Do I need to do incline bench press? How to find out here

January 13th 2019

Bench press workouts are tough but I also wondered, do I need to do incline bench press?


The incline bench press is one of the iconic staples of chest workouts. However, your goals should be the sole determinant of whether or not you need to incorporate incline bench press. For example, if you want a better flat bench press max and need an accessory movement, the incline bench press could be an option for you. So, analyze your strength and weaknesses and follow it up with a game plan. This is the most strategic way to learn and understand if you need to do incline bench presses or not.

Incline bench press benefits

The incline bench press is usually performed with a bench that is set at an incline (15 to 30 degrees). As a result of this positioning, your body will be stimulated to adapt differently than a flat bench press.

1. More work on your upper pecs

You will be working out and emphasizing your upper pectoral muscles more. This is also the part of the chest that makes you have that extra pop. So, if you have lagging upper pec development, incline bench presses are a great exercise to incorporate into your chest workout.

2. More activation of your shoulders

Because of the angle of the bench, you are more upright. As a result, you are using more shoulders than you would in a flat bench press.

3. Less strain on your rotator cuff

One of the most common injuries on the flat bench press is a rotator cuff injury. This is mitigated by the angle of the bench again. However, some lifters may find that the incline bench press leads to more pain. Of course, if you are in pain, do not perform that exercise. See a health professional, analyze what is causing your pain and create a strategy from there.

Muscles Worked

Primarily, the incline bench press works on the clavicular head of the pectoralis major, which is your upper pecs. Secondly, the incline bench press works on your anterior deltoids, the rest of your pectoralis major and your triceps. Thus, the incline bench press is one of the best exercises for upper body development, with an emphasis on your upper pecs.


Of course, with these benefits, there are some tradeoffs.

Incline bench press drawbacks

1. Less overall pec development

If your routine consists only of incline bench presses as a main movement, that is not good. Your training is lopsided and you will suffer from muscular imbalances in your pec. Balancing your training with more flat bench main movements will help the longevity of your training.

2. Beware of more shoulder exercises

Since the incline bench press is also working your deltoids, you should be cautious about the number of shoulder exercises you include in your program in the following days. Since the shoulder is a smaller set of muscles, it will be fatigued faster and can be overworked more easily.

Incline bench press mistakes

Just like the flat bench press, there are tons of common mistakes that the lifters can make while doing an incline bench press.

Bouncing the weight off your chest

Just like the flat bench press, this is a cardinal sin. You are not controlling the weight and risk injuring your ribcage. Focus on being in control of the movement rather than the weight control you.

Lowering the bar too low

Some lifters may think that since this is an incline bench press, you should lower the weight further down your chest and maybe down to your stomach. This is a big no-no. The bar should touch around your nipple area, just like the flat bench press.

Elbow flaring

The incline bench press is no savior in this error. Flaring your elbows puts excess pressure on your deltoids, which heightens your risk of a shoulder injury. You are not in a optimal position to generate the most power if you flare your elbows excessively. As a rule of thumb, aim to keep your elbows at a 45-degree angle to your body, just like the flat bench press.

Fighting through shoulder pain

For some lifters, they live by a motto “No pain, no gain.” Unfortunately, there is only a limit to that saying. Shoulder pain is no issue to take lightly, especially with how common shoulder injuries are when lifters attempt heavy bench press sets. If you feel pain, not only shoulder pain, while you are performing the incline bench press, stop your set immediately and do not continue to push their any more discomfort. Assess the situation and determine what is the root cause of your pain. Can you incline bench with a less steep angle? Should you avoid it completely? Think critically about these warnings.

Retract your shoulder blades

This might seem familiar. It is one of the most common flat bench press to-dos. So, it should be no surprise that it is still used in the incline bench press. To put your shoulders in a safe position, you need to pull your scapula back and downward. By doing this, you force your body to work your upper pecs more than your deltoids. And why is this important? You may notice that may gym bros or experienced lifters have huge front deltoids, compared to their chest. Dominant front deltoid development can be observed by having rounded shoulders in a neutral standing position.


To combat this and to get more development in our upper pecs, rather than in our front delts, we need to retract our shoulder blades in order for our body to properly emphasize the upper pecs.

