T Nation

Argument Against Wide-Grip Bench


I've read in a few places that a wider grip on the bench press shouldn't be used to avoid shoulder/pec injuries. I was wondering if anyone knew where I could find more information on what exactly the arguments against wide grip bench are, or why you avoid wide grip bench if you do. thanks.


Tucking your elbows in tighter, even with a wide grip will go a long way to keeping your shoulder/pec area healthy. Benching wide with the elbows out perpendicular to the body will tear you up.



Adage #6: Bench pressing will destroy your shoulders.

This one makes me want to pull out my hair. The bench press and its variations have tremendous value in training the upper body; problems arise when people train their egos and not the movements. This egotistical bench approach can be summed up with the following:

  1. Lack of balance in training volume: This imbalance is present in a) internal and external rotation of the humerus, b) lack of balance between scapular protraction and retraction (and often inappropriate protraction substitution patterns), and c) horizontal adduction and horizontal abduction. The solutions are actually quite simple: bench less; do more horizontal pulling, external rotations and horizontal abduction exercises (i.e. posterior deltoid work); and incorporate some isolated scapular protraction work to activate the serratus anterior (see the Neanderthal No More series for specific exercises).

  2. Poor technique: Unless you're a powerlifter in competition, don't get caught up in just using the grip (usually an ultra wide one) that allows you to move the most iron. Instead, you should choose a grip that takes into account shoulder health, recruitment patterns and carryover to sport.

In terms of shoulder health, in almost all cases, a narrower grip will be the safest, with anything outside of 1.5 times shoulder-width putting you at markedly greater risk (1,2). From a recruitment pattern standpoint, a close grip will overload the triceps to a greater degree, whereas a wider grip will involve the pectoralis major more. Using a 14-inch grip tends to have the greatest carryover to athletics. Just think of the position from which you block in football, throw a chest pass in basketball, check in hockey, grapple with an opponent in mixed martial arts, or support your body weight while in the missionary position.

A comprehensive description of benching technique is beyond the scope of this article, but if I had to give ten cues, theyâ??d be 1) chest high, 2) elbows tucked, 3) scapulae retracted, 4) lower back neutral or arched, 5) feet on floor, 6) tight core (braced), 7) elbows under the bar, 8) get a lift-off, and 9) pull the bar down to you, and 10) spread the bar as you think about pressing yourself away from it (through the bench).

Also, in terms of bar speed, a controlled eccentric is much easier on your shoulders than ballistic work (3), so if you have a history of injury, youâ??d be best off avoiding bench throws and speed benches unless youâ??re completely in the clear. I cannot overstate the importance of keeping the chest high and elbows tucked, as doing so will prevent hyperextension in the bottom position of the bench press. This hyperextension has been linked to anterior glenohumeral instability related to capsular trauma and too much traction on the acromioclavicular (AC) joint.(4,5) Osteolysis of the distal clavicle can also become a serious problem in those who hyperextend the shoulder in the bottom position of the bench press.(6)

  1. Lack of flexibility, or excessive flexibility: On one hand, we have the average gym rat that has benched his way to posture so bad that it would put Quasimoto to shame. With such internally rotated humeri and anteriorly tilted, winging scapulae, the subacromial space (space in the "shoulder" joint) is markedly compromised, and the rotator cuff can be easily irritated with various overhead activities and horizontal pressing. This situation is known as external impingement, and affected individuals need to fix their posture in order to bench safely.

On the other hand, youâ??ll encounter individuals (commonly overhead throwing athletes) with hypermobility at the glenohumeral joint; essentially, thereâ??s too much room in the socket, and the humeral head clanks off of the rotator cuff and eventually leads to rotator cuff damage (internal impingement). These folks may need surgery to tighten things up, although many can work around the injuries and hypermobility with specific rotator cuff and scapular strengthening exercises as well as modification of form on (or completely avoiding) certain exercises.

  1. Training through pain: I donâ??t think I need to go into much detail on this one. Suffice it to say that the overwhelming majority of lifters experience shoulder pain at some point during their time in the iron game. If something causes you pain, donâ??t do it.

Bench pressing is not inherently evil; itâ??s only a problem when stubborn lifters apply it inappropriately in their programming and perform the exercise itself incorrectly.


Wow thanks for that, that was awesome!


Definitely. Benching, like squat, DL and Olympic lifts are like driving a car. If you drive a car recklessly, then you can expect to get hurt. If you drive or bench the right way it is safe and enjoyable.


Great point. If you do the exercises correctly with a prgression that makes sense there is no danger in the movement. Look at a good morning. Common sense would say that this is bad for your back. Not if your back is strong as shit. I think that same logic applies to wide benching.


I have never actually found wide benching to be a problem . I tend to get problems from CG benching because my elbows end up dropping lower and my shoulders come out of the groove. But that is kind of wrapped up in the "form" issue- so take that for whatever it's worth.


The most important thing I got from that excerpt is that the bench press with a close-medium grip is a great way to prepare yourself for the rigors of supporting self in the missionary position.


What a fantastic observation!


x2. Finally! A real world application!


What is considered a wide grip? Im tall with long arms and my middle finger is on the smooth part of the bar. When the bar touches my chest my forearm and bicep are at 90 degrees.


Max "legal" grip for competition is pointers on the rings. "Illegal" wides are anything done outside of that.


Wow, never knew grips were regulated, i can see why though.. Thanks