You can hit the bench press rack to firm up your pecs, but remember that the flat bench doesn’t do it all. To target the hard-to-reach lower pecs, the decline bench press gives you the most gain for your sweat. Are decline bench presses right for you? As with any other exercise, the exercise has its pros and cons, and it’s not the perfect fit for every woman’s goals.
Works Tough-to-Reach Muscles
The biggest upside to decline bench presses is the portion of the pecs that the exercise isolates. The lower strip of the pecs is tough to reach without putting yourself into an awkward position. Any exercise that hits the lower pecs requires a declined angle, so your options are presses or flyes. Each rep puts the weight right over your lower pecs, making them do most of the work. The motion also works your upper pecs and your shoulders but less than flat bench presses do.
Bench More Weight
Although you need to bench much less weight when you first start doing decline bench presses, once you get used to the awkward form, you’ll be able to bench more weight on the decline bench than you can on the flat bench. With the bar over your lower pecs and upper abs, there’s less travel in the bar from start to finish of each rep, and your arms never completely compress like they do during flat bench presses. This helps your lower pecs by placing more weight directly where you want it, and the more weight you lift, the fewer reps you need to do to tone and tighten the area.
Decline bench presses are tough to do, because lying on the declined bench puts you at an odd, uncomfortable angle. For beginners especially, a weighted barbell is hard to balance. Gravity pulls the weight toward the floor, but your muscle memory wants to put the weight so it’s over your middle pecs, not your lower pecs. The sensation of fighting gravity and your muscle memory can overwhelm you as you do your reps. Also, the declined position causes blood to rush to your head, making you dizzy and disoriented even after a short period on the bench.
Since the decline version is the most challenging type of bench press, you need help doing your reps. You can use a spotter or special equipment, such as a Smith machine or Swiss bar. A spotter will let you use barbells and free weights, which are ultimately the most effective, but if you exercise alone and no one's available, a Smith machine will give you nearly the same benefit. To use a Smith machine, roll a declined workout bench under the Smith machine’s attached barbell, then set the safety so that barbell won't hit you if you drop it. Set yourself on the bench, twist the bar forward so the hook releases, then do your reps. Twist the barbell the other way when you're done to reset the hook. Even with a Smith machine, though, you won't get the most for your effort, because the machine will do all of the balancing for you.
- Effects of Variations of the Bench Press Exercise on the EMG Activity of Five Shoulder Muscles; Chris Barnett, et al.
- Electromyographical Activity of the Pectoralis Muscle During Incline and Decline Bench Presses; Stephen C. Glass, Ty Armstrong
- Getting Stronger: Weight Training for Men and Women; Bill Pearl
- Pixland/Pixland/Getty Images