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It’s no secret that the bench press is the most popular exercise among a large part of the male gym population.
Bodybuilding expands that even further by adding incline and decline bench press to the mix. But is one better than another?
Is there a good reason to do incline vs flat bench? Decline vs flat bench? Or incline vs decline bench? This article will briefly look at the 3 variations as well as when is a good time to use each.
The flat bench press is not only the most popular bench press variation, but arguably the most popular bodybuilding exercise, period. It not only is great for building muscular size, but also one of the best upper body strength builders. While it also hits the front deltoids and triceps, the flat bench primarily targets the chest. It doesn’t necessarily target any one specific area of the chest. Rather, it’s good for overall pectoral development.
The variation done the most often after flat bench is incline bench press. Inclines are used primarily to hit the pectoralis minor – the upper chest. Doing this gives the chest a fuller look, and can even augment how full the shoulders look.
While the flat bench is a good overall chest builder, it doesn’t tend to work the upper chest as much. If sufficient incline bench volume isn’t performed, it can lead to a chest that almost looks “bottom heavy”. Because of this, there are many that would say that inclines should be your priority when comparing incline vs flat bench. This is even more so when debating incline vs decline bench.
Decline bench is definitely the least popular of the three bench variations. This is mostly because it primarily targets not just the pectoralis major (the main part of the chest), but the bottom part of it. Too much emphasis here without sufficient other chest work could easily lead to “droopy” looking pecs, which most wouldn’t consider aesthetic.
However, when looking at decline vs flat bench, there can be advantages. Because of the angle of range motion, deltoid involvement is minimized. This can lead to it being a potentially “safer” way of benching if you’ve had shoulder issues with flat bench. At the same time, because the range of motion is shorter, is can be easier to move more weight. If your goal is strictly to lift the heaviest, declines might be worth looking into.
No matter which bench variation(s) you end up picking, try to use dumbbells for at least one of them. Doing this leads to a better stretch at the bottom, and allows you to get a better contraction at the top. You can’t use as much weight as you can with a barbell, but the ability to tweak your form a little can allow you to get even more development – you also use more stabilizer muscles with dumbbells.
One good application would be to make barbell incline press your priority in order to build the (usually lagging) upper chest. Focus on strength-based hypertrophy by doing 3-4 sets of 6-8 reps. After that, you could use dumbbells on flat bench or even a very slight decline. Go a little lighter, keeping the dumbbells wide at the bottom and supinating at the top for additional contraction and muscular activation. Do 3-4 sets of 8-10 reps. You could then finish the chest off with flies.
In the end, if aesthetics are your main goal, make inclines your priority. If simply moving the most weight is key, choose decline bench. And if you’re looking for the best mix of overall chest development and upper body strength, go with the old standby of flat bench. Then adding a second pressing variation will ensure all-round development, especially if dumbbells are used.