All athletes, whether bodybuilders or powerlifters, agree that performance is key when it comes to bench pressing. A shoulder injury can quickly diminish your bench press performance and hinder your gains. But where do these shoulder injuries come from? Often, they stem from raw lifters attempting to emulate the style of geared lifters.
Raw lifters observe the tucked chin and ultra-wide grip used by geared lifters and assume that it’s the best approach. In reality, this approach can lead to stagnation and potential injury. However, optimizing your grip for a raw press not only enhances your pressing ability but also keeps you off the therapy table.
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Discover Your Ideal Grip Width
Setting up with a wide grip while lifting raw can result in a loss of power. On the other hand, setting up with a narrow grip can develop impressive triceps but limit overall muscle recruitment. Luckily, there’s a simple and effective method for determining your proper grip width: the golden number, 1.5.
To find your grip width, measure the distance from the outside edge of both acromial processes, your “biacromial distance.” Then, multiply this number by 1.5. The result will be how far apart your hands should be placed on the bar. The grip width should be measured from the inside edge of your index finger on both sides.
In my case, my biacromial distance is 25.5 inches (17 inches x 1.5 = 25.5 inches).
The Importance of Shoulder Positioning
The positioning of your hands on the bench press directly affects the external rotation of your shoulders. Certain positions, such as when your arm is externally rotated and abducted 90° from your body, can put excessive stress on your glenohumeral joint, increasing the risk of shoulder injury.
With a grip width of 2 times your biacromial distance or greater, your shoulders are forced to abduct over 75 degrees. However, when your grip width is 1.5 or less, your shoulders are placed at the ideal 45-degree angle of abduction.
This ideal angle allows for the greatest amount of force to be transferred into the bar, as confirmed by EMG analysis. Geared lifters often adopt an ultra-wide grip of 2 times their biacromial width or even more to shorten the bar path and receive additional assistance from their bench shirts. However, this approach is not suitable for raw lifters, as their tendons and ligaments are left vulnerable. Raw lifters should never attempt to mimic the style of geared lifters, even with a severe elbow tuck, as it exposes them to the risk of injury.
Debunking the Myth: Wide Grip vs. Pectoral Muscle Activation
One frequently debated argument is that a wider grip activates more pectoral muscles without compromising triceps lockout strength. However, unless you’re using a bench shirt, this is not the case. Research has demonstrated that there’s no difference in pectoralis muscle recruitment with a wide bench press grip during a one-rep max test.
On the other hand, there is a significant difference in triceps activation with a grip distance of 1.5 times your biacromial distance. Therefore, a wide grip not only increases the risk of injury but also reduces performance.
Mastering the Raw Press
It’s crucial to understand that raw lifting and geared lifting are two distinct lifts and should be treated as such. Attempting to copy the hand and arm positions of geared lifters can lead to decreased performance and potential injury.
To protect your joints and maximize your gains, avoid mimicking shirted movements and focus on mastering your raw press. Find your biacromial distance and determine your appropriate grip width accordingly. Remember to lower the bar with your forearms perpendicular to the floor and your arms abducted at a 45° angle from your body. Maintain tightness in your upper back as you press the bar back up.
Press safely, maintain your grip, and achieve your personal best!
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