The close-grip variation of bench press can be helpful but they are not for everyone. Find out what alternatives you can do for similar benefits.
By holding your hands closer to each other, the exercise focuses more on your tricep muscles. Besides that, your chest and shoulder muscles still have to work a good amount.
In turn, this means that close-grip bench presses can help you build muscle mass, burn calories, and offer other typical exercise benefits.
Whether you don’t enjoy close-grip bench presses, you want to focus more on certain muscles, or you want an alternative for any other reason, these alternatives to close-grip bench presses can offer you some or all of the same benefits.
Remember that if you don’t have a spotter or don’t want to use a barbell because of other factors, you can also use dumbbells for close-grip bench presses.
1. Narrow-grip pushups
Pushups are a very popular bodyweight exercise that can help you train a variety of muscles at home or in the gym.
The standard pushup already engages your triceps but by changing your grip you work these muscles even more so.
Take the following steps to do a narrow-grip pushup:
- Sit on your hands and knees on the ground with your hands close to each other. The closer the more you focus on your tricep muscles.
- Move your feet back until your body is in a straight line. Your only contact points with the ground are your hands and front feet. Keep your back straight throughout the rest of the exercise.
- Slowly fold your arms at your elbows until your face is close to the ground. Your upper arms should be at an angle of about 45 degrees or less to your sides. Another way to put it is if someone is looking down at you from above your arms should make an arrow, not a T.
- Stretch your arms again until you are back in the close-handed straight-arm plank position of step 2.
Narrow-grip pushups are a great alternative to close-grip bench presses in that they mostly target the same muscles. There are however also some important differences.
First of all, narrow-grip pushups do require you to use core muscles like your abs.
Secondly, bodyweight narrow-grip pushups may be too easy to grow and strengthen your muscles a lot, especially if you are more experienced with resistance training.
Some ways to overcome this last challenge include wearing a weighted vest, putting a weight plate on your back, or using resistance bands.
2. Skull crushers
For skull crushers, you will need some type of resistance. For example a barbell potentially with weight plates. And preferably a weight bench. In theory, you could also do this exercise on the ground.
Take the following steps to do a skull crusher with a barbell on a weight bench:
- Lie on the weight bench with a barbell in your hands. Hold it with an overhanded grip. Your upper arms should tilt slightly more back than in a vertical position and your lower arms with the barbell can hang down behind your head.
- Slowly raise the barbell by stretching your arms until your arms are fully stretched. Keep your wrists straight and your body and upper arms in the same position throughout the exercise.
- Lower the barbell back into starting position in a controlled motion.
Close-grip bench presses are generally done to focus more on the tricep muscles. Skull crushers take this one step further and are an exercise to help you isolate your tricep muscles.
Another name for skull crushers is lying tricep extensions. The alternative name for this exercise is not only meant as a joke.
When first trying skull crushers you don’t want to be too optimistic about your capabilities due to the position of the weight. Start with light or no resistance and build up from there.
For this next close-grip bench press alternative you don’t need a weight bench or barbell but you do need dip bars. These are basically two sturdy horizontal bars.
Take the following steps to do a dip:
- Place your hands on the dip bars. Start with your arms in an extended but not locked position. You will likely need step-ups to get into this position.
- Slowly lower your body by bending your elbows until these are at a 90-degree angle.
- Raise yourself back up again into starting position in a controlled motion.
The dip exercise is a very tricep-focused exercise but it also engages a few other muscles. Especially if you tilt your upper body forward you also give your lower chest a hard time.
For most people, the bodyweight version of this close-grip bench press alternative is already more than challenging enough.
Doing weighted dips with dumbbells, a dip belt, a weighted vest, or ankle weights is generally for individuals more experienced with tricep resistance training.
4. Tricep extension machine
The tricep extension machine looks similar to the preacher bicep curl machine at first. It has a slanted bench on which you place your arms and there are handles that are connected to resistance.
