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Incline vs Flat Bench Press for Best Chest Growth

As you would know, the bench press should form the foundation of your mass training routine as it’s one of the best chest exercises for building masculine pecs. However, with all of the bench press variations such as the flat bench press and incline bench press, what should you focus on then?

Some people love the incline bench press, while others hate it. If you try to tell a person who benches on a flat bench press that the incline is better then you better watch your back because they might want to fight you!

What are the main advantages of the flat bench press?

Before I talk about why the incline bench press is good I thought I would get out a few nice things about the regular bench press.

The main advantage of the flat bench is that you can handle more weight. The motion is very natural and it is easy to master the technique. This usually means that you have all the elements of a good weight training workout. It is an excellent strength and power motion as it is so simple and brute forceful.

The position that your body is on when you lay on the flat bench is also very comfortable. Again, it is natural and easy to do and usually doesn’t leave you lifting a heavy weight in a strange way. You are able to push off of the bench and it supports you well. However, the incline has certain advantages. Here’s why…

Why is the incline bench press better for chest growth?

Now I move onto the dangerous waters – the incline bench press is better for your pectoral muscles than the flat bench. By far.

You see the main disadvantage of the flat bench is that it works your shoulders a lot. This is why I am not a fan of it. People think that the flat bench is all triceps and chest but they are wrong. The anterior deltoid muscles get worked quite hard and as such your pectorals get a lot of help. This is not good for muscles growth.

If you want to target your pectoral muscles you are much better off using an incline angle for your bench press. You are also better off using a pair of dumbbells instead of your barbell. Now I am really getting into controversial territory! As I mentioned in this post the dumbbell allows you to get a much better stretch and range of motion. These two things are vital for good muscle growth.

In summary, next time you want to target your pectoral muscles and remove as much shoulder work as possible try using an incline bench with some heavy dumbbells instead. Although the flat bench press has a huge role in effective strength training and muscle building, it is not the be all and end all of weight training exercises as many trainees would have you believe.

Read the other articles on this site to learn how to do the incline bench press and flat bench press with good lifting technique.

by David on July 3, 2010 · 12 comments

Filed under Exercises & Workouts,Muscle Building

{ 12 comments… read them below or add one }

Pat August 23, 2010 at 6:16 pm

I’ve heard the incline press is the key to getting those toned, flat pecs from the “Hollywood” look. Is it true that too much flat movements cause those boob like round bulky pecs? just wondering if you have any tips on working towards cut, toned pecs as opposed to getting huge mass-ed up man boobs, thanks!

jay September 1, 2010 at 6:58 pm

if you goal is flat pecs then do any chest exercises, your goal is to just drop overall body fat levels

Eric October 7, 2010 at 2:41 pm

You need to keep in mind, that you should be doing both. You run the risk of injury if you fail to properly work and stretch all your other muscles. Think of it as a football or hockey team (or whatever floats your boat). One player isn’t going to take you to the superbowl, as much as you might hope. He can carry you for a while, but sooner or later things fall apart.

I agree, in that I like that incline press more for my pecs, but to hit all your chest you need to hit some shoulders, as well as triceps.

To minimize the work of your triceps, use cable crossovers.
http://www.beerbellyblog.com/wp-content/uploads/2006/08/bent-over-cable-crossover.jpg

you can do the same crossover coming from the bottom up, and I’ve personally found this to work the best. The more intense and more reps the better. Keep your weight low and get a good pump on :D G

Reps is the key to toning, Weight is the key to mass.

Best of luck!

Alex February 27, 2011 at 6:33 pm

I used to do flat bench all the time, but my chest really didnt start poppin out till I did inclines, it was a whole different growth

Jeff March 30, 2011 at 9:41 pm

I agree wholeheartedly regarding incline dumbell flys. Think of it this way: The basic function of the pecs is to draw the arm(s) across the body. If you’re not sure if that’s correct then picture what a bodybuilder does to achieve the best front chest pose: He brings his arms from the outside to in and squeezes!

