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Where to hold the barbell for the bench press [Article, Free Download]

Posted by Pascal Landshoeft

Feb 7, 2019 9:30:00 AM

Where to hold the barbell for the bench press

Where to hold the barbell for the bench press

You can hold in the middle, close or wide. Close puts emphasis on the triceps while wide maximizes chest pump. The middle is the way to go to post big one repetition maximums. 

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What is your why 

Before we move on to where to hold the barbell for the bench press let me ask you a couple of questions. 


  • Why do you want to bench press 
  • Why do you want to be stronger 
  • Why do you want to pack on muscle 
  • What happens if you do 
  • What happens if you don’t 


You might think that these questions are trivial. They will majorly determine your success. The difference between long-term commitment and short-lived effort is the underlying value set. Digging deeper on why you hit the gym and how it makes a difference to your life will make you enjoy the process more. It will also make you more likely to succeed. Most people go about their lives in this fashion:


  • What do I want 
  • How do I get it 
  • Why do I want it 


With this thought pattern, you will most likely life your life more reactively and less happy. Your body and mind are continuously exposed to external factors. These you can not change that much. What you want on a daily basis is highly depending on your environment. You will be steered by your instincts and emotions. Most of the marketing nowadays is geared towards exploiting this system. If you flog the order to 


  • Why do you want something 
  • How do you get it 
  • What do you need to do 


The dynamic changes. You will mainly focus on the underlying motivations rather than the external triggers to decide what you do. All of your thoughts and actions are more likely to be connected what matters most to you. This will make you happier and experience more meaning in your life. Once that starts your friends and family will also pick up on it and relationships will improve. 


If you are not convinced yet read Daniel Kahneman's book thinking fast and slow. He also has an interesting TED talk which separates the experienced from the remembering self. Furthermore, Simon Sinek makes a very compelling case telling the story of the Wright brothers. Look up his talk on the golden circle.


If you are interesting in resetting your mind to be happier and more successful get the Self Journal. For me, it is the single best tool I have to be more productive and positive. It has a major influence on keeping this blog going. 


The bench press 


The bench press is the most iconic exercise in the gym you can do. Any movie montage in an action or fight movie involves some kind of bench pressing. If you want to speculate on why the bench press is popular you can pick up some of my thoughts on this article. 


The bench press is one of three big lifts which form the sport of powerlifting. The other two are the squat and the deadlift. The bench press is usually the one beginners find easiest to perform. For professionals, this dynamic changes as the bench press is the only one of the three where commands are given in the middle of the lift. This is why many professionals find the bench press to be the most technically challenging of the three. 


The bench press itself mainly trains your chest, triceps, biceps and back muscles. Depending on how you perform it you can put more emphasis on different parts of your chest. Variations of the flat barbell bench press are: 



The world record for the raw bench currently hovers around 350kg. There are also some who have bench pressed 1000 pounds in a shirt. Equipped lifting has experienced a bit of a downturn in the last years. Raw lifting is on the rise. 


To perform a good barbell bench press follow these steps:


  1. Set up the J cups on the rack at the right height. You should be able to pop the bar out by straightening your arms. You should be able to rerack by keeping your arms straight and slightly falling back. 
  2. Make sure that the bar is loaded symmetrically 
  3. Grip the bar depending on your need 
  4. Turn in your elbows 
  5. Squeeze the bar tightly 
  6. Build an arch (if you chose the powerlifting style) 
  7. Unrack the bar 
  8. Get the bar in position 
  9. Lower the bar to the chest 
  10. Press up to lockout


Rinse and repeat for excellent results. 


The biggest advantages of the bench press are that it is easy to learn and builds your chest. It’s best suited to lower rep work and adding plates. 


The biggest disadvantages of the bench press are that it mainly focuses on the chest and does not attack it from various angles. For nice round pecs, attack them with dumbbells from many angles. 


Wide grip bench press


The wide grip bench press is a very good option to stretch your chest and make it grow. You grip the bar at the outer knurling and do your reps. 


This usually lowers the weight you can move. Also ease into the wide grip bench press slowly. This movement is prone to leave stretch marks when overdone. 


A wider grip can also be of interest for powerlifters. Especially when you use a shirt that helps in the lower part of the lift. The wider the grip, the smaller your range of motion. Weigh up leverage against a range of motion based on your build. 


The biggest advantages of the wide grip bench press are its smaller range of motion and bigger stimulation of the chest muscle. This comes at the expense of lesser stimulation for the triceps and higher risk of stretch marks. 


Close grip bench press 


The close grip places your hands right at the inner knurling. As with the wide grip bench press you will move less weight. The leverages are less favourable than placing your hands one thumb inwards from the knurling. 


By gripping closer, you put more emphasis on the triceps instead of the chest. Often the triceps builds the limiting factor to the max bench press. If you want to bring your bench press maximum up the close grip bench press is probably a better option than the wide grip bench press. 


The biggest advantage of the close grip bench press is the impact, not the triceps. This comes at the expense of less pump in the chest and higher risk for injuries if the elbow and wrist.


One rep max bench press grip


If you are after a big bench press maximum you will grip the bar somewhere between the wide and close grip. This way you get better leverages and full activation of all muscle groups involved.


A good starting point is to go one thumb length away from the inner knurling. This way you always set up the same way without too much hassle. After you have learned the bench press proper you can test around this landmark to optimize.


Smaller lifters are usually better off going a little narrower while bigger lifters go wider as their bodies otherwise simply get int the way. Look at the suicide grip as a further variation. In this version, you do not wrap your thumb around the barbell. Be sure that you already have mastered the bench press, start with lower weight and have a spotter for big weights when you use the suicide grip. 


The biggest advantages with a grip in the middle are that it maximizes strength and minimize injury risk to tissue or bone. At the same time, you will not build an amazing chest or massive triceps. 


Where to hold the barbell for the bench press 


Start with what instinctively feels safest to you. This is usually somewhere in the middle. Once you have perfected the basic bench press start using the close grip and wide grip based on your goals. Bodybuilders will use the wide grip bench press more while powerlifters will be pulled towards the close grip variation. 


Further reading 


Topics: Lift stronger, Bench Press, Fitness, Strength, Barbell