THE INCLINE BENCH PRESS VS FLAT BENCH PRESS
Who doesn’t enjoy the bench press? It is probably the most popular upper body exercise in gyms across the world.
Unfortunately, excessive use of the traditional barbell bench press can lead to repetitive use injury, especially in the shoulder joint.
That’s why it’s important to perform different variations of this movement.
The Incline Bench Press allows you to change the angle of the exercise to target the same muscle groups in a different way.
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Okay, let’s get started.
You can think of the Incline Bench as a combination of the Traditional Bench Press and the Overhead Press. It strengthens the upper and mid-chest more than the flat press and requires more contribution from your shoulders.
Because of the angle, you are less likely to overexert your anterior shoulders when performing this exercise.
It is a good idea to include both exercises in your program, or at least include the Incline Bench in your rotation of exercises.
INCLINE BENCH PRESS FORM (VIDEO)
This video goes over the basic technique and setup for the Incline Barbell Press.
BENEFITS OF THIS EXERCISE
- Strengthens the upper pecs and mid pec muscles more than the traditional bench press
- Provides a new variation to the bench press, allowing you to continue strengthening the press pattern while decreasing the risk of overuse injuries
- Teaches how to maintain a stable shoulder position for everyday movements
WHAT DOES THE INCLINE BENCH PRESS WORK?
Below is a list of the muscles worked during this movement.
- Upper Chest (Clavicular head of the pectoralis)
- Mid Chest (Sternal head of the pectoralis)
- Anterior Deltoid
- Glutes (when using leg drive)
HOW TO DO THE INCLINE BARBELL BENCH PRESS WITH PROPER FORM
- Approach an incline bench press rack that has a barbell set at a comfortable rack height
- The Incline should be set at 30-45 degrees
- Retract and squeeze your scapulae together when laying on the bench.
- Maintain this retracted position throughout the entire lift. This is where most people perform the movement incorrectly.
- Set your grip at a distance that is wider than shoulder grip width. Keep your pinky fingers within the rings marked on the barbell
- Always wrap your thumbs completely around the bar
- Place your feet flat on the floor, directly under your knees, and point your feet straight or angled out up to 45-degrees
- Un-rack the bar and bring the bar directly out over your clavicles
- Begin lowering the bar by TUCKING your elbows at a 45-degree angle. DO NOT flare them out to 90 degrees.
- Touch the bar to your upper chest muscles, just below the clavicles and pause for a fraction of a second
- Reverse the movement by simultaneously contracting your glutes (without elevating your butt off the bench) driving your feet into the ground, and pressing the weight up and slightly back towards your face
- Continue to press until your elbows have locked out and the bar is back in the starting position
- Ensure that your scapulae remain retracted the entire time
- Repeat for the desired amount of repetitions
COMMON MISTAKES WHEN PERFORMING THE INCLINE BENCH
BENCHING WITH A FLAT BACK
- This is simply a technical issue
- Begin by retracting your scapula while setting up and maintain this position throughout the entire lift.
- Not performing this crucial step puts your shoulders in an unstable position
FLARING THE ELBOWS ON THE DESCENT
- This is also a technical issue
- Tuck your elbows to about a 45-degree angle while descending
- This technique will place less stress on your pectoralis tendon and shoulder capsule
- With that said, flaring your elbows can be used to isolate the chest more, but I recommend that you stick with lighter weight when doing so.
NOT PERFORMING A FULL RANGE OF MOTION
- People often perform half-reps because they mistakenly believe that a complete range of motion is bad for the shoulders
If you maintain your scapulae retracted, your shoulders are in a stable un-compromised position
TOUCHING TOO LOW ON YOUR CHEST
- The Incline BB Press is primarily an upper chest exercise. As such, it is important that you bring the barbell as down as close to your clavicles as you can.
- Touching too low on your chest can place too much stress on your shoulders leading to pain and injury.
BOUNCING THE BAR OFF YOUR CHEST
Don’t do what I’m doing in this video.
By The Way… The Incline Chest Press is just one of several compound exercises you should be doing
To see a list of all the best exercises, be sure to check out our E-book that goes over all of the best compound movements for each body part!
We also go over them all in The Best Compound Exercises of All Time.
FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS
Is Incline Bench Press Harder Than Flat Bench?
