THE BENCH PRESS: Does it really matter whether you are using a flat or incline?

THE BENCH PRESS: Does it really matter whether you are using a flat or incline?

By Allison-mhangoh | Health nuggets | 5 Aug 2021

As set forth in one of my previous posts; the Bench Press is to the upper body as the Squat is to the lower body. Research and experience has so far taught us that it is quite indispensable when it comes to building the ideal strength and physique in the Chest, as well as general physical enhancement around the Shoulder and Upper arms. Most consider it the go-to exercise if you were given the chance to pick one movement for a stronger and well-built upper body. Like most compound exercises, the Bench Press has a number of variations based on general body positioning.

The exercise can be performed at Horizontal, Incline and Decline positions, which are essentially ways of loading different portions of the major Chest Muscle (Pec Major) at different levels. Based on popular opinion, different Bench angles are associated with specific benefits which may sometimes be contradicting to a worrying extent. Here are the two main schools of thought:

  • Bench angles don’t really matter. The flat bench Press has it all.
  • Different angles matter. Inclining the bench shifts most of the loading to the upper chest, therefore, both variations should be emphasized to achieve uniform strength and physique.

The good news is that there is a fair amount of research done on the subject to better inform us on the best approach. A look at the current evidence landed me on another descent effort published by the European Journal of Sports Science in 2015, which looked at the effects of different Bench angles on activation of various portions of the Pec Major. The study compared Chest muscle activity at a decline angle of -15°, flat, and inclines of 30° and 45°.

Let’s take a quick look at the findings.

  • The Incline Bench Positions were associated with higher activity in the upper portion of the Chest muscle (Pec Major) compared to the flat and decline during the lifting phase of the movement.
  • The flat and decline positions registered higher activity compared to the 30° and 45° incline positions.
  • According to these observations, it’s clear that the higher you go in terms of Bench angle, the more you involve the upper chest.
    • This tips the balance in favor of the second school of thought, which suggest that you need to balance between the flat or decline bench positions with the Inclines to achieve a well-rounded workout program for the chest. This should inevitably lead to better strength, control and overall physique in the Chest and surrounding regions.

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