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The decline press isn’t as popular as its flat or incline bench counterparts, but is still a very effective exercise. Proficient at working the lower chest, it’s also a great strength builder, as it generally has a shorter range of motion and allows you to use more weight. Some lifters also prefer the decline press because it can be one of the safest horizontal pressing variations.
Primarily, the decline press targets the lower portion of the pecs. Of course, this is all relative, as it depends on how much of an angle you’re pressing at. In general, the lower your shoulders drop below your waist, the lower on the pec emphasis ends up being placed.
Although the decline press does target the lower pec more, you’re also bringing the bar down to the lower pec more, too. In other words, because of how the body is placed, proper form will see you lowering the bar to your nipples rather than the middle part of your chest or even your neck.
When your torso is at a decline with your shoulders below your waist, this is going to result in a much shorter range of motion than a flat or incline bench press. Because of this, you can generally push more weight, which can then lead to more strength being developed.
However, just realize that the added strength will only have so much carryover to flat bench, incline, dips, and so on. The reduced range of motion makes it almost akin to doing bench press lockouts. You can use more weight and overload the pecs (and triceps) more, but you’ll still need to train the chest over a fuller range of motion for both optimal strength and muscular development.
Speaking of lockouts, these can actually be one of the best exercises for triceps strength, power, and size. You don’t necessarily have to be using a narrow grip (like you would for say close grip bench press), but keeping your hands just outside your torso while ensuring your elbows stay tucked during the movement can really build the inner head of the triceps.
As was stated above, the lower the shoulders are below the waist on the decline press, the lower on the pec emphasis as placed. At the same time, the lower the shoulders are, the less the deltoid muscles are recruited.
Really, deltoid involvement in pressing is all based on torso position. When the body is upright with the shoulders above the waist, the delts are the primary mover. When you lean back to the incline press position, they’re still used, but not as much. When you lie back flat, they’re involved, but not nearly as much as the pecs. Then when you’re at a decline, deltoid involvement is minimal.
Because of this, the decline press is considered more preferable by many as it tends to be safer on the shoulders. While pushing on a flat bench, your arms are perpendicular with your body, which can cause strain on the rotator cuff. However, declines not only bring your arms more in line with your torso, but you’re pushing toward your feet, which is your normal “hanging” position of your arms, anyway. This is more natural and safer.
When all is said and done, the decline barbell press can add a lot to your workout. In fact, given the right workout setup, you could even use it as a safer replacement for the flat bench. Treat it as a strength and mass-builder, and you just might find yourself experiencing all new growth in the lower pecs and triceps.