number of other alternative exercises all being just as readily available as the close grip bench press itself.
Why Should the Close Grip Bench Press Be Substituted?
The close grip bench press is effective-enough a triceps brachii builder that it has earned a place in practically every intermediate level push workout.
However, this does not equate to the close grip bench press being an entirely safe and convenient exercise, as its particular form cues are somewhat more difficult to learn than the standard bench press, making it unsuitable for novice exercisers or individuals recovering from injuries.
Furthermore, the fact that the arms are placed closer together throughout the exercise will also equate to significantly more tension being placed on the shoulders, elbows and wrists of the exerciser, resulting in a greater risk of developing chronic injuries and making the exercise uncomfortable for individuals with longer arms.
In addition to these factors, there is also the case of the close grip bench press lacking unilateral contraction capacity, furthering the development of muscular imbalances or reducing the mind-muscle connection that a lifter may wish to reinforce through the use of single-sided exercises.
Benefits of Alternative Exercises Over the Close Grip Bench Press
Substituting the close grip bench press with a suitable alternative will yield a number of benefits that would not otherwise be present if the close grip bench press were to remain in place.
These benefits primarily revolve around an even greater specificity of training stimulus than what the former exercise can induce, as well as a somewhat reduced risk of injury so long as the alternative exercise is performed in a correct and proper manner.
Certain other niche benefits may also occur, though their usefulness to the lifter will be on a situational basis and depend on their specific circumstances, such as altered equipment requirements, an altered range of motion and the capacity for greater volume or weight due to workout programming changes.
Muscles Worked by Close Grip Bench Press Substitutes
One of the most important factors to look out for when deciding on an alternative exercise is the similarities in their muscle group recruitment; if the alternative exercise does not work the same muscles as the close grip bench press, it is likely an unsuitable alternative.
This is because of the fact that the entire goal of the close grip bench press is the training of the pectoral muscles, triceps brachii and deltoids. Choosing a substitute exercise that does not fulfill this role will defeat the purpose of substituting the close grip bench press at all.
Hence, when choosing an alternative movement, the substitute should at the least train the pectoralis major muscle and the triceps brachii, with the anterior deltoid head being of only secondary importance considering that there are far more effective methods of developing such a muscle.
A No Bench Alternative: the Floor Press
For exercisers without access to a rack or bench but nonetheless still wish to train their triceps brachii with a barbell, the floor press is their ideal option.
This particular exercise involves the lifter lying on the ground and performing what is essentially a half-repetition of the chest press wherein their elbows making contact with the floor acts as the end of the movement’s range of motion.
A benefit to this is the fact that the reduced range of motion will induce far greater triceps brachii activation in comparison to the deltoids or pectoral muscles, recreating the effect of the close grip bench press with less of an equipment requirement.
Who Should Use the Floor Press as a Close Grip Bench Press Alternative?
This particular alternative will serve best for individuals with a minimalist gym set-up, athletes seeking specific range of motion practice or exercisers who find the tension placed on their joints by the close grip bench press to be uncomfortable.
How to Use the Floor Press as a Close Grip Bench Press Alternative
The floor press may be utilized as a possible substitute if the exerciser does not wish to retain the secondary activation of the pectoral and deltoid muscles, or in the case of a weightlifting athlete needing to work on the lockout portion of their conventional bench press movement.
The floor press can be programmed as a substitute to the close grip bench press by increasing the total amount of resistance but retaining the same volume of repetitions in an equal one to one ratio, as the reduced range of motion involved in the floor press will allow for a greater amount of loading to take place.
For Powerlifters and Athletes: the Pin Press
Another variation on the standard bench press is the pin press – of which involves the exerciser setting the pins of their power cage at a certain height that prevents them from completing the full range of motion ordinarily seen in the conventional bench press.
This has the benefit of improving explosiveness and increasing triceps brachii involvement in the exercise as the pectorals and posterior deltoid head are not as involved – leaving the triceps brachii to pick up the slack.
As a substitute to the close grip bench press, the pin press not only provides quite a similar level of triceps brachii recruitment throughout the movement, but also acts as a more sports-specific training exercise that also has its uses in high level powerlifting training blocks, where it may be used as a tool meant to remedy sticking points.
