Incline Vs Flat Bench: Which is Better? (Science-Based)   

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The incline vs flat bench debate is one that has raged strong for years now, with seemingly no conclusion in sight. 

However, by using science, studies, and EMG data, there is actually a definitive answer to which is better between these two exercises. 

Let’s get right into it and take a look at incline vs flat bench.  

Incline vs. Flat Bench: What’s Best for Your Chest? 

In general, the flat bench is going to be the better exercise overall for chest, shoulder, and tricep growth.  

The incline bench muscles worked and flat bench press muscles worked are exactly the same, and while the incline bench may put more of a focus on the upper chest and shoulders, the higher load that the flat bench offers negates this benefit.  

Of course, this isn’t the end of the story. 

There are many variables you need to consider when doing an incline vs flat bench comparison, and the incline bench is going to be better for certain people and certain tasks (more on the later). 

However, if you just want a quick answer with no other variables involved, then flat bench is better than incline bench.  

Incline Bench Presses 

The incline bench press primarily targets the upper portion of the chest muscles, known as the clavicular head of the pectoralis major.  

This exercise also engages the front deltoids (shoulders) and the triceps as secondary muscles to a greater degree than traditional bench.  

This is why the question “is incline bench harder than flat” is so common – incline bench puts more emphasis on smaller muscle groups, allowing you to lift less weight.  

By performing incline bench presses, you can emphasize the development and definition of your upper chest.  

Incline Chest Press, Step By Step 

  1. Set the bench at a 45-degree angle or adjust it to your preference. 
  1. Lie back on the bench with your feet flat on the floor, ensuring your back is fully supported. 
  1. Grasp the barbell or dumbbells with an overhand grip slightly wider than shoulder-width apart. 
  1. Lower the weight slowly and under control until it reaches the upper part of your chest. 
  1. Push the weight back up, extending your arms fully while keeping your chest engaged. 
  1. Repeat the movement for the desired number of repetitions, maintaining proper form throughout. 

Flat Bench Presses 

The flat bench press is a classic exercise that targets the middle and lower portions of the pectoralis major, the main chest muscle.  

It also engages the triceps and the front deltoids as supporting muscles. By incorporating flat bench presses into your routine, you can develop overall chest strength and size. 

Flat Bench Chest Press, Step By Step 

Lie flat on a bench with your feet planted firmly on the floor. 

Grip the barbell with your hands slightly wider than shoulder-width apart, palms facing away from you. 

Lift the barbell off the rack or, if using dumbbells, bring them to shoulder level. 

Lower the weight under control until it touches your mid-chest, just below your nipples. 

Push the weight back up, extending your arms while keeping your chest muscles engaged. 

Repeat the movement for the desired number of repetitions, maintaining proper form and control. 

Incline Bench Press 

Pros 

Upper Chest Emphasis: The incline bench press targets the clavicular head of the pectoralis major, placing greater emphasis on the upper portion of your chest.  

This can help create a more well-rounded and is one of the main benefits of incline bench

Shoulder Stability: Incline bench pressing also engages the front deltoids, aiding in shoulder stability and strength. 

Balanced Muscle Development: Adding incline bench press to your routine can help create a balanced development of the chest muscles, especially when combined with other exercises. 

Cons 

Potential Overemphasis: While the upper chest is an important area to target, excessive emphasis on incline bench press at the expense of other exercises may result in an unbalanced overall chest development. 

Less Overall Strength: The incline bench press typically allows you to lift less weight compared to the flat bench press. If your primary goal is overall strength, the flat bench press may be more suitable. 

Flat Bench Press 

Pros 

Overall Chest Development: The flat bench press targets the entire pectoralis major, providing comprehensive chest development. 

Strength and Power: The flat bench press allows you to lift heavier weights compared to the incline bench press, making it an excellent exercise for building strength and power. 

Muscle Engagement: Along with the chest, the flat bench press also engages the triceps and front deltoids, promoting balanced muscle development. 

Cons 

Potential Shoulder Strain: Some individuals may experience shoulder discomfort or strain from flat bench pressing, especially if proper form and shoulder stability are not maintained. It’s important to focus on technique and ensure your shoulders are healthy and mobile before performing heavy flat bench presses. 

Limited Upper Chest Emphasis: The flat bench press primarily targets the middle and lower portions of the chest, providing less direct stimulation to the upper chest compared to the incline bench press. 

Chest Routine Suggestions 

If You Flat Bench But Always Seem To Have Hurt Shoulders Afterwards: 

Consider incorporating variations of the flat bench press, such as using dumbbells or utilizing a neutral grip. Additionally, prioritize shoulder mobility exercises and prehabilitation exercises to strengthen the shoulder joint and prevent injuries. 

If You Like Flat Barbell Bench Pressing And Want To Add In Some Incline Spice: 

Include incline bench press as a secondary exercise in your routine. Perform it after flat bench pressing to target the upper chest while maintaining overall chest strength.  

You can alter the incline bench vs flat bench ratio to suit your preferences. 

If You Want To Switch Up Your Chest Routine All Together: 

Explore alternative chest exercises such as dumbbell flyes, push-ups, cable chest presses, or machine chest presses.  

These variations can provide new stimuli to your chest muscles and prevent plateaus. 

