The bench press is a measure of strength in the weight training world. But, despite the stereotype the exercise has of bodybuilders grunting and weight slamming, the bench press actually plays an important role in strengthening and sculpting the chest. While the flat bench press is the most commonly practiced chest exercise, the incline bench press has specific benefits that set it apart from its flat counterpart.
Anatomy of the Chest
The chest comprises a single muscle known as the pectoralis major, affectionately known as the "pecs" in the fitness world. This large, fan-shaped muscle originates at two attachment points: The collarbone and the sternum. The muscle inserts at a main tendon in the upper arm, allowing for pushing and throwing as well as arm rotation.
Though the chest is pretty much defined by a single muscle, different types of bench presses target different regions of the muscle. The incline bench press targets the upper and middle portion of the muscle closer to the collarbone. The incline bench press is often credited with generating greater thickness and fullness in the chest by rounding out the region at the top of the chest, and for deepening the valley between the two pectoral muscles at the sternum. Working on an incline also encourages development of the muscles at the front of the shoulder region.
The incline can be pesky when it comes to executing proper form. The tendency is to lift the bar overhead as the arms straighten instead of pushing straight out from the chest. Be sure the bar stays over the chest throughout the range of motion. Yes, this will make the movement a little more difficult at first but your muscles will adapt and grow familiar to the change in angle. Find a moderate incline to work with. The closer to vertical the incline is the greater the amount of work placed on the front shoulder muscles. This can be done intentionally to strengthen the front deltoids, but attempt this variation with a light weight after an appropriate period of adaptation to the incline bench press.
Don’t let the word “bench” in bench press fool you. There are lots of variations on the incline press not limited to the bench rack. Incline presses can be performed with dumbbells or with a Smith machine using a free-standing incline bench. They can even be performed on a balance ball with dumbbells or a barbell. Always start conservative with your weights and work your way up especially if you’re trying a new variation on the exercise or if you’re new to the incline bench press.
- Human Anatomy and Physiology; Elaine N. Marieb
- Bodybuilding.com: Barbell Incline Bench Press
- Muscle and Strength: Incline Bench Press Video Guide
- The New Encyclopedia of Modern Bodybuilding; Arnold Schwarzenegger
Jullie Chung writes regularly for various websites. She is a nationally certified fitness trainer and performance enhancement specialist through the National Academy of Sports Medicine and trains regularly in yoga, flatwater kayaking, boxing and mixed martial arts. An avid outdoor fan, she regularly hikes, climbs and trail runs.