Wide Grip vs. Close Grip Barbell Curls

The right technique is essential in fitness exercises. Not only to prevent injuries but also to get the maximum return from your training. Part of the right exercise is the placement of your hands. You can place your hands narrow, but also wider apart. Does this affect the effect of fitness exercise? In this article, we look at the difference between close grip or wide grip in strength training. Do you train certain muscles differently, or doesn’t it matter how you place your hands?


Close-grip or wide grip?

To get a good idea of the effect of placing your hands in strength training, I look at different exercises. Below I discuss the impact on progression at the Bench Press, Pull Up and Barbell Curl.

Wide or narrow bench press?

Bench Press is one of the most popular fitness exercises. During the bench press, you mainly train the pectoral muscles. Normally, you place the hands slightly wider than shoulder-width, so that when you drop your elbows are at a 90-degree angle. But what exactly does a close grip or wide grip placement? If you choose to put your hands closer together (narrow grip), you will notice that mainly appeals to your triceps.

The bench pressing becomes heavier as you take less force out of your chest and need to get more power out of your triceps. Your forearms will also be addressed more in this way. If you place your hands further apart (wide grip), you shift the stimulus from your triceps and forearms to the large pectoral muscle. However, your shoulders also play a big role in this movement.

Which placement you choose depends on the muscles you want to focus on. Normal or wide bench presses focus on the pectoral muscles and shoulders, while with a Close Grip Benchpress you mainly target the triceps and forearms.

Please note: do you have a shoulder injury? Then it is wise not to press too far. There will be a lot of pressure on the shoulder joint.

Military Press?

Like bench press, the Military Press (Overhead Press) is an exercise in which you emit a barbell with weights, i.e. a pressure exercise. In this case, the Military Press is about the same as the Bench Press. The difference between close grip or wide grip lies in power provided by the triceps.

Are you going to narrow the rod? Then you’re going to get more power out of your triceps. Are you holding the rod wider? Then you’ll take more power out of your shoulders. To find the ideal grip for you, I recommend testing different placements using only the barbell (low weight). This way, you can feel what works best for you.


Pull Up: close grip or wide grip?


The Pull Up is an exercise for your back muscles that you can do pretty much anywhere. Pulling up is very popular with Cross Fit and functional training because you need your own body strength. When you pull up, you can choose where to place your hands on the bar/pull-up bar. If you put your hands shoulder-width (or narrower) apart, your biceps and forearms will be more able to deliver strength.

Since you can get more power out of your arms, a Close Grip Pull Up is often a bit easier than a Wide Grip Pull Up. In a wide placement (hands beyond shoulder width), the biceps and forearms have less say. So you will have to extract the power for the upward movement purely from your latissimus dorsi. Pulling up wide is a bit heavier.

Close-grip or wide grip at Pull-Ups don’t matter very much to train your back. Both variants require great strength of your large back muscle. However, with a very narrow placement of your hands, you will put a little more emphasis on the bottom of your latissimus dorsi (according to Bodybuilding.com). The bigger difference lies in the ‘help’ of the power from your biceps. When pulling up narrowly, your arms can provide more strength and thus help you up. The same principle applies to the Lat Pulldown.


What grip at Barbell Curls?

Also, when training your biceps, you can vary in the way you grab the rod. As you may know, your muscles consist of 2 muscle heads (hence the name bi-ceps). The short head, also called m. biceps brachii caput breve, sits on the arm’s medial (inside) side: the long head, them. Biceps brachii caput long sits on the lateral (outside) side of the arm. Does it have the effect of alternating between curls with a close grip or wide grip?

With a normal Barbell Curl, place your hands shoulder-width. In this version, the power distribution between bicep heads and your forearm (brachialis) is approximately proportional. You train in the base your entire biceps. Do you opt for a wider grip, where you place the hands further than shoulder-width apart? Then you focus on the short head of the biceps. This is the muscle on the inside of your muscle ball.

Are you going for a narrower grip, where you put your hands closer together? Then you will shift the emphasis to the long head of the biceps. This is the muscle on the outside of your muscles. In my opinion, it is therefore good to alternate between a normal curl, Close Grip Barbell Curl and Wide Grip Barbell Curl. This principle also applies to other biceps exercises.


Choose the grip that feels good.

As you have read in this article, you can use the grip you choose (close grip or wide grip) to emphasize certain muscles. However, keep in mind that a certain fitness exercise always trains the muscles you want to train with. With pulling up, for example, you always train your back muscles. But by varying in your grip, you can choose to put more emphasis on your biceps, or just on the bottom of your latissimus dorsi.

Personally, I like to experiment with the placement of my hands. You will soon enough find out which grip works best for you. This also has to do with possible injuries or limitations. For example, I have a chronic shoulder injury. I will have to take this into account during training.

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