While proper exercise technique is always important, incline bench press form is often underestimated. This is because lifters often turn their attention to technique-intensive movements like Olympic lifts, or worry about exercises such as squats, deadlifts, or rows. However, poor incline bench press form can lead to drastic muscular imbalances as well as injured shoulders. Below are a few tips to help ensure you’re doing it correctly.
One question that often arises when discussing incline bench press form is just what angle you should have the bench at. There is no one single correct answer. However, the higher of an angle the bench is set at, the more it will hit the front deltoid. Conversely, the lower the angle it’s at, the more it’ll hit the middle and lower pec. Keeping the bench at 45 degrees works for most lifters. Do know that you might want to go one notch below that if you’ve a history of shoulder issues.
When performing the barbell incline bench press, many lifters just lie down on the bench and unrack the weight. This isn’t the right way to do things. Instead, after lying back, you’ll want to arch your back and retract your shoulder blades. Doing this stabilizes your shoulder girdle, puts you in position to lift the most weight, and puts your shoulders in the safest position so as to avoid injury.
One thing that many lifters get wrong in their incline bench press form is that they don’t keep their elbows tucked toward the torso as much as possible. This may feel strange if you’re not used to it, as most lifters usually find themselves wanting to lower their upper arms perpendicular to their body. Get around this by trying to “bend the bar”.
What this means is that when you grip the bar, don’t just hold it loosely. Instead, pretend that you are trying to bend the bar, like an old time strongman in an exhibition. Of course, the bar won’t actually bend, but it will cue you to keep your elbows tucked.
It also engages the triceps and helps you utilize the lats as a secondary muscle group, both of which allow you to use more weight. It’s also much easier on the shoulders and elbows, reducing risk of injury and making for better joint health in the long run.
Perhaps the biggest mistake most newbie lifters make with their incline bench press form is that they don’t actually press the bar vertically. Since the movement pattern on incline press is new and they don’t have excellent muscle control yet, the bar can move quite a bit forward and back in relation to the torso. If this is allowed to happen too much, leverage can radically decrease and an accident can happen (e.g. – dropping the bar).
Ideally, the bar should touch the upper chest at the clavicles and just below the chin. When pressed to full extension, the bar should be directly over where it started. You can press slightly backward so that the bar is over the eyes, but no more additional movement is advised. If you can’t do this in a very natural fashion without trying too hard, spend some time incline benching with light weights until you have built sufficient muscle memory.
The incline bench is a great exercise because of the upper pec hypertrophy it can stimulate, as well as the strength it can build. However, poor form will lead to poor muscular development and creates too big of a risk of injury. Spend some time lifting light to ensure you have the movement pattern down, keep the elbows tucked, and shoulder blades retracted. Do that while playing with different inclines to see what works best for you, and new gains can be had fairly quickly.