The biggest bench pressers in the world tend to have huge lumps of mass on the backside of their arm. These triceps muscles are recruited heavily to push heavy poundages off the chest. But was it the bench press that got them those triceps?
Depending on your grip width, the bench press works the triceps but to a lesser degree than the pecs and shoulders. A close grip bench press is superior for triceps activation compared to a wide grip.
But what makes the close grip better for triceps activation, and can I only bench press and see horseshoe triceps grow?
Table of Contents
Does The Bench Press Work Triceps?
The bench press works the triceps intensely. In my experience, certain bench press variations will build big triceps as you get stronger in the movement. Specifically, the bench press works the sternal and clavicular head of the pecs, the anterior deltoid, and the triceps to a high degree .
While the bench press activates the pecs and shoulders to a greater degree than the triceps, there are modifications you can make to target the triceps when bench pressing.
Best Bench Press Grip For Triceps
Conventional wisdom states close grip bench pressing is superior for triceps development. How true is this? A 1995 study compared grip widths during the flat bench press and found the narrow grip to elicit the most significant long head triceps activation compared to a wide grip .
A second 2005 study came to the same conclusion, with the activity of the lateral head of the triceps increasing as the grip was narrowed . However, a 1997 study found no difference in triceps muscle activation with varying grip widths during the bench press .
It's difficult to speculate why these differences exist as many older studies don't specify how the bench press was performed. However, if you have time under your belt in the gym, you’ll know from experience a closer grip hammers your triceps more than a wider grip.
Some researchers speculate that the elbow goes through a greater range of motion . But how narrow should you go? Don't do the wrist-breaking grip with your hands on the center knurling. That is not how you build horseshoe triceps.
If you lie flat on your back and extend your arms vertically, that is considered a close grip bench press. From experience, however, I prefer being slightly wider.
Why? For one, it feels more comfortable, and I can handle heavier loads overloading the triceps. And two, I have my hands on the knurling and not on the smooth part of the barbell.
Here is a good picture representation of the different grip widths. I prefer slightly inside the narrow example.
Can You Only Bench Press For Big Triceps?
You can be a compound lift maxi or an isolation gym bro. Either way, you're better off combining the bench press with isolation triceps exercises to maximize growth.
For example, the most significant percentage increases in triceps size were found when combining bench press followed by skull crushers or vice versa after 10 weeks of training . However, the bench press alone showed no significant gain in triceps muscle size.
It’s important to note that the bench press grip width used was a wide grip. We know from the research presented above the triceps are not activated to the same extent as a narrow grip as the range of motion is reduced.
Triceps Workout With The Bench Press
While the bench press works the triceps, you must include isolation exercises to target the different muscle heads. Shoulder position dictates triceps activation patterns . Here’s a quick rundown:
- Long head – arms straight down (0° angle of the shoulders). This would involve exercises such as the triceps pushdown.
- Lateral head – arms directly overhead (180° angle of the shoulders). This would involve exercises such as the overhead triceps extension.
- Medial head – arms directly in front and the overhead position (90-180° angle of the shoulders). This would involve exercises such as the overhead triceps extension or skull crusher.
A1) Close Grip Bench Press
3 x 8
B1) Triceps Pushdown
3 x 12-15
C1) Lying Triceps Extension w/ Extra ROM
3 x 15-20
C2) Close Grip Decline Push-Up
3 x Fail
Your triceps will be smoked after this!
The bench press works the triceps, but you need to use a close grip to maximize triceps involvement due to the increased elbow range of motion. Further, the bench press alone isn't enough to maximize triceps hypertrophy, so follow it with various extension exercises.
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2. Barnett, C., Kippers, V., & Turner, P. (1995). Effects of variations of the bench press exercise on the EMG activity of five shoulder muscles. The Journal of Strength & Conditioning Research, 9(4), 222-227.
3. Lehman, G. J. (2005). The influence of grip width and forearm pronation/supination on upper-body myoelectric activity during the flat bench press. Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research, 19(3), 587.
4. Clemons, J. M., & Aaron, C. (1997). Effect of Grip Width on the Myoelectric Activity. Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research, 11(2), 82-87.
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