So which works the triceps better: narrow grip bench press or doing a narrow pushup, in which the hands are placed close together? I’m a certified personal trainer. It may all boil down to a matter of individual preference, but here are some things to consider when comparing the narrow grip bench press with a close hand placement for a pushup.
Narrow grip bench press: This, of course, recruits triceps muscles and can be done with a standard Olympic bar, a pre-weighted shorter barbell, and the Smith machine. It’s just plain uncomfortable doing narrow grip benching with an Olympic bar, due to its length.
If your hands are very close together, you may find that it bothers the wrists to keep that long bar balanced. A triceps workout should not get distracted by wrist discomfort. The wrist problem is eliminated with a pre-weighted shorter barbell (be it straight or E-Z) and Smith machine.
The problem with the Smith machine is that you have to set a bench directly below the center of the bar (if that’s important to you; it is to me), and this is a hassle. That leaves the pre-weighted bar as the most convenient, and most comfortable, choice. With the narrow grip bench press using a short barbell, you can add onto the top of the movement a triceps extension for a double whammy.
Narrow hand placement with pushups: This, too, recruits triceps muscles, and can be done with standard palms on floor; or gripping dumbbells or pushup handles, as well as hands placed on a medicine ball. If you have wrist problems, like a ganglion cyst, you’ll want to use dumbbells or pushup handles.
In fact, using dumbbells or pushup handles will allow you to go down deeper, which recruits even more muscle fiber. I prefer this, wrist problems or not. With narrow pushups, you can also alter hand position: a neutral position (palms facing each other while using the handles or dumbbells), which you can’t do with a narrow grip bench press.
As for the medicine ball, this is easy if you can already do narrow pushups (when I say narrow, I mean thumbs touching). However, I see men (sorry, but I’ve yet to see a woman doing these) using a medicine ball while their feet are on the floor. The issue here is that the ball adds elevation, which decreases resistance.
So, to offset that, place your feet on a small stool. This way your body will be at least parallel to the floor at the top of the movement. But you’ll also notice that placing feet on a stool adds a balance component to the workout. Only the toe portion of your feet should make contact with the stool. Get into position, hands stabilized on the ball (I myself start out in the up position), then lower, then push up, etc.
There is definitely a balance element, but you’ll get better triceps recruitment with your feet elevated, since your hands are elevated at the height of the ball to begin with.
And nobody says you can’t do narrow grip bench press and narrow pushups in the same workout session, but don’t stop with these either; include other triceps workouts (like dips and push-downs) as well.