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.
Q: What is your opinion of deep knee squats for kids in high school and junior high? We have three athletes that have developed knee problems since starting a program that has been established by a former Olympic lifting coach. – Greg
A: Thanks for the question Greg. Because opinions are of little assistance in matters such as these, let’s start with the facts, which are numerous. Opinions just lead to arguments on the level of my “guru can beat up your guru”. First of all, any exercise analysis must be based upon determining potential risk weighed against potential benefit.
Fact #1 – During movement through the full range of
any joint motion, one’s strength changes dramatically. In the case of
the compound movements such as the squat, basic mechanical analysis
shows that we get progressively weaker as we “fold up” like an
accordion. Therefore, we are the weakest when we are all the way down at
the bottom of the squat. Although training will improve our overall
strength, this general strength profile can not be altered. We will
always be weaker at the bottom of the squat than at the top (or in a
sense, the weight will be heavier at the bottom than at the fully erect
position). Therefore, the amount of resistance chosen becomes a key
factor in whether or not an individual will be able move full range of
motion correctly on any exercise.
Fact #2 – We must look at the joints involved.
Barring any specific individual medical issues, the average knee can
move through approximately 120-140 degrees of motion (everybody’s a
little different). However, a closer look at the architecture of the
knee reveals that not every point along that range is created equal. The
knee is composed of the end of the femur (thighbone), which has two
rounded regions called condyles, and the end of the tibia (lower leg)
which is slightly cupped to accept the condyles. As the knee bends,
different aspects or areas of the knee make contact and accept force.
When the knee is near straight the end of the condyles contact the
tibia. Because this region has a greater surface area, it has a
considerable ability to disperse force. This is the part of the knee
that accepts the forces of impact when we walk and run. It’s pretty much
designed for it. When the knee is bent to a considerable degree, the
backsides of the condyles contact the tibia. This portion of the
condyles is more rounded and offers a smaller contact surface to
accommodate not just the same forces, but what will be even greater
forces as we bend down to this point of contact.
Fact #3 – There are two types of cartilage within the knee. If you have ever looked at the end of a chicken bone you’ve probably noticed a smooth, white “Teflon-like” covering. We have the same “hyaline cartilage” covering the contact surfaces of the knee. This serves two purposes: to decrease friction for smooth sliding of the joint surfaces, and to act as a cushion. It is common knowledge among orthopedic surgeons, however, that the thickness of this cartilage differs as it surrounds each aspect of the femoral condyles. The cartilage covering the back of the knee is thinner than that covering the end of the condyles. This corresponds with the shape of the joint for the same reason mentioned above. Thicker cartilage is offered as a cushion on the end of the bone where impact occurs during walking, etc. Therefore, the back of the knee, which is visited less frequently throughout normal activity, has less tolerance for wear. Long term wear of this cartilage covering/cushion is associated with arthritis. In many older folks it is the cartilage at the very end of the bone that wears due to normal walking, etc. Athletes will have varying wear-patterns that are distinct to their sport and the unique range and forces to which their knees are subjected. In many sports it is the back of the knee that wears due to continual force application at this extreme range. This is why certain athletes have “90 year old knees” on an otherwise 35 year-old body, depending upon the requirements of their sport.
The second type of cartilage is the meniscus. This a C-shaped ring
(actually two of them … referred to as menisci) around the perimeter of
the joint. These are most commonly torn when the knee is in extreme
flexion, under a compressive load, and any slight torsion or
medial/lateral forces are introduced into the knee. In a perfectly
performed squatting exercise, these forces would not be expected to
occur. If perfect knee alignment is not practiced one each and every
inch/degree of each and every repetition, expect trouble. If you’ve ever
watched someone from the front as they squat, leg press or lunge in the
gym and as they extend the knee from the bent position it waivers,
wobbles, or moves side to side even a fraction of an inch, you’ve
observed the problem. This individual has a lot of work to do on
control, or the skill/motor pattern, of the movement before they go to
extreme ranges of motion or challenging loads. Lower extremity alignment
during exercise must be insured through conscious effort. (By the way,
this appears to be one of the reasons that most branches of the military
no longer subject recruits to the old “duck-walk” exercise. Apparently
the cost of all the knee surgeries that they were inducing finally
out-weighed the benefits of the exercise.)
