Incline Bench vs Flat Bench: Which is more PECS-Tacular?

Most men aim to have impressive chiseled chests like Chris Hemsworth's and Hugh Jackman's. Correct me if I'm wrong but I bet you, too, are hankering for those. Even women aspire for toned chest and perkier boobs - despite the "only men bench" stigma.

Whether you're already working your way to a pair of spectacular pecs or you're still on phase one of your fitness goals, I'm pretty sure bench press is in your training. But, with the different variations of this exercise, people continue to pore over the inveterate debate: incline bench vs flat bench. Which is most effective?

Incline Bench

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Incline bench is a compound strength exercise emphasizing more on the upper portion of the chest. While others maintain a 15-degree angle, some others go as high as 60 degrees. This is because different slopes hit the muscles at different angles and therefore produces different strength and hypertrophic effects on the muscles involved.

1. What Muscles are Targeted with Incline Bench?

Our pecs is a substantial, fan-shaped muscle composed of two major parts: the clavicular head or the upper chest and the sternocostal head or the lower chest. In women, these muscles lie beneath the breasts.

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The clavicular head of the pectoralis major is the smaller portion of the chest muscles. It runs from the clavicle – generally recognized as the collarbone – down to the top part of your chest and adheres to your humerus or upper arm. These parts (chest, shoulders and triceps) are mainly targeted during an incline bench press.

2. What are The Pros and Cons of Incline Bench?

As it hits the upper chest and shoulders, the incline bench gives the entire muscle group a stronger and more massive appearance. It gives you a thick, muscular upper chest so if you have man boob problems, incline bench is most likely your best solution.

Aside from physical gains, its isolated position on a supportive bench also stabilizes the lumbar spine. Not only that, incline benching gives your shoulders a stronger and more protected position as well.

However, the angle of the bench shifts most of the stress to the deltoids. This means shoulder exercises should be avoided on your next workout day as this can lead to shoulder problems and inflammation in the joints over time.

3. How is Incline Bench Performed?
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To perform an incline bench press, you will need an incline bench equipment, an adjustable bench or, if any of the two are unavailable, a stack of four plates on a flat surface will be your next best choice. Read our reviews to select your best plates. For your lifts, load your bar with an appropriate weight for your training.

The higher you jack up your incline, the more stress it gives to the deltoids. So if you raise it way too far, you're probably just working on your shoulders and not pecs. Studies show that the optimal incline angle is 30 degrees.

However, most standard incline benches are positioned at 45. If you are using an adjustable bench, you can go as low as 15 degrees and as high as 60, whichever suits your liking and training objectives. Also, always have a spotter with you especially when you're heavy lifting or starting on a new weight.

The spotter couldn't just be anyone. He or she should be capable of helping you in case you get pinned by the bar. Standing behind your head, the spotter should always be ready to assist you. It doesn't mean though that he or she will lift for you. No. Not even partially lift for you! The spotter will only support and facilitate proper form, YOU will struggle all the lifting.

  • Step 1: Lie on the bench with your feet flat on the ground and your head, shoulders and back comfortably steady. Keep your butt on the seat and tighten your glutes and core.
  • Step 2: Signal your spotter when you're ready to begin.
  • Step 3: Tightly hold the barbell with a grip slightly wider than your shoulders then grab it off the bar and bring it directly over your shoulders with arms straight and elbows fully extended.
  • Step 4: Breathe in and lower the bar to the upper part of your chest. Always remember that it is a huge NO-NO to arch your back or rise your chest to meet the bar as it dips lower into your chest.

There are a number of variations to this type of bench press (which also works with flat bench) and the most popular is dumbbells. What's great about the use of dumbbells is that it improves shoulder stability and strength balance and it also minimizes the risk for injury. Studies show that the amount of incline or flat bench presses, grip width variety, or barbell and dumbbell variations can make a difference in your training and results. Click here to find out the most suitable dumbbell set for your demands.

Flat Bench

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Flat bench is the traditional or standard type of bench press. It is an essential part of any chest development routine as it works an array of muscles particularly on the lower portion of the chest. It also allows a fluid motion involving lowering and pressing movements while on a bench parallel to the floor.

1. What Muscles are Targeted With Flat Bench?

If incline bench mainly targets the upper chest and shoulders, the flat bench focuses on the sternocostal head (lower chest). Do you know that this is the largest pec muscle? It actually covers much of the bulk of both the middle and lower portions of the chest and that's probably one reason why some fitness enthusiasts work with this broad part sectionally by doing flat and decline bench presses to isolate and target every area of the lower chest.

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2. What are The Pros and Cons of Flat Bench?

As a core fundamental upper body strength exercise, flat bench gives a more definitive lower chest and produces a more sculpted figure when executed correctly. Because of its comfortable supine position, motion becomes very natural. Another upside to flat benching is that you can handle more weight and the technique is relatively easy to learn.

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As good as it sounds, though, flat bench doesn't target hard-to-reach lower muscles and doesn't give much bulk on the upper chest. Some experts also point out is that since the lower chest is naturally thicker and easier to bulk up, overgrown lower chest can make you look like you have man boobs.

Another drawback to flat bench press is its vulnerability to injury. The position may be comfortable and the exercise may not concentrate on the deltoids but still, flat benching puts your shoulder in an injury-prone position. To elude such horrific possibility, make sure to learn the proper form and never lift anything heavier than what you and your spotter could take.

3. How is Flat Bench Performed?

For this strength exercise, follow the steps listed for incline bench. Everything is basically the same except you need to perform it in a FLAT bench.

Final Verdict

It's hard to say which one is really most effective as both target the same set of muscles. The difference is the way they hit them. As the bench angle changes, some muscles become more focused while others get less stressed. Like in incline bench, the higher you go, the more your shoulders are involved.

It's really just a matter of preference and a little bit of genes. What are your fitness goals? What are you trying to achieve? Are you coveting for pecs like that of Dwayne Johnson's or are you just looking to carve your own a little? Do you have saggy chest? You see, these things should be considered. If you have saggy breasts, you might need to do incline bench more. If you have shoulder problems, you might need to skip incline bench and commit to flat bench instead.

Issues aside, both flat and incline benches should be done to maximize results and achieve not just a well-developed upper body strength but a pair of pecs that are too impeccable to ignore!

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