Wide Grip Bench: Do You Need It?

Shoulder problems are common in the weightlifting circle. A lot of shoulder complaints come after Bench Pressing. Most injuries from weightlifting come from incorrect lifting. If you are having shoulder issues, check your grip, it might be too wide.

What Is A Wide Grip?

Wide grip bench press is classed for research reasons as anything over 1.5 times your biacromial width. The biacromial width is basically the length between both tips of your shoulders (the acromioclavicular joint is the little point your feel at the top of your shoulder). Any wider than that is classified as a wide grip bench press. Mehdi over at Strong Lifts suggests grip width is usually 55-65cm between thumbs depending on your build. A good cue is that forearms should be about perpendicular to the floor from all angles.

Why Does It Cause Pain

Wide Grip bench press puts your shoulder into abduction in the bottom phase. Shoulder abduction is when you take your arm away from your body, to the side. Generally, 90 degrees of abduction is where your shoulder is most at risk. It has been shown that in a wide grip bench press, shoulder abduction increases to above 75 degrees. However in a normal grip bench press, the shoulder is maintained in abduction at less than 45 degrees. That is a pretty significant difference. Check out these pics to help get your head around it. Makes a lot more sense than my explanation!

 

grip-width.jpg


*please note that these photos ares simply demonstrating that when you have a wider grip, you have more shoulder abduction. Neither grip is showing a ‘correct’ width.

The risk of shoulder injuries, both acute and chronic (short and long term) is increased when you repeatedly perform movements with the shoulder in close to 90 degrees abduction.

When you put yourself into this position, the pressure on the front of your shoulder increases. Now we get back to some anatomy…you have a little ligament called the inferior glenohumeral ligament located in your shoulder joint. Your shoulders anterior stability (the front of it) relies a lot on this little baby. It is responsible for stopping the humerus (upper arm bone) moving forward in your shoulder socket when you are in 90 degrees of abduction. So basically, putting yourself under a very heavy load, repeatedly, in this position, puts a lot of stress on this important ligament, and it’s surrounding structures.

Not only does this cause pain, but it puts you at risk of many more injuries, like shoulder dislocations. You want stability in your shoulder; it is one of the most unstable joints as it is, try not to make it worse. It can cause other injuries such as a pinched nerve in shoulder.

Performance Outcomes

I know a lot of people are worried that by not having a wide grip bench they aren’t activating their delts and pecs enough. Here is where I start quoting some research to get you convinced. Research has shown that by changing the grip of your bench press from 100% biacromial width, to up to 190% (narrow grip to wide grip), it does not significantly affect the recruitment of the pectoralis major or the anterior deltoid. Granted statistically significant is different to real life practice, but if you aren’t a professional power lifter…then it really isn’t going to change much.

Disclaimer…Yes I Always Have One

Keep in mind that not all exercises that have the shoulder in 90 degrees abduction are dangerous. Nothing is dangerous unless you do too much of it, with too much load, too often. The biggest factor in wide grip bench press causing pain, is that most people bench a lot, and it is a lot of load on the front of your shoulder capsule.

A lot of time it is necessary to strengthen in that plane. Many athletes need to do work in that area as they perform overhead movements daily. This is generally done using light rotator cuff exercises, not with a massive load on the bench. However, if you are experiencing some shoulder pain when you are benching, check that your grip is where it should be. You may be putting your shoulder under unnecessary stress.

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Comments

  1. says

    I am always telling my clients this.

    They never listen.

    One of the major symptoms when you are wacthing someone do a bench with too wide a grip is they “roll” their shoulders forward as if they are pushing from the shoulder and not the chest.

    Great post.

    RT

  2. says

    Lauren-

    forearms perpendicular to the floor is best I agree. The funny part is that many people use the wider grip to focus more on the chest and less on the triceps. My question is, why try to turn a compound movement into an isolation exercise? Perhaps if your triceps are becoming the limiting factor in the movement there may be some validity, but the wider grip also decreases your range of motion and therefore reduces maximal muscle recruitment.

    Chest flyes might be better if the goal is to isolate the chest muscles.

  3. Lauren says

    Hey Jason,

    Nice points and good food for thought. Triceps are rarely a limiting factor in bench unless you have a very narrow grip. Wider grip does decrease your range immensely, something I neglected to mention, thanks for pointing that out.

  4. says

    Hey Lauren,

    This is a cool post, there was a review article on this a few months ago in the Strength and Conditioning Journal….as a rule all my clients press (bench and overhead) with a neutral grip when using dumbbells to ease stress on the shoulder and they bench press with a relatively narrow grip (around bi-acromial)…as most my guys are at desks all day this is without doubt a precaution that doesn’t compromise results but eases shoulder stress massively….I will also use a lot of single arm stuff at the outset as well to reduce the stress to the shoulder…bilateral movements require a far better ROM. Had to have an operation on my shoulder 2 months ago largely because of this before I knew better….same for rowing, I find that repeated use of an overhand grip over-emphasises the upper traps over mid and lower and also can lead to problems….so with my desk bound clients – neutral and supinated grip rowing are also the order of the day!

    Cool post, good info that a lot of folks could benefit from!

  5. Lauren says

    Hey Graeme,

    I have read that review article and a couple of other ones, before I wrote this post. Thanks for adding some good info to my post, it makes sense when most people are at a desk all day to simply reduce the stress but maximize the benefits of the lift.

    Cheers.

  6. says

    Great article, and I love the pictures. Keep trying to decide how to implement pictures into our website and the representation you have is nearly perfect :-) People love pictures, so this will be a great addition!

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