Fact #4 – The kneecap or patella can become an issue
in extreme flexion of the knee. One reason is the fact that the
compressive forces on the patellae reach eight times the amount of
resistance applied (body weight plus additional load) when the knee
flexes to 130 degrees. This can increase the risk of, or exacerbate a
prior condition of, chodromalacia patellae. This is a roughening of the
hyaline cartilage that covers the underside of the patella and is
characterized by a grinding noise or sensation during knee extension.
Another fact is that for many individuals, extreme flexion of the knee
creates a situation where the femur no longer makes contact with the
patellae. Instead the quadriceps tendon rides across the end of the
Fact #5 – Puberty and deep squats, anatomically
speaking, don’t mix. A great deal of one’s ability to squat depends upon
his/her individual mechanical/anatomical structure. Many automatically
relate this to an individual’s overall height, but it is more a matter
of lever or bony proportions. The longer ones femur is in relation to
the trunk and the tibia, the more difficulty he or she will have in
“folding these levers upon each other”. More accurately, the longer the
femur, the further forward the knee must travel and the further backward
the hips must travel as the thigh become horizontal at the bottom of
the squat. This is key because the further the joints move from being
directly below the weight, the more forces they will be subjected to.
Furthermore, if the femur is longer than the trunk, the trunk will
have to move even further from vertical. As the trunk gets closer to
horizontal the shearing forces in the spine increase as does the
difficulty in maintaining proper spinal alignment. If the femur is
longer than the tibia, knee range is increased dramatically and
increases even further.
Keeping these proportions in mind, you can easily look around a gym
and see who’s built to squat and who’s not. Just ask who feels their
back vs. who feels their quads during squatting and you’ll see a
correlation with body lever proportions. But, relative to your question,
the key is that as we go through puberty virtually no one is built to
squat, at least not to an extreme depth. As humans go through puberty
the skeletal structure grow disproportionately. It’s been the subject of
jokes throughout history. First the feet practically double in length,
then the tibia and femur sprout, but the trunk and shoulder width still
look like that of an eight year old. Finally by 16-20 years of age the
trunk and shoulders pretty much catch up, realizing the proportions that
the individual is likely to carry throughout life. Anyone who truly
understands biomechanics, is even remotely observant of individual’s
growth/proportion changes, and realizes that different structures
require different exercise prescriptions would not prescribe the same
depth of squatting for any group of people, much less a group of teens.
Taking all of these facts into consideration, I’d say that most
individuals would be able to do full squats (if perfectly controlled)
with their bodyweight (little or no additional load). Deep squats with
additional weight are not ideal for the average person and even more
risky for a teenager. But remember “deep” and “weight” are relative
terms. As range changes, the amount of weight tolerated will change.
Many high level athletes will benefit considerably from deep squats, but
there are many reasons they’ve achieved a high level of performance,
not the least of which is a genetic structure (joints, tissues, etc.)
that offers greater tolerance for extreme ranges and extreme force.
Although these next points would be considered more as “perspectives
of a true professional” than as facts, they weigh heavily into the
An exercise professional should not confuse sports extremes with
fitness. Running can be health and fitness inducing. Marathons on the
other hand, although great sports, cannot be considered healthy for the
average person and should not be imposed upon everyone. But this
perspective is true of anything taken to an extreme. Sitting is restful,
but eight hours a day for twenty years is not at all healthy. The squat
is more than a great exercise, it’s part of life (sitting, lifting,
etc.). But when the squat is immediately and automatically equated with a
specific sport (powerlifting or Olympic lifting) and the rules or
ranges specific to that sport are automatically imposed upon all . . .
well, this is malpractice. Along with high-level skill acquisition, a
specific set of genetic traits are required for successful and reduced
risk performance in any sport, from muscle fiber predisposition to
Imposing one’s bias, interest, or “gift” upon another without
modification based upon consideration of the facts, as well as
individual differences, is clearly wrong. Just because someone loves
football, was good at football, and was built for football doesn’t mean
everybody who wants to be a little stronger, faster or more powerful,
should, or could, train even remotely like a football player. They can,
however, achieve improvement in these areas through exercises modified
for their individual structure and neurological ability.