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What Muscles Does an Incline Bench Press Work?

author image Kim Nunley
Kim Nunley has been screenwriting and working as an online health and fitness writer since 2005. She’s had multiple short screenplays produced and her feature scripts have placed at the Austin Film Festival. Prior to writing full-time, she worked as a strength coach, athletic coach and college instructor. She holds a master's degree in kinesiology from California State University, Fullerton.
What Muscles Does an Incline Bench Press Work?
A man is on an incline bench press. Photo Credit starush/iStock/Getty Images

The incline bench press is considered a compound exercise because multiple joints are involved. To perform the exercise, there’s movement at both the shoulders and elbows, which means that numerous muscles are recruited in order to coordinate the movement. Muscles in the upper chest handle most of the load, but your shoulders and triceps are also contribute to the exercise.

Using Correct Technique

The incline bench press can be performed with either a pair of dumbbells or a single barbell. Set the bench so that it’s at an angle of 45 to 60 degrees. Sit and lean back on the bench. If you’re using dumbbells, hold them next to your armpit (upper chest) area with your elbows positioned directly under your wrists and palms facing forward. If using a barbell, grip the bar with your hands set to slightly outside the width of your shoulders. Hold it at your upper chest with your palms facing forward. Press the weight overhead until your arms are fully extended. Lower your arms and bend your elbows to return the weight back to the starting position

Bringing your Arms Together

The major muscle involved in the incline bench press is the clavicular head of the pectoralis major, which is the upper section of the major muscle in your chest. It originates at your sternum and then runs across your chest and out toward each of your shoulders where it inserts at the top of your upper arm bone. The pectoralis major is responsible for horizontally adducting your shoulders, which means it brings your arms across your chest and brings them together.

Lifting your Arms

As you push the weight over your head, your arms are lifting up in front of you. This movement at the shoulders is handled by your anterior deltoid, which is the front section of your major shoulder muscle. The anterior deltoid originates at your clavicle, where then it runs over your shoulders and then inserts at your upper arm bone.

Handling the Elbows

The triceps brachii muscle runs down the back of your upper arm, originating at the back of your shoulder and then inserting at your elbow. When it contracts, it extends your forearm at your elbow joint. During incline bench press, as you push the weight overhead, it’s your triceps that are responsible for your arms straightening as they move from a bent to a fully extended position.

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