Total Shape is a reader-supported site. Purchases made through links may earn a commission. Learn more.

Incline vs. Flat Bench
Which One is More Effective?

Last updated: June 22, 2021

Whether you’re shopping for new home gym equipment or just want to figure out how to make the best use of your time at the gym, you’ll inevitably be looking at using an incline bench or a flat bench.

To the untrained beginner, it might just seem like a comfort question. But your upper chest muscles will react differently depending on your body position.

So, we’ve put this guide together to help you make a better decision about which one to buy and use.

Incline Bench Pros And Cons

man working out on a bench in a gym

When it comes to gaining maximum flexibility for training your pectoral muscles, then incline bench presses are the go-to training tip.

I have worked with many professional clients who completely transformed their chest muscles by moving away from just flat benching.

From the first time you do an incline press, you’ll immediately notice how different it feels on your upper pecs [1].

This new muscle activation in the upper pecs can often result in rapid lean growth and a much better body definition.

I also find that an incline bench can help a lot of people who struggle with back issues.

It’s not a simple fix for all problems, but with the right approach, you can reduce the amount of strain on the upper back.

What you’ll also find is that the pressure on your shoulder muscle group and joints will change during an incline chest press.

Not only can that be helpful for someone with problems in the rotator cuffs [2], but if you want to try and lift more weight, then an incline bench might make it a bit easier.

You can also use an incline bench to do other exercises that go beyond a standard chest routine. For example, you could easily adjust your equipment to do a shoulder press.

Pros
  • Allows targeted training for upper and lower pec muscles
  • Adjustable bench setting may be needed for better back protection
  • Incline position can also help reduce shoulder strain
  • Many incline benches can be used for other muscle groups
Cons
  • Poor incline performance can cause muscle imbalance and injury
  • The only downside I would mention is that if you just head for the incline bench without someone showing you the right way to do incline presses, then you could do more harm than good.
  • Your body position is different, and that means a complete rethink of how you hold and push the bar.

Incline Bench Press Examples

Here are four examples of exercises that you can add for a more targeted lower and upper pec routine.

1. Regular Barbell Bench Press

shirtless man lifting weights seated on a bench

The barbell bench press has been the go-to exercise for bodybuilders since the very early days of gym equipment.

The benefit you have with an incline bench press is that you can split your sets from flat,effectively and safely, all the way to an almost upright position.

What I generally recommend is setting your incline bench press up at a 30-degree angle.

If it’s your first time, then lower the weight considerably from a flat position to get used to the body position and slightly different movement.

2. Incline Dumbbell Press

man seated in an incline dumbbell press lifting dumbbells

A great alternative to the barbell bench press is to use dumbbells in an incline position.

You can hold them the same way you would hold a barbell, but you also have the option to adjust your hand position just like a hammer curl.

It’s important to gradually approach your maximum lifting weight to avoid most shoulder injuries.

What you might notice right away is that you have a lot more range and freedom of movement with the incline bench press setup, and that can make a huge difference to your overall bench press strength.

3. Incline Dumbbell Flyes

shirtless man doing dumbbell flyes in an incline bench

Another use of a regular incline bench press is setting it at the incline position for upper chest flyes.

It targets the same upper chest muscle groups but with an added strain during a longer muscle extension.

Here’s what that means.

You set the chest press angle to about 20 degrees and grab a dumbbell for each hand.

Hold them above your face with your arms fully stretched out, and then lower your hands to each side in a wing-like motion.

Once you get to shoulder high, you pull the weight back up again to the starting point.

And that strain when your pecs are fully extended adds a lot of spice to this exercise.

4. Decline Bench Press

man in a decline bench press position

And finally, you have the option to perform a decline bench chest press.

This will feel very strange at first, but you set the angle to a slight decline position.

Ideally, have a spotter hand you the dumbbells once you’re in a position to avoid unnecessary lower back strain.

Then perform the decline dumbbell presses and feel how it targets the lower pecs a lot more than the other chest exercises.

“The Incline Bench Press is a compound upper-body exercise, meaning that multiple joints and muscles contribute to the movement. As a variation of the traditional flat Bench Press, it’s considered one of the best exercises to build a stronger and larger upper body.” - Andy Haley, Writer at Stack.com.

Flat Bench Pros And Cons

man lifting weights in a flat bench

If you ask any professional bodybuilder what their go-to chest exercise is, then they will almost always mention the flat bench press.

The great thing about it is that once you have your grip and body position aligned, it’s a very easy exercise to learn and get right.

And then there’s the practicality side of things.

You can set up a flat bench under the power rack and combine multiple different exercises without needing to adjust the upper portion to a different angle.

Simply pull it out from under the rack and have a few dumbbells ready, and you’re good to go for a completely different workout.

