How to Incline Bench Press Correctly & Safely [Video]

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THE INCLINE BENCH PRESS VS FLAT BENCH PRESS

Who doesn’t enjoy the bench press? It is probably the most popular 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 and elbows.

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.

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 set-up for the Incline Barbell Press.

BENEFITS OF THIS EXERCISE

  • Strengthens the upper and mid chest 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 Deltoids
  • Triceps
  • Forearms
  • Glutes (when using leg drive)

HOW TO DO THE INCLINE BARBELL BENCH PRESS WITH PROPER TECHNIQUE

  • 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.
How do you incline barbell press

 

  • Set your grip at a distance that is wider than shoulder 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.
  • Touch the bar to your upper chest 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 INCLINE BENCH MISTAKES

BENCHING WITH A FLAT BACK

  • This is simply a technical issue
  • Begin by retracting your scapula while setting up and maintain this position
  • 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
  • Flaring your elbows places a lot of stress on your pectoralis tendon and shoulder capsule

 

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 BB Press is just one of several compound exercises you should be doing

To see a list of them all, be sure to check out our FREE E-book that goes over all of the best compound exercises for each body part!



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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, they aren’t necessary. However, it does provide 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 the incline bench in 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 of 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 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 scapulae 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 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 those 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 tool box.

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?

INTEGRATING THE INCLINE BENCH TO YOUR WORKOUT

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 it into your training.

INCLINE BENCH PRESS ALTERNATIVES

Here are a few exercises that are similar to the incline bench press, using barbells, dumbbells and bodyweight.

What did you think of this guide?

Will the incline press be apart of your routine?

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Alex Robles, MD, CPT / Brittany Robles, MD, MPH, CPT

Alex Robles, MD, CPT / Brittany Robles, MD, MPH, CPT

Alex & Brittany Robles are physicians, NASM CPTs, health & fitness experts, and founders of The White Coat Trainer: a site dedicated to improving the health and fitness of busy professionals. Their advice has been featured on KevinMD, The Doctor Weighs In, My Fitness Pal, Reader's Digest, Livestrong, and The Active Times. Learn more about them here.

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