Yes. In the Incline Bench, you are not in a mechanically advantageous position to lift the barbell. As such, you are relying on less overall muscle to move the weight.
You can expect your incline bench to be anywhere from 65-85% of your bench press weight.
What’s The Best Incline Bench Press Angle / How High Should The Incline Be?
The lower the incline, the more the movement resembles the traditional bench press, while the higher the incline, the more it resembles an overhead press.
High inclines will train the shoulders and upper pec muscles more, making the movement more difficult.
A good place to start is roughly at the halfway mark between the two exercises or a 30-45 degree incline.
Is Incline Bench Press Necessary/ Worth It?
No, the Incline Bench is not necessary. However, the main benefit is that it provides you with a pressing variation that you can use to change up your routine. If you have been training for a while, you will notice that you can start to develop overuse injuries from doing the exact same exercises over and over.
This tends to happen a lot with the traditional flat bench. I recommend rotating the Incline Bench as your main pressing movement every 12 weeks.
Here we are doing explosive barbell incline bench presses
Is Incline Bench Bad For Your Shoulders?
No, the incline bench does not put your shoulders in a compromised position. With that said, if you do the exercise incorrectly (as shown above) you can certainly cause wear and tear to your shoulder.
As always, if this exercise hurts your shoulders despite having good technique, then, by all means, do not perform it.
Should I touch My chest On Incline Bench?
In general, yes, you should try to always touch your chest on the Incline Bench.
The only time you shouldn’t touch your chest is if you lack the mobility to keep your shoulders in a stable position throughout the movement.
You can do this by keeping your shoulder blades retracted at all times.
Can Incline Bench Presses Help Your Flat Bench?
It has the potential to. It all depends on your technique and your weak points.
If you are naturally weaker in the shoulder muscles as compared to your triceps, then the Incline Bench can help increase your flat bench.
This is contingent on the fact that you actually train the incline bench sufficiently, and realize an appreciable increase in incline pressing strength.
Should I do Incline Bench Press before flat?
I’m not a big fan of doing two different barbell bench presses on the same day. I’d much rather you do them on separate days, or on separate training cycles.
It is important to create a balanced workout where you are pulling just as much as you are pressing – and doing two bench presses on the same day can lead to overuse shoulder injuries.
Can Incline Bench Help Improve Overhead Press?
Maybe, maybe not. The overhead press is a completely different animal and depends on strict shoulder and core strength. You also need good shoulder mobility to overhead press correctly.
Overhead pressing can translate to bench pressing, but usually not vice versa.
Can I Incline Bench With Dumbbells?
Yes. We have an entire tutorial on how to do the incline dumbbell press which you can find here.
Obviously, you won’t be able to lift as much weight using dumbbells, but it’s still a great exercise to have in your toolbox.
Can I Use An Incline Bench Press Machine?
If this is all you have access to, then feel free to use it. I generally recommend that you stick to free weights, as machine exercises will eliminate the stability component needed to lift the barbell.
Can I Incline Bench Press On The Smith Machine?
I highly recommend that you not perform any exercise on the smith machine. I explain why here.
How do I increase my incline bench press?
The best way to increase your barbell incline bench is to train it frequently.
I recommend that you do this exercise twice per week using a variety of rep ranges.
The three rep ranges you should use are described in this article: How many sets and reps should you do?
What About The Decline Bench Press?
I think it’s a waste of time.
INTEGRATING THE INCLINE BENCH TO YOUR TRAINING PROGRAM
Want to know how to use this exercise in your workout?
Check out The Best Workout Template For Busy Individuals to learn how to integrate this movement as well as other key functional exercises into your strength training routine.
INCLINE BENCH PRESS ALTERNATIVES
Here are a few exercises that are similar to the incline bench press, using barbells, dumbbells, and bodyweight.
- Dumbbell incline press
- Pike Push-ups
- Flat Bench press
- Dumbbell bench press
- Close grip bench press
What did you think of this guide?
Will the incline press be a part of your routine?
Alex Robles, MD, CPT / Brittany Robles, MD, MPH, CPT
Alex & Brittany Robles are physicians, NASM Certified Personal Trainers, and founders of The White Coat Trainer: a resource dedicated to improving the health and fitness of busy professionals using time-efficient strategies. Their advice has been featured in My Fitness Pal, Prevention, Livestrong, Reader’s Digest, Bustle, The Active Times, and more. Learn more about them here.