Not doing your incline bench press at 30 degrees

Research implies that the most development of your upper chest happens when your incline bench press has an angle of around 30 degrees. However, due to many factors, this may not be true for every single lifter. So, a range between 15 to 30 degrees is a more reasonable setup to hit your upper pecs. At 45 degrees, you get some upper pec focus but it can be emphasized greatly by decreasing your bench’s angle of elevation.

What if I am a powerlifter? Do I need to incline bench press?

As a powerlifter, it is your highest priority to increase your powerlifting total, which is the sum of your squat max, bench press max, and deadlift max. And how do you increase your bench press max? By doing more bench presses.


So, the answer to that question is that it really depends on the lifter. Advice is always tailored to the general public but this question really depends on your circumstances. For instance, if you have not flat bench pressed your body weight, you should have no business doing incline bench presses. If you have not following a linear progression program that is optimized to help you increase your squat, bench press and deadlift, you should not be doing any incline bench presses.

But at the same time, it is important that you establish a good base for lifting weights. It is encouraged by the lifting community to experiment with what you are interested in. So, if you think that incline bench presses might help you, why not put them into your program? Learn them in there for a couple months and see if it works for you? Maybe, maybe not. Some lifters can progress their bench press max by only going flat bench presses. For others, it could take a couple of accessory exercises before they find their groove.


It is difficult to give someone advice for their exercise routine if they are unsure about what works for them and what does not. For example, legendary powerlifter Ed Coan used incline bench presses while he trained. His criteria?

  • Made sure it was heavy
  • Made sure all sets and reps were completed, according to his master plan

While few people automatically bench press huge numbers during their first gym visit, all lifters need to have a calculated plan. Ed Coan knew why he needed to do incline bench presses. So, why did you decide to do your sets and reps?

What if I am just staying active? Should I incline bench press?

The same advice for powerlifters can apply to all people looking to change their lives and physiques for the better. You need to ask yourself why you are doing this exercise. Afterward, if you convinced yourself, execution is next.


Put incline bench presses into your program. Do that for a couple of months and reflect on the progress. Did you feel stronger? Do you see any physique changes? Did you meet your goals? Doing the incline bench press is the easy part. Figuring out whether or not it helps us achieve our goals is the more difficult challenge and it is something that every lifter needs to answer for themselves.

Flat bench vs incline bench ratio

I was also interested in what your flat bench to incline bench press ratio should be. What I found might not be shocking - it depends on the lifter. However, that does not mean you should think about incline bench presses as a light compound exercise. So, your incline bench press could be 85 - 90% of your flat bench press. It would imply that your upper body is very developed and that bench pressing may be a very natural lift for you. For others, it could be around 60 - 70% of your flat bench press. Some people struggle with many upper body compound lifts and their training sets will reflect that.


The bottom line is this - do not worry about comparing yourself to others. But if there is a goal to shoot for, have your incline bench press working sets be 85-90% of your flat bench press working sets.

Incline bench press or flat bench press first?

You want to analyze for goals for this one. What are you trying to achieve? Since both these bench presses are similar in some ways, they do focus and yield different results. If you are trying to get a higher flat bench press max, it would make perfect sense to do your flat bench press working sets first. After all, the incline bench press is a harder exercise to perform.


But what if you are just trying to be healthy and want to get some weight lifting in for the day? Well, I would have you experiment for a few months. Try to do the flat bench press first for a few months. Note down your progress and results. Then, try to do incline bench press for a few months. I am sure you do not want to stay stagnant in strength; everyone wants to improve their physique and strength. So, do some experimenting with your program but make sure you have a focused idea of what your goals are. You need to be explicit with what you want and take the necessary actions to get there.

Turning your flat bench into an incline?

So, you have a home gym with only a flat bench and you want to do an incline bench press? You can leverage your flat bench apparatus by placing some 45lbs weight underneath the first stand. Then, place some weights on the opposite end of the bench to prevent it from sliding. Of course, since you are just temporarily making an incline bench press set-up, safety is the number one priority.


If you feel that the set-up is not stable in any way, do not attempt to incline bench press. Always make sure your surroundings are not hazardous. Make sure your safeties are set in place before you begin any sets.


Of course, the easiest solution to this is to purchase an adjustable bench. But sometimes, you need to make lemonade with the lemons you are dealt with. I purchased my flat bench in 2016. So, it has almost been 3 years since I purchased that bad boy and it is still holding up strong. Sometimes, we need to break a few rules here and there to get some upper body development. If you need a reliable flat bench that you can trust, you can get one here.

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