The Bench Press Debate

The following is a guest post by Gary Goulding.

The Bench Press is probably the most well known & popular exercise performed in the gym. You will always hear among fellow gym goers, “How much do you bench?” or when someone compliments someone on their physique or how they look they’ll ask “How much do you bench?”  The Bench Press is a valuable exercise to anyone who trains and there are many gym goers and lifters who think there is only 1 way to bench regarding grip, and this could be for various reasons ranging from them finding that the grip they’ve used has worked best for their results or the grip they have used has made them stronger than they were before they started using that grip.

In this article I will go through the basic bench press grip variations and explain them in order to help you decide what grip may suit you and your goals best.

The Bench Press and Chest Development

Some people say the Bench Press is a poor exercise for chest development as if it was a great choice then Powerlifters would have the best chest development of all, as they bench the most weight. However, Powerlifters aren’t bench pressing for chest development; they are bench pressing to move the most weight possible through the shortest range of motion in order to express the greatest amount of strength. Bodybuilders have jacked up chests even though they don’t bench as much as Powerlifters but they are focusing on the MUSCLE not the MOVEMENT.

Put simply, Powerlifters focus on functional hypertrophy, which is an improvement in performance from the increase in muscle size, whereas Bodybuilders are focusing on mainly structural hypertrophy, which is an increase in muscle size with less overall improvement in performance. Or course, these are not mutually exclusive, as increases in muscle size will bring about increases in strength.

In other words, they will both bench press very differently according to the goal they are hoping to achieve, so each will use dirrerent gripping options to one another.

Different Bench Press Grips for Different Goals

 The chest muscle recruitment is determined by where the elbow is in relation to the ribcage. Powerlifters, for example, will use a wide grip with hands outside the shoulders with the elbows away from the ribcage and the humerus approximately 45 degrees  from the ribcage.

This grip allows the bar to drop to the lower chest area and puts the chest in a stronger position to assist in the lift, and keeps the elbows under the bar so the triceps are in a biomechanically strong position to be recruited in the lift.

Bench Press Grip Recommendations for Various Goals

You can bench press and get good chest development according to the grip you choose. Check out this article by Bret Contreras and Chris Beardsley to learn about the research looking at muscle activity during the bench press?

If you use wide grip with your little finger touching the outside ring with the elbows at 90 degrees to the ribcage. This grip places more stress on the shoulder joint. That said, if you are a beginner or have a history of shoulder issues, or you’re dealing with a shoulder injury, then I would avoid using this grip.

The wide grip recruits the chest muscles to a greater degree but you will have to lighten the load around 20-30kgs  and slow down the tempo in the lowering phase just to get into the groove of the bar dropping to the collarbone area hence the name “Guillotine Press” or Bench Press to Neck.

Bench Press for Athletes

For field, court and combat sport athletes, I recommend focusing on the Incline Bench Press due to the pressing angle required for sports, as most sports have an upward pressing motion where the arm is pushed up towards the head or face, so the incline press can be better suited for functional transfer purposes.

Note: For more on the Bench Press for athletes, check out Nick’s article: The Truth About the Bench Press.

Bench Press for Beginners

If you are a beginner then I would recommend a grip where you place the tips of your thumbs on the inside of the curling of the barbell so the hands are just wider than shoulder width as this will allow the humerus to be approximately 45 degrees to the ribcage and the grip can then be moved out or in according to individual anthropometry and comfort. For clients with a history of shoulder injury, I recommend the neutral grip bench press where the grip is shoulder width as this places less stress on the shoulder joint and is a more natural grip for most people to use.

Bench Press for Bodybuilding

For Recreational Lifters or Bodybuilding purposes, grip width and repetitions can be varied to suit. You can use a medium grip bench press to allow you to lift more weight for lower reps in the 6-8 repetition range. And, in you’re next training session, you could use the Guillotine Press for sets of 10-12. You could use medium width grip for 1 month then use Guillotine Press for the next month.

Bench Press for Powerlifting

The widest you can grip the bar in competition is index finger on the outside ring. Powerlifters will find the best grip from that rule to help them Bench Press the best for them. Changing the grip by 1 finger can affect their bench press technique. That said, for powerlifting purposes, I recommend that one focus on bench pressing the way you are going to lift in competition, as strength is specific, while using some other gripping options for assistance exercises purposes.


This article is clearly not intended to be an exhaustive resource, covering the intricacies of the bench press for each individual training goal. It’s simply mean’t to give you a simple, and general overview on how it doesn’t make sense to argue for any one specific grip option for everyone, as different training goals may call for a focus on different grip styles. So the next time you Bench Press, look at why you are doing it, and let your goal decide the grip or grips you use to get the result you or your clients are after.

Lastly, remember that there is rarely ever just one way to do anything, as the body adapts to whatever you expose it to – that’s the SAID principle – and the “best” exercise variation may just be the one you’re not doing.

Author Bio:
2013.10.12 (35) Gary at Wax MuseumGary lives in Leura, which is located in the upper Blue Mountains in New South Wales AUSTRALIA. He completed his Certificate 3 In Fitness through Fitness Institute Australia (FIA) in April 2003 at 22 years old.
Gary has worked in the fitness industry since 2004 when he was a self employed Personal Trainer for 12 months while completing his Certificate 4 in Fitness: Personal Trainer through Fitness Institute Australia (FIA)  in March 2005 at 24 years old before moving on in 2005 to a secure role as a Fitness Leader and I have been there for 8 years. He completed his Diploma in fitness through Fitness Institute Australia (FIA) in June 2008 at 27 years old. He is also an accredited THUMP BOXING Instructor having completed both Level 1 and Advanced THUMP Courses in September 2010 at 29 years old. Gary also completed his Thump SuperKick instructor course in 2012.
You can check out Gary’s Facebook page here.

Learn How To Program Like A Pro

Using My Must-Have Programming Charts

Learn how I how I quickly and easily create programs that get results and keep clients coming back for more by downloading my 2 must-have programming charts and watching the included video lesson.

With these two charts, you’ll be able to combine the most important functional movements with isolation exercises for the perfect balance of strength, hypertrophy and performance.

In this video lesson you’ll discover:

And much more!

If your goal is to write better programs for your clients and save time while doing so, then you’ll want to sign up for this free lesson!