How Incline Bench Differs From Flat Bench 

1. More Upper Pec Activation & Growth 

The incline bench press places a greater emphasis on the upper portion of your pectoralis major, resulting in increased activation and growth of the clavicular head. 

This targeted focus can help develop a well-rounded and defined upper chest. 

2. More Anterior Deltoid Activation 

In addition to the chest muscles, the incline bench press also engages the anterior deltoids (front shoulder muscles) to a greater extent.  

This added activation provides a secondary benefit of shoulder development, contributing to a balanced upper body physique. 

3. Your Strength Differs 

It’s worth noting that your strength on the incline bench press may differ from your strength on the flat bench press.  

Due to the different muscle recruitment patterns and biomechanics involved, you may find that you can lift less weight on the incline bench press.  

This discrepancy is normal and doesn’t necessarily indicate a weakness in your overall strength. 

4. Greater Range of Motion 

Compared to the flat bench press, the incline bench press allows for a greater range of motion.  

The inclined angle increases the stretch on your chest muscles, leading to enhanced muscle activation and potential gains in flexibility. 

Safety Precaution 

Warm-up: Always begin your workout with a proper warm-up routine. This should include dynamic stretches and mobility exercises to prepare your muscles, joints, and connective tissues for the upcoming workout. 

Proper Technique: Focus on maintaining proper form throughout the exercise. This includes keeping your back supported against the bench, feet planted firmly on the floor, and a controlled and stable movement. Avoid excessive arching of the lower back or bouncing the barbell off your chest. 

Start with a Manageable Weight: It’s important to choose a weight that you can handle with proper form and control. Starting with a weight that is too heavy can increase the risk of injury. Gradually progress the weight as your strength and technique improve. 

Spotter: If possible, have a spotter present during your bench press sessions, especially when lifting heavier weights. A spotter can provide assistance if you struggle to complete a rep and ensure your safety. 

Listen to Your Body: Pay attention to your body’s signals during the exercise. If you experience sharp pain or discomfort, stop immediately and assess the situation. Pushing through pain can lead to injuries. It’s better to take a break and seek advice from a healthcare professional if needed. 

Gradual Progression: Avoid making sudden, drastic increases in weight or intensity. Gradual progression allows your muscles, tendons, and ligaments to adapt and reduces the risk of overuse injuries. 

Balance Your Training: Incorporate a balanced training program that includes exercises targeting different muscle groups. This helps prevent muscle imbalances and overuse injuries. Don’t solely focus on chest exercises but also work on strengthening other supporting muscles, such as the back and shoulders. 

Rest and Recovery: Allow sufficient rest and recovery between workouts to give your muscles time to repair and grow. Overtraining can increase the risk of injuries and hinder progress. Aim for at least 48 hours of recovery between chest training sessions. 

Incline Vs Flat Bench – FAQs 


Should I Start With Incline Or Flat Bench? 

You should start with flat bench before moving to incline.  

The flat bench press stimulates greater muscle activation and allows you to move more weight, making the ideal exercise to begin your workout routine with.  

Should I Do Incline And Flat Bench On The Same Day? 

Yes, you should do incline and flat bench on the same day. 

However, you should ensure that you do a maximum of 5 sets of bench press overall in one session, so you will need to divide these sets up to perform both exercises.  

What’s Harder Incline Or Flat Dumbbell Bench? 

Most people find incline dumbbell press to be harder.  

This is because the incline dumbbell bench press incorporates shoulders a lot more, which is a smaller muscle group that cannot lift as much weight as the chest.  

Is Incline Or Bench Press Harder? 

Most people find incline bench press to be harder. 

This is due to the fact that the incline bench press puts more of an emphasis on the shoulders and less on the chest, meaning you can lift less weight.  

What Angle on the Bench Is Best for Incline Bench Pressing?  

The best angle on bench press is 0 or flat if you are looking for maximal muscle recruitment.  

If you want to target your chest more and your shoulders less, a decline of 15 degrees would be better. 

Alternatively if you want to target your shoulders more, then an incline of 15 may be better for you.  

Does Incline Bench Press Improve Flat Bench Press?  

Yes, incline bench does improve flat bench. 

While incline bench puts less emphasis on the chest, it still strengthens all the same muscle groups as regular bench press.  

Should I Touch the Chest in the Incline Bench Press?  

Yes, you should try to touch your chest with incline bench press if your flexibility allows it and it is safe. 

If not, it is okay to stop just above the chest.  

How Much More Should I Flat Bench Press vs Incline Bench Press?  

A good flat bench press to incline bench ratio is 3:2.  

You should always do flat bench more than incline bench if general size and strength is your goal.  

Which Bench Press Is Best for Chest? 

The best bench press for chest is the decline bench press. 

The decline bench press targets chest more than other bench press variations, including flat.  

We hope we have been able to clear things up for you! 

While both the traditional bench press and the incline bench press have their merits, in terms of overall muscle recruitment and growth, flat bench comes out on top.  

So, now that the incline vs flat bench debate is over, which will you choose? Depending on your goals, either one could be right for you. 

If you would like more info on the bench press, including the incline bench press, decline bench press, and flat bench press, feel free to head over to MovingForwards to check out our other content.