What Muscles Does the Incline Shoulder Press Target?

An incline bench is needed to perform incline shoulder press.

An incline bench is needed to perform incline shoulder press.

You might be in a reclined position when you're doing the incline shoulder press, but this compound exercise makes you work. The incline shoulder press is done with the bench set to about 60 degrees. Pick up a barbell or pair of dumbbells and build strength in your shoulders and arms by pushing the weight up over your head. The exercise places focus on the movement of your shoulder joints, but your elbows also have to bend and extend during the exercise.


The largest muscle in your shoulders is the deltoid, which is responsible for lifting your arms up in front of you and out to your sides. The deltoid is split into three separate sections: The anterior, lateral and poster deltoid. The anterior deltoids take on most of the work during the incline shoulder press, while the lateral deltoid also contributes. As you push the weights up over your head, the deltoid contracts and causes movement at your shoulder as your arms go from sticking out to your sides to being pointed straight up towards the ceiling.

Upper Chest

The major muscle in your chest is separated into two sections: The sternal head and the clavicular head. The sternal head is the largest portion of your chest, but it’s the smaller clavicular head, which is located at the upper chest near your clavicle, that is involved during incline shoulder press. The pectoralis major helps bring your arms up towards the center of your body as you push the weights up overhead.


Also contributing to the incline shoulder press is the triceps brachii muscle, which is located at the back of each of your upper arms. It runs down your arms, from the back of your shoulders to your pointy elbow bone. The back of the upper arm is a common troublesome area for women, who might find that gravity has done a number on what used to be toned muscles. While the incline shoulder press doesn’t isolate the triceps, it does recruit the muscle and will contribute to its development. During the incline shoulder press, the triceps contract to extend your elbow joints, straightening your arms.

Significance of the Bench

How you set the angle on the bench determines which muscle groups have to do more of the work. The more upright the bench, the more your shoulders are involved. As you lean back, your upper chest, the clavicular head of your pectoralis major, takes on a greater percentage of the workload. Your shoulders and triceps still contribute, but your chest does most of the work.

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About the Author

Kim Nunley has been screenwriting and working as an online health and fitness writer since 2005. She’s had multiple short screenplays produced and her feature scripts have placed at the Austin Film Festival. Prior to writing full-time, she worked as a strength coach, athletic coach and college instructor. She holds a master's degree in kinesiology from California State University, Fullerton.

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