It’s clear that doing pushups can offer many health benefits. You can however do them in different ways, how do wide and close hand position pushups compare?
Pushups are a type of calisthenics, also known as bodyweight, resistance training exercise. They are a convenient way to work out a wide variety of muscles at home without any equipment.
The health benefits of pushups range from weight loss to longevity and a lot in between. Both wide and close (also known as narrow) hand position pushups can offer you these benefits. Even so, this difference in hand position leads to a few important differences in results.
In general close/narrow hand grip pushups are better for training your tricep muscles and less risky for your shoulders.
Wide grip pushups are typically better for training your chest muscles and less risky for your wrists. That being said shoulder width grip pushups may be better than wide grip pushups in most of the important aspects.
In the end you want to weigh the factors in this article against each other for your personal situation and think for yourself stick whether wide, close, or neutral hand position pushups are the better choice.
Keep in mind that doing pushups can offer benefits but like any exercise, there is always some risk of injury. Implement a good technique to keep your injury risk low. Especially if you have a history of shoulder, wrist, and back issues, you may want to talk to an expert before adding pushups to your routine.
Difference in technique
Before looking at the differences between wide and close grip pushups let’s look at the things they have in common. To do a regular pushup take the following steps:
- Start on your hands and knees. Your hands are about shoulder width apart.
- Move your feet back until your body is in a straight line and your stretched arms are at a 90-degree angle to your body. Keep your back straight during the exercise.
- Slowly fold your arms at your elbows until your face is close to the ground. At the lowest point your upper arms should be at an angle of about 45 degrees 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 position from the second step.
During a regular pushup your shoulders should be more or less above your wrists.
For wide pushups you put your hands further apart than shoulder width. To keep your shoulders safer you also slightly turn your hands so your fingers point outward.
For close grip pushups you put your hands close than shoulder width. To be able to move down you slightly turn your hands so your fingers point inward.
One study puts more exact numbers on the distances between your hands (1). If a normal grip pushup with your hand at about shoulder width is 100%, a narrow (close) grip hand distance would be 50%, and a wide grip pushup would be 150%.
So let’s say your shoulder width is about 16 inches (40 cm). In that case, a close grip pushup would mean that your hands are about 8 inches (20cm) apart. A wide grip pushup would mean that your hands are about 24 inches (60 cm) apart.
Wide vs close hand pushups for building muscle
One study measured the difference in muscle activity between narrow grip (50%), neutral grip/shoulder width (100%), and wide grip (150%) in a wide variety of muscles (1).
They measured that a wide grip pushup engaged the following muscle (parts) more than narrow grip pushups: middle deltoid shoulder muscle (but less than neutral grip), serratus anterior (surface upper ribs), biceps brachii, and latissimus dorsi (middle to lower back).
They also measured that a narrow grip pushup engaged the following muscle (parts) more than wide grip pushups: pectoralis minor (small upper chest muscle), pectoralis major (big chest muscle), triceps brachii (back upper arm), and infraspinatus (small muscle at the back of your shoulder).
This may come as a surprise to many people since wide grip pushups are generally considered to be better for training chest muscles. The thing is that how much a certain type of pushup engages a muscle is not the only important factor.
As an example some people can only do wide pushups. This is likely because their tricep muscles are not strong enough for closer grip pushups.
If when doing close grip pushups, your tricep muscles fatigue a lot faster than your chest muscles, this stand of your hands will not be great for you personally for building more chest muscle.
So whether close grip, wide grip, or even neutral grip pushups are the best choice for you depends on your training goals and the current strength ratio between your different muscles.
In general, if you look at the two main muscles people want to focus on with pushups, close grip pushups are better for training your tricep muscles and wide grip pushups are better for training your chest muscles. Neutral grip pushups may be even better for training your chest muscles.
For both hand grips to build the most muscle mass you want to do about 4 sets of 10-40 pushups depending on how advanced you are. If regular bodyweight pushups become too easy you can consider doing decline or weighted pushups for faster and more muscle gain.
Injury risk of wide vs close hand pushups
If you exercise a lot, or you plan to, potential injuries are a very relevant concern. Consistency is a big part of working out. The effectiveness of your workout plan will go down drastically if you can’t exercise for 2 weeks every month because of injuries.
That means that a pushup alternative with a smaller injury risk may build less muscle today but more in the long term by avoiding periods of injury in which you do no exercise at all.
In general, wide grip pushups are riskier for your shoulders compared to close en neutral grip pushups. Close grip pushups are slightly riskier for your wrists than neutral and wide grip pushups.
What body parts you are usually more injury sensitive in can influence your decision between close and wide grip pushups.
Number of repetitions you will be able to do
One aspect of close grip vs wide grip pushups you may be interested in is which of the two will allow you to do the highest amount of pushups before fatiguing.
The exact distance of hand grip that will allow you to do the highest amount of pushups depends on your personal ratio of muscle strength and endurance in different muscle groups.
That being said, most people will be able to do more neutral grip and wide grip pushups than narrow/close grip pushups. The exact optimal distance varies from person to person.
Which one is right for you?
Whether close or wide grip pushups are the best choice for you depends on your personal situation.
If you want to train your tricep muscles and you have injury sensitive shoulder you likely want to choose close/narrow grip pushups.
If you want to train your chest muscles and you have injury sensitive wrists you likely want to go for wide grip pushups. Shoulder width pushups may be even better in most of the important aspects.
Especially if you have a history of shoulder, wrist, and back issues, you may want to talk to an expert before adding any types of pushups to your routine.
Ultimately you want to weigh each of these factors versus each other for each workout and your individual situation. You can then decide which one suits you best. You can also give both a shot and find out which one works the best for you.