Incline Bench Press vs Flat Bench Press (Best for Strength?)


Incline Bench Press vs Bench Press

Incline Bench Press and Bench Press are easily two of the most popular exercises you’ll see being done in almost any weight room. At least in my experience training football players, Bench Press, Curls and Abs are the top 3 things that are done anytime they get to get choose whatever they want.

Obviously, both exercises are pressing exercises that target the chest, shoulders and triceps. But, is one better than the other?

In this article, I’m going to break down how to do both Bench Press variations along with the benefits of each exercise. Then, I’ll compare the two exercises side-by-side for a few common lifting goals so, hopefully, you can get an idea of which you should include in your workouts.


Incline Bench Press


Incline Barbell Bench Press

Equipment Needed

  • Multi-purpose lifting rack
  • Bench
  • Barbell
  • Bumper or Iron plates

Step-by-Step Instructions

  • Determine the angle for your incline bench. Most programs would refer to a 45-degree angle as ideal for it provides the best chest and shoulder engagement.
  • As you go higher with your angle, you are moving more toward a shoulder press. The flatter the bench gets, you are moving more toward a regular bench press.
  • Set the height of the barbell so that when you unrack the barbell, you are only doing a very short upward concentric movement.
  • Lie flat on your back on the bench.
  • Keep your feet flat on the floor.
  • Pull your shoulder blades together and keep the back of your head on the bench. You will slightly arch your back. Keep your core tight and keep the shoulder blades pulled back tight.
  • Take a thumbs-width grip from the knurling and completely close your grip. Keep your knuckles pointing toward the ceiling and squeeze the barbell.
  • Unrack the weight and take a deep breath.
  • Control the barbell down during the eccentric movement and draw the barbell in, keeping the elbows at about a 45-degree angle away from the torso.
  • The barbell will make contact with your torso right at the nipple line on the chest.
  • Once contact is made, drive the barbell back up to the starting position.

Coaching Points

Make your angle appropriate for your goals and injury history. I do not typically recommend an incline bench angle greater than 45 degrees.

If a lifter wants to do a shoulder press, I would recommend standing and pressing.

The Incline Bench Press is a great movement for lifters looking to gain strength in their shoulders and chest. Using the same implement will also carry over to specific strength for the bench press.


Bench Press


Bench Press

Equipment Needed

  • Multi-purpose lifting rack
  • Bench
  • Barbell
  • Bumper or Iron plates

Step-by-Step Instructions

  • Set the height of the barbell so that when you unrack the barbell, you are only doing a very short upward concentric movement.
  • Lie flat on your back on the bench.
  • Keep your feet flat on the floor. (Some do find it comfortable to pull the feet back toward their butt as they arch).
  • Keep your butt on the bench.
  • Pull your shoulder blades together and keep the back of your head on the bench. You will slightly arch your back. Keep your core tight and keep the shoulder blades pulled back tight.
  • Take a thumbs-width grip from the knurling and completely close your grip. Keep your knuckles pointing toward the ceiling and squeeze the barbell.
  • Later in this article, I will go over other popular grips and why they are used.
  • Unrack the weight and take a deep breath.
  • Control the barbell down during the eccentric movement and draw the barbell in, keeping the elbows at about a 45-degree angle away from the torso.
  • The barbell will make contact with your torso right at the nipple line on the chest.
  • Once contact is made, drive the barbell back up to the starting position.

Coaching Points

When you Bench Press, do not over arch the back or let your butt come off the bench. Most professionals will not accept repetitions if the butt comes off the bench but also you will likely injure yourself with poor form.

Do not let the back of your head come off the bench because you are pulling down on your neck to watch the bar hit your chest. You will get used to the movement and your peripheral vision will allow you to know when the bar makes contact.

Do not let the elbows flare out away from the midline. The shoulders are incredibly vulnerable in these positions and the sheer force placed on the shoulders will lead to injury if the technique is not made a priority.

Incline Bench Press vs Flat Bench Press: Which is Better?

Now, let’s do a side-by-side comparison of the two bench variations and see if one is better than the other for some common lifting goals.

Better For Developing Strength and Hypertrophy: Bench Press

I’m going to give the edge here to Bench Press, but I want to be clear – BOTH variations are extremely effective at building both size and strength. In fact, they’re not just effective, they’re two of the best exercises for strength development.

Bench Press gets a slight edge because the flat Bench Press creates a more advantageous angle and allows the lifter to lift more weight. Generally speaking, the more weight you can move, the more strength you can build.

Having said that, if you want to target the upper chest and get the shoulders more involved in the movement, then Incline Bench will be the superior movement.

Ideally, I suggest incorporating both variations into your lifting program if possible. Ultimately, it may just come down to equipment and whether you have a flat or adjustable bench in your gym.

Better For Beginners: Toss Up

This one is a true toss-up.

Both Bench Press and Incline Bench Press are relatively beginner-friendly exercises assuming you have a spotter. And, for the record, whether you’re a beginner or a seasoned lifter, you should always have a spotter when benching.

If you can learn and execute one variation, then there is not really much more to learn to be able to do the other. Just make sure to focus on proper form and start with light weight. As you become proficient with your technique and your strength improves you can start to gradually increase the weight.

Final Thoughts

I’ve just spent the last section of this article comparing which is better – the Barbell or Dumbbell Z Press. The truth is, there is no reason (assuming you have the available equipment) you shouldn’t have both exercises in your training program.

Both are great exercises for developing upper body strength and hypertrophy. Incorporating both exercises into your training program can also add variety and keep your workouts from getting stale.

So, my suggestion would be instead of trying to decide between the two exercises, figure out how you can utilize both Barbell Z Presses and Dumbbell Z Presses in your training plan.

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Ryan Horton

Horton Barbell was created by Ryan Horton who has served as a Sports Performance Coach for almost 20 years. My mission is to create a training resource to help as many coaches and athletes as possible maximize athletic potential.

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