The traditional flat bench press is a classic in every sense of the word. It is a corner pillar in many people’s repertoire at the gym. Advanced veterans and beginners alike – everybody looks to the bench press for chest development. When people discuss feats of strengths they often refer to bench pressing abilities.
The inclined version, however, isn’t quite as often seen at the gym, nor has it been equally celebrated throughout the years. But if you ever spend time receiving inspiration from any kind of Hollywood routine you’ll soon discover that there is a pattern when it comes to the choice of Bench press version that is being used in the capital city of movies: more often than not the inclined bench press is prioritized over the traditional flat one. There is reason for this: the inclined bench press develops the middle and the upper parts of the pecs. The upper chest is targeted much more than in the flat bench press. Aesthetically the upper parts of the pectoralis is often more important than the lower - which makes it a powerful tool for anyone in pursuit of a visually impressive physique and the natural choice of Hollywood stars aiming to develop their looks for their next film appearance.
When people reach a certain level of purposefulness in their approach to their body as a piece of art chances are that the inclined bench press becomes the number one exercise of their chest routine.
The maximum weight that can be moved is for most people lower in the inclined version. It allows for less use of momentum. This is one of the reasons to why this exercise is performed less often than the flat bench version. You will have to defeat your ego. I recommend you to read my article on how bench pressing without ego is the way to get visible results.
Keep your chest high during the lift.
Finish above your eyes.
Make sure to lift from the upper parts of your chest.
Keep your back squeezed.
Make sure not to collapse under the weight, since that will let your shoulders take over.
If you want to prioritize the outer pecs, go for a wide grip.
Remember that this exercise is more about getting good muscle contact than about lifting heavy. Use a weight that allows you to really feel the muscle working. If afterwards you feel that you have fatigued your shoulders more than your pecs you should go down in weights until you have learned to get a good upper pecs contact and pump. Sure, the triceps and the shoulders will always be involved as assisting muscles, but they are not the target. When you truly master this exercise they will primarily serve as stabilizers.
You’ll often hear that you should go all the way down, before pushing the weights back up. This is not necessarily good advice. It is true that maximum stretch makes it easier to accomplish maximum tension at the other end of the lift, but it is also true that full range bench presses will put more strain on the rest of your body, not the least your shoulders. If you feel that a shorter range of motion allows you to better target the pecs muscles then you should stick to it no matter what other people say.
Regarding the angle of the bench: my advice to most people I see performing this exercise would be to lower the angle. If you go higher than 45 degrees it becomes more difficult not to let the shoulders take over. Keep it at 30-45 degrees.
My own opinion of the inclined barbell bench press
I consider this exercise a great one. I have always preferred the barbell version to the dumbbell version. The latter is often recommended with the argument that it allows for a better stretch, since your hands can actually travel further, going down below your chest. This ties in to my comment above: yes, it is true that the range of motion is longer, but that doesn’t necessarily make it a better exercise. It’s a question of taste. Furthermore, the barbell version has the benefit that you don’t have to waste any effort or concentration getting into the starting position.
The flat bench press has always allowed me to easily achieve a good overall pump in the upper body. The inclined, however, offers more precision. I like to start my chest workouts with the flat bench press – and then come back to the inclined version after having performed some flyes or crossovers.
My own personal opinion on aesthetic appeal is that the lower part of the chest mustn’t become over-developed. Therefor the inclined press is a very important part of any well composed chest routine.