Incline Bench Press (How To, Muscles Worked, Benefits)

The incline bench press is a great variation of the bench press for a lifter to gain strength and hypertrophy in the upper body. The variability of the incline bench press has proved to be helpful for court and field athletes, powerlifters, and general population lifters.

In this guide, I will be going over how to incline bench press, coaching points, common mistakes, and alternatives if you happen to need them.

How To Incline 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.

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.

Technical tips:

  1. Video your sets and reps
  2. Have an experienced lifter/trainer watch your sets and reps
  3. In regards to your setup and form; treat every rep like it’s a 1 rep max
  4. Put a tremendous amount of detail in your setup (Do it the exact same way, every rep)
  5. Make small gains in weight over time.

Common Mistakes

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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).

Muscles Worked

  • Chest
  • Shoulders
  • Triceps
  • Biceps (Isometric and eccentric contributors)

Incline Bench Press Alternatives

Don’t have a barbell, or maybe a bench? Whatever the reason, if you need an alternative for Incline Bench here are a few exercises you might be able to use as a replacement.

Need more options? Here are my 11 favorite alternatives for Incline Bench Press.

Alternating Med Ball Push-Ups

Grab a med ball that is firm. Perform a push-up with one hand on the med ball and the other on the ground. Stabilizing your shoulders, roll the med ball to the other hand between reps.

Barbell Push-Ups

Set the barbell on the lifting rack at a low setting. Perform push-ups with your bench press grip. This is a great movement for lifters to get some volume with the same implement but now the scapula can freely rotate and is a little more shoulder-friendly.

Don’t have a barbell? Regular old-school pushups are still a super effective alternative for any chest exercise.

Incline Dumbbell Bench Press

Dumbbell Incline Bench Press

Grab some dumbbells, set your bench at 45 degrees, and perform the same incline bench press movement as with the bar. Dumbbell Incline Bench Press is a great secondary movement to perform after the main pressing work for the day is done.

It is important to start light (like other exercises) until you feel comfortable with this variation.


I would be doing the reader a disservice without discussing the potential risks of Incline Barbell Benching. This lift is highly technical and requires a tremendous amount of attention to detail, practice, and a slow gradual increase in weight. An athlete who does not consistently set up the right way and sacrifices form to lift more weight will get hurt.

It is also important to consider rest, recovery, and balancing other life activities.

Because the Incline Bench Press stresses the upper body and is very hard on the smaller and more delicate tissues of the shoulder, it takes time to recover from a serious bench press session.  Field and court athletes should consider what days of the week they are benching.

As an athlete, it is important to make sure the lifting in the weight room is correlating and in conjunction with your sport. Rest and recovery are absolutely critical to reap the benefits of any lift and should be taken seriously by all athletes.

More Links and Info

Looking to increase your bench press? Or just looking to improve your overall athletic ability? Head over to our Upper Body Exercise Library with a growing collection of lifts with step-by-step instructions that have proven to help athletes increase their strength and power.

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