Too Close For Comfort- Wrist Pain and Bench Pressing

The fitness industry is based on a dose-dependent relationship where if some is good, more is better.
If some creatine is good more is better.
If some protein is good more is better.
If some weight is good more is better.

In many ways, this is not a behavior exclusive to the fitness industry but rather universal to human beings themselves. Identifying when and where we go too far and start to stray from the intent and purpose of what we’re doing comes with age, wisdom and experience.

One of the biggest rookie mistakes I see in the gym and earliest manifestations of this dose-dependent relationship centers around the execution of the close grip bench press, often featured in magazines in on YouTube videos as a great “mass builder" for the triceps but too often I see the narrow grip get too close for comfort.

The thought must be  "if closer than neutral grip utilizes more elbow extension there for greater activation of the triceps muscle group, then the narrower the grip the greatest activation of the tricep must be found"

Not only is that not true, but it’s potentially dangerous.

Our wrist is a complicated intersection of the two forearm bones, radius, ulna,  along with two rows of irregular carpal bones woven intertwined with a network of complex ligaments. Often oversimplified, like most things in the fitness industry, the wrist has some nuance structure to it that needs to be considered when weighing out the benefits and risks of your close grip press.

The wrist Is most commonly known to go through the action of flexion-extension but has a unique movement based on its structure called ulnar and radial deviation. It’s ulnar deviation that concerns us when we go to close on a bench press. When we load into ulnar deviation we impact a soft tissue known as the triangular fibrocartilage, think of the triangular fibrocartilage like the meniscus in your knee, It acts is sort of a space saver from the end of the ulnar at the beginning of the first row of carpal bones. It has properties of both cartilage and ligaments which makes rehabilitation of this particular soft tissue extremely finicky.

If the end goal is big triceps, any potential perceived added benefit to overloading elbow extension as a byproduct of a narrower grip, and therefore increasing marginally the use of the triceps should be overshadowed by the ever-present danger of damaging this very integral part of your soft tissue structures system.

As a recommendation, it's suggested that no grip be adopted narrower than shoulder-width and allow adduction of the shoulder to increase the extension of the elbow and therefore increase triceps activity.

The second the bar is loaded with a hand position that is narrower than our AC joints of our shoulder and a full range of motion of shoulder extension is expressed , The wrist will be forced into this ulnar deviated position under load, And they put you at a high risk of a very annoying injury to have.

If there was one take away from this that transcended the execution of a triceps emphasis benchpress it’s that more is rarely better. Better is better.

Jordan Shallow

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