I also find that some of the powerlifters that I work with feel more confident in the stability of a flat bench with little or no moving parts.

Any kind of movement during a flat bench press with a heavy load can push the panic buttons.

The final thing I would mention is the choice of dimensions.

You’ll generally find that if you need something longer or wider than standard, then a flat bench will give you more options than an incline one.

Pros
  • It’s one of the easiest exercises to learn
  • Many athletes prefer the stability of a flat bench
  • Allows for multiple different exercises with the same basic equipment setup
  • Usually available in longer and wider dimensions
Cons
  • Flat bench press can add a lot of strain on the shoulder joints.
  • The one thing I would say is that if you have problems with your shoulder joints, then flat benching might be less suitable compared to performing in an incline chest press.

Flat Bench Press Examples

Just because you cannot adjust your bench doesn’t mean that you’re stuck with just the standard flat bench press for your workouts.

Here are three ways to spice things up a bit.

1. Flat Barbell Bench Press

man doing a bench press and a woman assisting him

The standard flat barbell bench press should be the go-to chest exercise for any type of athlete.

Once you get the setup right, you’ll make sure that you protect your joints from injuries, which are a bit more common than most people realize, especially during heavy flat bench presses.

Grip the bar with your hands at shoulder-width apart and the bar resting on the ball of your hand.

Don’t make the mistake of allowing the bar to move up towards your fingers, as that will put a lot of strain on your wrists.

Keep the downward and upward movement nice and smooth with a short break between each rep to make sure your setup and balance are still good.

2. Close Grip

man lifting barbells in a close grip

You definitely want to lower the weight a bit on this one. Not just because it’s more straining on the muscles, including the triceps brachii.

The problem is that the close handgrip will require a lot more focus on keeping the bar balanced.

Also, keep in mind that the close grip flat bench press puts some more strain on the shoulders than a regular bench press.

That means higher risks of injuries, which tend to have slow recovery times.

3. Dumbbell Pullover

man doing dumbbell pullovers in a gym

The final alternative for the flat bench press is to train your pecs with a completely different movement.

You lie down on the bench with your head right at the top. Grab a suitably sized dumbbell with both hands and hold it right above your head.

That means avoiding a weight that might slip and make a mess of your face.

Keep your arms straight and lower the dumbbell backward behind your head until it’s about the same height as the bench. Then pull it back up to the starting point.

Getting The Most Out Of Your Bench

Ultimately, it should come down to these four things that will help you use a bench in an effective and safe way.

1. Think Of Safety First

Even with a flat bench press setup, you have to consider the weight that is floating just above your face and chest.

If you’re training at the gym, then make sure you have a spotter. And in a home gym setup, you’ll want to make sure that your rack has a safety bar that can catch the weight if you fail to complete a rep.

Also, check out our article on the top reasons you are experiencing wrist pain while bench pressing.

2. Choose The Right Angle

man spotting another man while lifting barbells

Make sure that you try out a few different angles and how it affects your pectoralis major in different ways.

Ideally, you want to include up to three different settings over a week to ten days to get a nice and even upper body composition.

3. Get Your Grip Right

This is probably where beginners make the biggest mistakes.

You ant to have a personal trainer show you the correct hand position and wrist angle.

Getting flat benching wrong could mean losing control of the bar or having it roll up your palm and put some serious pressure on the wrist joints [3].

4. Pick The Right Weight

barbell weights and parts

I see it all too often with people heading for the flat bench press with some huge weight plates.

They complete a few half-hearted reps and think they’re the new Hulk.

You’ll gain so much more by slowing down the movement with a short hold between each rep.

Try to count to 3 on the way down and then to 2 on the way up. With five seconds under tension on each rep, you’ll see much better results.

FAQs

Is Incline Bench Press Harder Than Regular?

Yes, the incline bench press is harder than regular. The reason is that as your body approaches the fully-seated position, you have to engage the shoulder and weaker upper pec muscles.

Should You Do Flat and Incline on the Same Day?

Yes, you should do flat and incline on the same day. It’s the best way to ensure that you give all the individual upper pec muscles the same amount of attention to achieve an even overall upper pec development.

Are You Ready To Make Your Chest Day More Effective?

While the flat bench press should be on every exercise plan for a chest day, there are very important reasons to include some incline work as well.

Whether you work with barbells, dumbbells, or both, the extra strain across the full pectoralis major muscle group will result in a much better muscle definition.

Try out the above exercises and let us know they improved your workouts.


References:

  1. https://www.physio-pedia.com/Pectoralis_major
  2. https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/rotator-cuff-injury/symptoms-causes/syc-20350225
  3. https://fitbod.me/blog/wrist-pain-bench-press

About the author

You may also like

Write a Reply or Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *