Is an Incline Bench Press Harder Than a Flat Bench Press?

A side-by-side comparison of two common bench press positions

When you step into the gym, especially the weightlifting section, you're bound to be met with a plethora of machines and benches, each serving its unique purpose.

Among them, two bench press variations often stand out - the incline and the flat bench press.

Both are incredibly popular, but there's a burning question on the minds of many gym-goers: which one's tougher?

Let's dive in and dissect the mechanics, benefits, and challenges of each, so you can make an informed decision for your next workout.

Why the Incline Bench Press is Often Considered More Challenging

Imagine for a moment that you're lifting a heavy suitcase off the ground.

It's challenging, right?

Now, imagine lifting that same suitcase, but at an incline, almost like you're hoisting it onto a higher shelf.

Feels different, doesn't it?

This analogy can be applied to the difference between the flat and incline bench press.

The Shift in Muscle Recruitment

In a flat bench press, your body is in an optimal position to recruit the entire pec muscle. It's like lifting that suitcase straight up.

But with an incline bench press, things change. The angle reduces your ability to optimally engage the whole pec muscle.

Instead, it places a disproportionate stress on the upper pecs and shoulders.

In essence, the incline angle introduces a new challenge, much like hoisting that suitcase onto a higher shelf.

The Potential Risks

Sure, challenges can be good. They push us out of our comfort zones.

But with the incline bench press, there's more to consider than just muscle recruitment.

If not done with proper technique, there's an added risk of stressing the shoulder joints and rotator cuff.

It's like trying to lift a suitcase with a twisted wrist; sure, you might manage, but you're increasing the risk of an injury.

Comparing the Two: Is One Really Better Than the Other?

Every coin has two sides, and so does the debate between the incline and flat bench press.

Working the Same Muscles, But in Different Ways

At first glance, it might seem like the two exercises are worlds apart. But delve a little deeper, and you'll find they're more similar than they appear.

Both exercises engage almost all the same muscles.

The key difference?

The emphasis. It's like using a paintbrush; whether you're painting a straight line or a curve, you're still using the brush, but the strokes and effects differ.

The Subjectivity of Preference

Here's a question for you: do you prefer apples or oranges?

There's no right or wrong answer, is there?

The same principle applies here.

Whether the incline bench press is harder than the flat bench press boils down to individual preferences.

What are your fitness goals?

What are you trying to achieve with your workout?

These factors play a pivotal role in deciding which exercise might be more suited to you.

Making the Choice: Which Bench Press is Right for You?

We've delved into the mechanics, the benefits, and the challenges.

Now, let's help you make a decision.

What Are Your Goals?

If you're aiming for an overall chest development, the flat bench press might be your go-to.

But if you're looking to target those upper pecs, the incline bench press could be your best friend.

Listen to Your Body

This can't be emphasised enough. It's essential to be in tune with your body.

If something feels off or you experience discomfort, it might be time to reassess.

Remember, using proper form and technique is paramount, irrespective of the exercise.

Related: The Ultimate Incline Bench Press Guide for Newbies

Techniques and Tips for Proper Execution

To get the most out of both incline and flat bench press, it's paramount to maintain the right form.

Here are some key techniques and tips:

  • Correct Hand Placement: Your hands should be slightly wider than shoulder-width apart. A firm grip is essential for both incline press and flat benching.

  • Breathing Techniques: Exhale as you push the weight up. This is especially crucial in exercises like the chest press, where proper breathing can maximise results.

  • Ideal Rep and Set Range: Aim for 3-5 sets of 6-12 reps. Whether it's the incline bench press or flat bench press, this range ensures muscle growth and strength gains.

Equipment Variations

There are several types of equipment available for both exercises, each offering its own set of benefits:

  • Differences Between Barbells and Dumbbells: Barbells are often used in exercises like the flat barbell bench press. Dumbbells require more stabilisation, making them ideal for flat bench exercise variations.

  • Benches with Adjustable Angles: These can be adjusted to various inclinations. The bench angle can provide significantly higher upper pec activation, depending on whether you set it horizontally or vertically.

  • Importance of Weight Plates Selection: Always start with lighter weights and gradually increase as you become more comfortable. It ensures safety and progressive muscle development.

Common Mistakes and How to Avoid Them

Even seasoned gym-goers can occasionally make mistakes.

Here are some common ones to watch out for:

  • Not Maintaining a Neutral Spine: Always ensure your back is flat against the bench. Arching or lifting your back increases the risk of injury.

  • Incorrect Elbow Placement: Especially in the incline press, where targeting the upper pecs is the goal. Your elbows should be at a 45-degree angle to your body.

  • Lifting Too Heavy Too Soon: Shoulder injuries can occur if you're not cautious. It's essential, especially in the incline bench press, which can put stress on the rotator cuff.

Incorporating Other Exercises

While the incline vs. flat bench debate continues, a balanced routine includes other exercises:

  • Compound Movements: Like deadlifts and squats. They work multiple muscle groups and are pivotal for overall strength.

  • Complementary Exercises: Upper pec activation can also be achieved with push-ups and dips, which target the middle and lower pec.

In Conclusion

In the flat bench press, the focus is often on overall pec development.

The pectoralis major, with its clavicular and sternocostal head, gets a balanced workout.

On the other hand, the incline bench press tends to stress the anterior deltoid and upper pec more, leading to discussions about shoulder mobility and scapular stability.

Your personal goals play a pivotal role. Whether you're looking to develop a specific muscle group or get a complete chest workout, understanding the intricacies of each exercise can help you maximise results.

Remember, both the incline bench press and flat bench press engage an array of chest muscles.

It's not about which is superior but understanding their strength differences and how they align with your objectives.


Why might someone prefer the incline bench press over the flat bench press when focusing on aesthetic physique goals?

For those aiming for a pronounced upper chest or looking to accentuate the clavicular portion of the pectoral muscles, the incline bench press can be a better choice. It specifically targets the upper pecs, which can lead to a more sculpted and defined upper chest appearance.

Are there specific warm-up exercises recommended before attempting the incline or flat bench press?

Yes, it's crucial to properly warm up your chest and shoulders before attempting either bench press variation. Using resistance bands and engaging in targeted stretching exercises can effectively prepare your muscles and joints, reducing the risk of injury.

How does the decline bench press fit into the equation when comparing incline and flat bench presses?

The decline bench press is another variation that targets the lower portion of the chest or the sternocostal head of the pectoralis major. While the incline focuses on the upper region and the flat bench offers a balanced activation, the decline bench press emphasises the lower pecs, providing a comprehensive chest workout when combined with the other two.

For someone new to weightlifting, which bench press variation is the safest to start with?

Newcomers to weightlifting might find the flat bench press to be the most approachable. It allows for a natural range of motion and even muscle recruitment. However, it's crucial to start with lighter weights to understand the form and gradually progress. Seeking guidance from a personal trainer or experienced gym-goer can also be beneficial to ensure safety and effectiveness.

Next article The Effects Of A Leg Press Machine On Your Overall Fitness And Body Composition