Best hand position to build a BIG CHEST… Narrow, Medium or Wide Grip?

What is the best hand position to build a big chest? 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?  The push-up exercise is a classic 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.  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 (i.e., abdominals) 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 one repetition of each push-up. The EMG activity for the subjects’ dominant arm chest and triceps were 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.

Best-Hand-PositionNarrow 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 widths:

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 chest and triceps, 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. So when performing the push-up, use the narrow grip push up for the best chest activation

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.