The incline bench press is an upper-body strength exercise that basically follows the same routine as the traditional flat bench press. The major difference is that instead of lying on a horizontal bench, you lie back on a bench that is inclined at anywhere between 30 – 40 degrees.
The incline bench press puts emphasis on the same muscle groups as the flat bench, but challenges your upper body from a different angle, creating more stress on the shoulders, triceps and upper chest.
What Equipment Will I Need for the Incline Bench Press
When performing the incline bench press, you should decide whether the routine will be manual or you will use a machine. Whichever route you decide to take, you will need the following;
- Inclined Bench – The adjustable bench that is regularly used in the flat bench press is adjusted to an angle of 30 – 40 degrees. I personally recommend the Iron Master Super Adjustable Weight bench to all my trainees. It has 11 adjustable positions and offers functionality that you will be proud of.
- Weight Racks – Sometimes incline benches may or may not come with racks. However, even when the incline bench comes with the weight racks, they may not be height adjustable. Ultimately, it is better to use benches that are independent of a weight rack.
The rack’s saddle heights are adjustable while the bench itself can be repositioned as one sees fit, as people have different physical attributes and preferences. Some weight racks have a set of safety bars placed just below the upper sternum level to protect the user in case of any slips.
- Barbell or Dumbbells
The incline bench press is usually performed using a barbell, though some gym users prefer to use dumbbells instead.
It is more beneficial to use a pair of dumbbells instead of a barbell because the dumbbell enables you to get a much better stretch and range of motion, which are fundamental for good muscle growth. By using dumbbells, each of your arms has to work separately. This prevents the dominant arm from carrying a greater proportion of the load.
- Smith Machine
Most weight exercise enthusiasts frown upon using this machine because of its fixed plane of motion. Experts argue that the body needs to exercise from a natural and variable plane of motion.
On the plus side, it provides a stable base for the inclined press, improving the safety of the user, and is not taxing on the joints. For someone with sore shoulder joints, performing the incline bench press can be painful, yet they can likely do them on the Smith machine. The Smith machine also enables one to lift heavier weights than when using a barbell or dumbbell.
Which is the Proper Way to Perform Incline Bench Press
Using the correct technique is imperative in order to make sure that the exercise is successful and that you don’t place too much strain on your shoulder joints.
Here are a few tips that I consider as a guide on the proper way to perform incline bench presses.
USING A BARBELL OR SMITH MACHINE
- Prepare for the incline bench press exercise by positioning the bench at an angle of between 30 and 40 degrees.
- Load on the weights you want to use.
- Lay back on the incline bench with your feet firmly placed on the ground.
- Grasp the barbell with a shoulder width overhand grasp (palms facing your feet).
- Lift the barbell off the rack or alternatively, have someone (a spotter) assist you in this.Hold it with your arms locked and fully extended. This will be your starting position.
- Push your shoulder blades back, squeeze your lats and place your chin close to your chest. Engage the core muscles, while keeping the hips locked with your heels steadily on the ground.
- Slowly bring the barbell down to the upper part of your chest as far as you can, without touching your body. Keep your arms at a 45 degree angle.
- Pause, and then slowly lift the barbell back to the starting position over your chin. Repeat for your desired repetitions.
- NB: Don’t position the bench angle too high. 30 degrees is sufficient to work out your upper chest and not excessively engage the shoulders.
- Avoid “bouncing” the bar off your chest. Maintain slow rep timing and control the weight, especially the downward motion. Remember, lowering the weight should take about twice as long as raising it.
- Lay back on the incline bench with a dumbbell in each hand, on top of your thighs. The dumbbells are upright, with the palms of your hands facing each other.
- Use your thighs to bring the dumbbells up, one at a time. Hold them aloft at shoulder width distance.
- Rotate your wrists forward. Now the palms of your hands should be facing away from you. This will be your starting position.
- Keeping your body rigid, lower the dumbbells slowly down towards your upper chest until the handles are almost level with your chest.
- Without pausing, raise the dumbbells slowly back up without locking your elbows.
- Repeat the movement for the prescribed amount of repetitions.
- After you finish, place the dumbbells back on your thighs and then onto the floor. This is the safest way to dispose of the dumbbells.
BENEFITS OF THE INCLINE BENCH PRESS
Although it is a well known fact that the bench press is one of the best measurements of upper body strength, it is wise to note that using the flat bench press alone can leave your general shape and strength wanting. This is where the incline bench version comes in. It has inherent benefits that include;
- Overall Strength Improvement
The incline bench press will definitely help you achieve a bigger and stronger chest faster. Muscles are known to gain bulk, power and stamina when pushed to the extremes. This is known the S.A.I.D principle or Specific Adaptation to Imposed Demand. In fitness terms, the heavier the weight, the higher the chance the muscle will get bigger and stronger. Since the incline bench press demands that the muscles from the upper chest and shoulders be activated, they will develop a bigger, stronger look.
- Activates More Muscles
The incline bench press generally works more muscles than the regular flat bench routine. The incline bench press develops the mass and strength of the following muscles;
Pectoralis major – This is the large muscle of the chest. It is in essence two separate muscles; the sternal (lower) head, which is exercised during flat and decline bench presses, and the clavicular (upper) head, which is activated by the incline bench press. The clavicular head of the pectoralis major gets very little work during a flat or decline bench press due to the way the weight loads on the body, resulting in its underdevelopment.
Anterior deltoids – These are the front shoulder muscles. It is important to state that the incline bench press will not only develop the strength and size of the chest; it will activate an area usually ignored by other exercise programs. The anterior deltoids are activated by the angle of the incline bench and the seat height.
Pectoralis minor – A thin, flat muscle found under the pectoralis major. This is the smaller of the two pectoral (chest) muscles.
Triceps brachii – These constitute the muscles at the back of the arm.
Biceps brachii – These make up the muscles of the upper arm, between the shoulder and elbow.
Differences Between the Incline, Decline and Military Bench Presses
With every workout program, there comes some degree of difference, of which the bench press offers many. Here we look at the major differences between the incline, decline and bench press. The differences will be highlighted based on some key factors.
The incline bench press is performed using an incline bench, while a decline press uses a decline bench. Military presses are performed while standing unless it is the seated variation, which is done on a horizontal bench. For the incline and decline bench press, barbells, dumbbells and the Smith machine can be used during all workouts. The military press can be done using either barbells or dumbbells. The Smith machine cannot be utilised to perform standing military presses.
Main Muscles Activated
The major muscles activated during the incline bench press are the upper part of the pectoralis major (clavicular head) and the anterior deltoids (front part of the shoulder muscles). The decline bench press mainly focuses on the lower part of the pectoralis major i.e. the sternal head. The military press mainly utilises the shoulders and triceps, and is not employed as a chest exercise.
Angle of Motion
A key yet often overlooked factor that separates the incline, decline and military presses is the angle between the motion of the bar and the spine. In the case of the incline bench press, the angle between the motion of the bar and the spine is between 90 – 180 degrees. For the decline bench press, this angle is less than 90 degrees. Finally, when performing the military press, the motion of the bar is collinear to the spine i.e. the angle between the motion of the bar and spine is 180 degrees.
The incline and decline bench presses both require one to lay their body on the bench. In the case of military presses, a person lifts the weight while standing, unless it’s the seated variety where only the posterior is in contact with the bench.