What is the proper hand grip for bench pressing?

August 9, 2014

Q: What is the proper hand grip for bench pressing? Also, where should my elbows be pointing? Should they be tight against my sides or out wide away from my body? In the past, I have heard different opinions on this issue, but I was wondering what your thoughts were and if you could give me any advice to steer me in the right direction.

A: The way you place your hands and elbows for bench pressing depends on what you’re trying to accomplish. If you want to move heavy weights, learn to use a wide grip. If your goal is to develop a thick, muscular chest, go moderate, but if you’re looking for a great compound movement to isolate the triceps, try putting your hands closer together.

Wide grip for strength

Powerlifters and strength athletes use a very wide grip when benching, because their goal is to move the most weight possible for a single repetition, so the wider the hands, the shorter the distance the bar has to travel. Some of the bigger lifters are so wide that their hands come close to the plates on the end of the bar, but the problem with benching with a wide grip is it tends to put more pressure on the shoulders and connective tissue, and it could result in injury. This technique is not for everyone and is not the best way to isolate and develop the pectoral muscles, so keep in mind a wide grip is good for moving heavy weight and less conducive to developing a muscular chest.

Moderate grip for chest

Using a moderate grip with your elbows facing away from your body reduces tricep involvement and is a much better way to isolate and develop the chest. The distance between hands may vary depending on the length of your arms and width of your torso, but as long as your elbows are facing away from your body and your arms form a 90-degree angle when you touch the bar to your chest, you should be fine. You may have to drop a little weight off the bar if you are used to benching with a wider grip, but if you’re looking to isolate and build a better chest, the hit to your ego will be worth the trouble.

Narrow grip for triceps

Using a narrow grip with your elbows closer to the sides of your body while pressing can be an excellent way to isolate the triceps, because it transfers the pressure of the weight away from the chest and diverts it to the back of the arms. Some people like to use a very narrow grip, spacing hands about six to eight inches apart, but I feel this puts too much pressure on the wrists, and I am more partial to spacing hands 10 to 12 inches apart and lining the wrist and forearm up so they are perfectly symmetrical to the triceps and the elbows are held tightly to the sides of the body. Again, this depends on the length of your arms and the width of your torso, but this should be close enough to get you started. Another thing to remember is to isolate the triceps, you must try to keep your elbows in tight to your body as you complete the lift and push the weight back to the starting position or you will lose the benefit of tricep isolation.

Remember, weight training is nothing more than stretching and contracting muscles with weights, so experiment with different hand positions and angles to keep your body guessing, and learn to adapt hand and elbow position to isolate the chest and triceps.

  • Chris Antonio is a personal trainer and former world-class weightlifter. He has been lifting for more than 20 years and has trained a wide variety of clients ranging from All-American athletes to the average person trying to get into shape. To send a question to the Ask the Trainer column, email Chris at or check out

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