Yes, varying your workout routine over time is essential , true, but I now consider incline db flys more important for pec work than flat bench presses.

Enrique Armas November 14, 2011 at 12:29 am

You guys have to really think about what the person wants. If its a small person trying to gain overall mass than nuthing is better than compound exercises such as bench press, deadlifts, squats…etc but if your at youre goal weight than go for isolation types like incline press

Jesse February 2, 2012 at 2:26 pm

I got a good chest like 44-45 inches on a pretty thin frame naturally. My only problem is i never got into inclines i was all butterfly, flat bench. Now ive been stuck at same weight. Its weird cuz my chest is huge and alot of smaller guys bench the same. Im not to mad though cuz now i cut and i got size. I definately dont think you need to do incline to get strong. Just you gotta avoid same workouts for chest every time

chase April 5, 2012 at 2:14 pm

if you dont do incline then you dont have full chest development plain and simple i started really hammering all incline moverments 6 months ago and most guys fail to realize this until they do incline and it is that you dont have any upper chest defintion incline is awesome and i agree better then flat work not only does incline work your upper pecs did you know you also get a great middle and lower chest workout also

Flo December 12, 2012 at 10:28 pm

LOL, Enrique Armas, incline dumbbell chest press IS as much a compound exercise as flat bench press. It is not an isolation exercise at all! Your joints make the exact same moments, the only difference is that your back is at a different angle, and the forces on your mucles are changed a bit – they are less on some and more in others. But otherwise the same muscle groups are still worked.

And on that note, to people saying that incline dumbbell chest press targets chest more, and takes pressure of shoulders, are you sure? I thought it was the other way around. Think about it – flat bench press is a pushing movement up just like shoulder/military press. The difference? The higher the angle of the bench (of your back), the more the focus is on shoulders. So that means if you are in between, as in incline press, you are doing half chest, half shoulders.

And triceps are still used in ALL these presses – triceps are activated anytime your arm extends from a bent position to straight.

I could be wrong, but what are people’s thoughts on this?

Jer April 13, 2013 at 10:17 pm

I agree with Flo, intuitively it would seem that there would be more delt and trap involvement on an incline. That said, the incline still has some advantages for building nice pecs. In the flat bench, leg drive and assistance from the lats add quite a bit of drive in the initial push, which is where the most pec firing occurs. I find both leg drive and, especially, lat firing to be much reduced on an incline, forcing my chest to work harder. Also, handling less weight than when I flat bench means that triceps strength isn’t a factor in limiting how hard I can train my chest (though has the downside of being a weaker stimulus for growth).

Franz June 6, 2013 at 3:16 am

I’m going to switch to just the DB incline press.
Reason is, I’ve always focused on dips (I can dip with +50 kgs) and the flat bench press, and now my lower chest is strong, but the upper chest is barely there. Gravity makes it just hang there haha! That seems to be a common problem with naturals, actually, the tell-tale signs of steriod usage is shoulder, upper chest and trap development. Good thing it’s muscle and not fat though. So, focusing on incline will give my lower chest a beating too, while focusing on the upper portion. Nice.

Reilly March 17, 2015 at 6:27 am

Yes what Flo said above.

A lot of people don’t realize this but the incline bench press was originally developed to help lifters improve their OVERHEAD PRESS…not the BENCH PRESS. The thinking was that since one can move more weight on the bench press than on the OH press that by training hard and moving the bench slowly upwards one could eventually OH press the same or close to the bench press. This thinking was wrong BTW due to biomechanical factors…but that is neither here nor there.

Yes the higher the incline the more the shoulders come into play. Think about it…by the time you have reached 90 degrees on the bench it’s all shoulders (and triceps) not chest. Of course inclines are far less than 90 degrees…but you are still relying on shoulders more than a flat bench press. Declines are more helpful in that regard.

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