Best Hand Position for Building a Big Chest: Narrow, Medium, or Wide Grip?

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Best Hand Position for Building a Big Chest: Narrow, Medium, or Wide Grip?

by: Robbie Durand

For the military, the push-up is considered a stable strengthening exercise for the upper body. If you go to the gym, you will see guys using the bench press or the hammer machines, but when was the last time you saw a person doing a push-up in the gym?  Push-up exercise is a representative closed kinetic chain exercise that can strengthen shoulder and trunk muscles in daily living

Push-ups are a frequent body-weight exercise designed to strengthen the chest, arms, shoulders, and trunk.  Performing a push-up requires trunk stability through a symmetric upper body pushing movement. This combination occurs in many functional and sports activities. When you’re doing bench press on a machine or doing hammer strength machines, you’re not working core strength like performing the push-up.  Modern fitness literature suggests that different hand placements during push-ups may isolate different muscles. Popular belief indicates that wide base pushups activate more chest fibers, but this study showed otherwise.  Scientific literature, however, offers scant evidence that different hand placements elicit different muscle responses. Researchers examined whether different levels of electromyographic (EMG) activity in the pectoralis major and triceps brachii muscles are required to perform push-ups from each of 3 different hand positions:

-shoulder width base,

-wide base, and

-narrow base hand placements.

Forty subjects, 11 men and 29 women, performed 1 repetition of each push-up. The EMG activity for subjects’ dominant arm pectoralis major and triceps brachii was recorded using surface electrodes. The EMG activity was greater in both muscle groups during push-ups performed from the narrow base hand position compared with the wide base position. This study suggests that, if a goal is to induce greater muscle activation during exercise, then push-ups should be performed with hands in a narrow base position compared with a wide base position.

Narrow Grip Beats Wide Grip for Chest Activation

The latest study published in the J Phys Ther Sci. examined the impact of push-ups performed with three different positions.  Push-up exercises were carried out with three different hand position width’s:

-narrow (50%),


-neutral (100%), and


-wide positions (150%).

The researchers measured the muscle activities of the deltoids, chest, trunk, biceps, triceps, lats, etc. EMG amplitudes in the narrow hand spacing push up were greater in the pectoralis minor, pectoralis major, triceps brachii, and infraspinatus muscles, compared to in the neutral hand spacing push up. There were no differences for the other muscles.  The wide grip push-up which is commonly thought of as the best push up position for activating chest found that wide grip push ups activated more of the scapula than the chest.

Key points: Narrow Grip hand positioning seems to be the best hand position for chest activation.

Snarr RL, Esco MR. Electromyographic comparison of traditional and suspension push-ups. J Hum Kinet. 2013 Dec 31;39:75-83. doi: 10.2478/hukin-2013-0070. eCollection 2013 Dec 18.
“Effect of the push-up exercise at different palmar width on muscle activities, by Kim, Kim & Ha, in Journal of Physical Therapy Science (2016)”
Cogley RM, Archambault TA, Fibeger JF, et al. : Comparison of muscle activation using various hand positions during the push-up exercise. J Strength Cond Res, 2005, 19: 628–633.
Oh HS, Kim JY, Kim GE, et al. : Comparison of muscle activities in different supporting surface intervals during push-up exercise. J Korean Soc Integr Med, 2013, 1: 25–35.
Gouvali MK, Boudolos K.: Dynamic and electromyographical analysis in variants of push-up exercise. J Strength Cond Res, 2005, 19: 146–151.

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