Incline Bench Press vs Shoulder Press (How They Compare)
Incline Bench Press and Shoulder Press are two extremely popular (and effective) exercises for developing upper body strength. While both are very effective, they do vary in their movement patterns and the muscles that they target.
This leads to questions like, is one better than the other? Do I need to be doing both in my workouts? Can I sub Shoulder Press for Incline Bench Press or vice versa?
In this article, I’m going to answer those questions and more. First, I’ll go over how to properly execute both exercises and explain the benefits of both. Then I’ll directly compare the two so you can have a better understanding of how to incorporate Incline Bench and Overhead Press into your strength program.
Incline Bench Press
- Multi-purpose lifting rack
- Bumper or Iron plates
- 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.
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.
Remember why you are bench pressing. Goals matter. Make sure you are consulting with a coach or credible internet source so that you are engaging in beneficial bench press training for your future health and athletic success.
- Video your sets and reps
- Have an experienced lifter/trainer watch your sets and reps
- In regards to your setup and form; treat every rep like it’s a 1 rep max
- Put a tremendous amount of detail in your setup (Do it the exact same way, every rep)
- Make small gains in weight over time.
- 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.
- The incline bench press is an accessory movement to the bench press. The bench press technique should be absolutely perfected prior to attempting an incline variation.
- Make sure your arms are about 90 percent extended prior to the weight being unracked. I’ve seen lifters either set the bar too high or too short in their racks which results in an awkward handoff.
Benefits of Incline Bench Press
Barbell Incline Bench is one of the best upper body movements for developing strength, particularly pressing strength.
Incline Bench Press puts more emphasis on the upper portion of the chest (known as the clavicular head).
- Bumper Plates or Iron Plates
- The grip should be shoulder-width apart.
- Elbows should be under bar.
- Torso should be erect.
- Move the bar off the rack.
- Keep your chest up.
- Push the bar up to full elbow extension.
- As soon as the bar passes the head – ‘pull the head through’ – so that the bar is being locked out directly over the ears.
- Keep elbow pointing out to the side until arms are fully extended.
- Do not forcefully lock out the elbow.
- Lower the bar slowly and under control to shoulder level.
- Do not jerk or bounce at the bottom.
Coaching Points (Common Mistakes)
The biggest mistake I see with Overhead Presses is overarching the back and leaning back way too much (hyperextension of the spine). This places too much unnecessary stress on the low back that should be avoided.
Personally, I like to use a staggered stance because I feel it helps me to keep from leaning back too far and placing that stress on the low back. It’s a technique I’ve used often with athletes as well experiencing the same problem. If that’s an issue for you as well I would definitely recommend giving a staggered stance a try.
The other common mistake that I see is bending the knees and using the legs too much. A slight bend is okay, especially when trying to squeeze out that last rep or two of the set. But, if the exercise starts to resemble more of a Push Press as opposed to a Shoulder Press then the weight should be lowered.
RELATED –> 13 Best Overhead Press alternatives
Benefits of Overhead Press
The Overhead Press is a compound exercise that is used to strengthen the muscles in the shoulders, arms, and upper back. Some of the potential benefits of this exercise include increased upper body strength, improved posture, and increased hypertrophy.
Incline Bench Press vs Shoulder Press
Now, let’s answer some frequently asked questions when comparing Incline Bench Press vs Overhead Press.
Is One Better For Strength Development?
Short answer, no.
First, both are excellent exercises for developing upper body strength. In fact, they’re two of the best in the entire weight room in that regard.
Second, they both have different focuses. Incline Bench Press will work the shoulders (mainly the anterior delt) some, but the primary emphasis is on the upper chest.
On the other hand, Overhead Presses will involve the upper chest (the clavicular head) some, but the primary emphasis is on the shoulders. So, comparing the two is a bit of apples and oranges. Both delicious, but they’re not the same.
Should You Do Both?
Short answer, yes.
Incline Bench Press and Overhead Press are both excellent upper-body movements that you should 100% have in your strength program. Like I just mentioned, they’re two of the best movements you can do to build strength and muscle mass – why wouldn’t you want to be doing both?
Both exercises complement each other well for the chest and the shoulders. Having both in your program also adds variety and keeps your workouts from getting stale.
Can I Sub Overhead Press for Incline Bench Press?
We’ve established these two exercises do not have the exact same movement pattern. But, let’s assume for a second you don’t have access to an adjustable bench to do Incline Bench Press. Can you do Overhead Presses instead?
This will depend a little bit on what you’re trying to accomplish, but in most circumstances, subbing one of these exercises for the other would be an acceptable swap.
If you need more ideas to sub for Incline Bench Press, here are 11 of my favorite Incline Bench Press alternatives.