The difference is that the tricep extension machine will require you to exert effort to stretch your arms instead of adding resistance to curl your arms like the bicep curl machine.
To get a better idea of what this movement and machine looks like, take the following steps to do a seated tricep extension.
Adjust the machine settings for your personal needs. Take a seat on the machine and put your upper arms on the dedicated surface.
Grab the handles in a way where your arms will fold with your hand palms facing toward each other. Slowly stretch your arms as far as you can. Next, let the machine push up your hands again in a controlled motion.
You can use the tricep extension machine instead of doing close-grip bench presses if you are interested in isolating your tricep muscles as much as possible.
This is because you are holding your upper arms against a static surface and because your arms go through a fixed range of motion.
5. Chest fly
Regular bench presses are an exercise to train both chest and tricep muscles. The close-grip variation focuses more on your tricep muscles.
Even so, some people are also interested in a close-grip bench press alternative that isolates the chest muscles. The chest fly is a great exercise for this goal.
You can do the chest fly with a variety of one-handed free weights, the cable machine, and even in machine form. Take the following steps to do a chest fly with dumbbells on a weight bench:
- Lie down with your back on a weight bench with a dumbbell in each hand.
- Keep your arms with the dumbbells slightly less than stretched and pointing up. Your hand palms should face each other and your hands should be as close together as possible.
- While keeping your arms slightly less than stretched slowly lower the dumbbells down sideways until your arms are about horizontally to the ground.
- Move your arms back to the position in step 2 in a controlled motion.
You can even change the upward angle of the chest fly exercises to focus on slightly different parts of your chest muscles.
Using an incline bench will focus more on your upper chest muscles. On the other hand, a decline bench will focus more on your lower chest muscles.
6. Narrow-grip cable chest presses
For the next close-grip bench press substitute you need a double pulley cable machine. Once you have that, take the following steps to do a standing narrow-grip cable chest press:
- Attach single-grip handles to each side of the cable machine at about chest level.
- Grab 1 handle, walk towards the other handle and grab it with the other hand. Stand in the middle between the two cables and take a step or two.
- Put one foot a small distance backward and the other foot forward for balance. Slightly tilt your upper body forward while keeping your back straight.
- Hold the handles close to each other at about chest height. Your upper arms should be at an angle of about 45 degrees to your sides. Your forearms pointing forward horizontally.
- Push your hands forward until your arms are slightly less than stretched. Keep your forearms in the same line as the cable so you can exert force optimally.
- Return to the position in step 4 in a controlled motion.
If you have a resistance band anchor at the right height you can also do this exercise with resistance bands at home or in the gym.
One benefit of this close-grip bench press alternative is that you don’t need a spotter, weight bench, or barbell.
A potential downside of narrow-grip cable chest presses is that it is relatively easy to cheat. This means using the rest of your body to push the weights instead of using your tricep and chest muscles.
Additionally, you need a double pulley cable machine which is not always present or free in the gym.
7. Tricep pushdowns
The next exercise is another one that requires a cable machine. This time a single pulley will be enough. Once you have that, take the following steps to do a tricep pushdown:
- Use a straight bar handle and set up the cable machine so that the handle is at about your eye height. You can also use a variety of other handles.
- Grab the handle with an overhanded grip, take a step or two away from the cable machine, and stand up straight with your feet at more or less shoulder width and your face towards the machine.
- Tilt your upper body forward until it is at about a 45-degree angle to the ground while keeping your back straight. Bend your knees slightly. Hold your elbows right in front of your body. Your arms are folded as far as comfortable.
- Slowly stretch your arm as far as comfortable. Keep your body and upper arms in the same position throughout the movement.
- Move the bar back into the position in step 3 in a controlled motion.
Tricep pushdowns are a close-grip bench press alternative to isolate your tricep muscles. If you have resistance bands and a good anchor you can also do this exercise at home.