How to Use the Pin Press as a Close Grip Bench Press Alternative
As the pin press does not possess the same range of motion or mechanics as the close grip bench press, programming such a substitution is somewhat more complicated than simply switching out one with the other.
When using the pin press as an alternative exercise, additional volume should be placed on the pectoral and deltoid muscles in the form of further isolation exercises later in the workout session – all alongside a greater amount of resistance being used per set of the pin press.
Who Should Use the Pin Press as a Close Grip Bench Press Alternative?
The pin press is most suitable as an alternative for powerlifters and athletes seeking a greater specificity of training stimulus, as it will allow these individuals to practice a certain portion of the bench press range of motion, as well as in developing upper body explosiveness.
Apart from powerlifters and athletes, exercisers with mobility issues or a history of injury that limit their range of motion can also benefit from using the pin press as a close grip bench press alternative – all without sacrificing triceps brachii recruitment potential.
For Better Triceps Development: The Close-Grip Board Press
Functionally similar to the pin press, the board press places a flat implement on the exerciser’s chest as a method of reducing the total range of motion and thereby altering what particular muscles are worked by the exercise.
When combined with the hand placement of the close grip bench press, this results in a significantly more effective triceps builder while also reducing the involvement of the deltoid muscles and shoulder joint, resulting in a lower risk of shoulder injury.
Consequently, such alterations will also demand more exertion from the triceps brachii – requiring the exerciser or their coach to make alterations to the structure and programming of their training program.
How to Use the Close-Grip Board Press as a Close Grip Bench Press Alternative
The close-grip board press can function as an excellent alternative to the close grip bench press if greater intensity of exertion and triceps brachii recruitment is what the lifter is seeking, with its shortened range of motion and reduction in pectoral or deltoid muscle activation allowing for greater specificity of training stimulus.
Who Should Use the Close-Grip Board Press as a Close Grip Bench Press Alternative?
This particular alternative to the close grip bench press is especially useful as a technique development tool for powerlifters with bench press mechanics issues, or athletes seeking to increase the explosive power output of their arms and upper chest.
Unfortunately, though the close-grip board press is excellent at acting as a progressive alternative to the close grip bench press, it relegates the pectorals to a secondary activation role and as such will not reproduce the muscular activation of the latter exercise in its entirety.
Miscellaneous Close Grip Bench Press Alternatives
A bodyweight variation of the standard push up exercise, the diamond push up recreates many of the same biomechanics and muscle group activations as the close grip bench press – though with the added benefit of requiring absolutely no equipment.
The diamond pushup also presents a significantly lower risk of injury due to the fact that it is only the exerciser’s own body weight that is acting as a source of resistance, thereby placing lesser strain on the elbow and shoulder joints and creating a more comfortable exercise overall.
Unfortunately, it is likely that the exerciser will have comparative trouble inducing progressive overload or significant enough intensity with the diamond pushup, placing this alternative exercise in the temporary substitute category, meant to only be used in circumstances where the lifter has no other alternative available.
Another body weight exercise that produces significantly more triceps brachii activation than the close grip bench press, bench dips are a particularly effective alternative exercise for targeting the long and medial head of the triceps due to the angle at which the elbows are situated in comparison to the torso.
Bench dips also have the added benefit of requiring no additional equipment, and may be performed on practically any stable object at approximately waist-level.
If the exerciser finds standard body weight dips to be insufficient in terms of resistance, they may simply place a weight plate atop their lap to increase the total resistance of the movement and thereby continue progressive overload.
It is recommended that the exerciser keep the level of resistance to a minimum and aim for approximately ten to fourteen repetitions per set, as excessive strain placed on the elbow in this position can lead to chronic overuse injuries.
Final Thoughts on Close Grip Bench Press Alternatives
To conclude this article, we must note that not all possible alternatives to the close grip bench press have been listed here, as doing so would reach the triple digits in terms of possible choices.
Instead, we have chosen to list those exercises that are most similar in terms of muscular activation, purpose of use and possible solutions for the most common issues found in the close grip bench press.
As always, no matter which alternative you have chosen to perform, proper workout programming and adherence to correct form is a strict requirement, as deviation from either matter can easily result in suboptimal muscular development or even injuries.