Most often, bench press is done while lying on a flat bench with your back parallel to the floor. By changing it up a bit and doing the exercise while reclined back, you tweak how your muscles have to work. Decline bench press places less stress on your shoulder joints, which is beneficial for those who are concerned with the health of their shoulders.
Lie back on a declined bench and hook your feet under the ankle pads. Reach up and grip the weighted barbell with your hands just wider than your shoulders and your palms facing your feet. Pick the bar up off the rack and hold it over the vertical line of your chest. Lower the bar to your chest and then push it back up until your arms are fully extended. After you’re finished with all the repetitions, set the bar back up onto the rack. The exercise can also be performed with a pair of dumbbells. When using dumbbells, hold them in your hands as you lie back onto the bench. Because you’re holding the weights over your head, a spotter is recommended during both barbell and dumbbell decline bench press.
When you’re pressing the bar up towards the ceiling, your upper arms squeeze together towards the centerline of your body. This is handled by the pectoralis major, which is the largest muscle in your chest. Your arms also move upwards slightly and this is handled by the anterior deltoid, or the front section of the major muscle in your shoulders. Your triceps brachii at the back of your upper arms straightens your elbows.
Impact of Decline on Muscles
Performing the bench press in a decline position changes how your chest and shoulder muscles have to work. Your pectoralis major is broken up into two sections, including the clavicular head located at the top of your chest near your clavicle, and the sternal head, which fans out to your shoulders from your sternum. Both heads of the pectoralis major are involved during bench press, but when you’re reclined back, you place a greater load onto the sternal head. Reclining back works the lower area of your chest more. In addition, during decline press your arms aren’t moving as far upwards as they do during flat bench press, which decreases the amount of work your anterior deltoids have to do.
Traditional bench press places a significant amount of stress on the shoulder joints and can lead to impingement. Structures within your shoulders, such as your rotator cuff, biceps tendon and subacromial bursa, can get pinched and inflamed. According to chiropractor Joseph M. Horrigan, decline bench press has a decreased risk of impingement when compared to traditional or incline bench press and dips.
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.