So you're well-versed in the standard bench press and you're ready to shake things up a bit. Which is a good thing, according to American Council on Exercise, as you're changing the specific muscles involved which encourages muscle growth.
Naturally, you'll want to move that flat bench up and give the incline bench press a try to focus on different muscle groups. That leaves you with an inevitable question, though: How much of an incline is the right amount of incline? And the answer to that is: "There are quite a few answers." The best angle is the angle that caters the most to your individual chest-sculpting goals.
Incline Bench Basics
In general, the incline press focuses more on the clavicular portion of the pectoral muscles says ExRx — the upper chest area just below the collarbones — than the flat bench, which puts its focus on the sternal head of the pectoralis major (the large, fan-like muscles of the chest that you usually just call "pecs"). This is the case when using what's typically accepted as the standard incline angle, and the fixed position of many incline benches, of 45 degrees.
Nowadays, though, you'll often find adjustable weight benches that span a range from about 30 to 75 degrees. Changing the incline doesn't just help you focus on different chest muscles; it can help increase your personal comfort level. Depending on height and body type, you might find that you're able to perform your press with more control at a certain angle. This angle, of course, varies per person.
Tailor to Your Targets
In a small 2010 study with 15 participants, published by the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research, kinesiology researchers found that the clavicular head of the pecs was most active at a 44-degree incline, which makes that 45-degree bench a pretty safe bet. And if you're curious, you'll get the same muscle activation from a Smith bench on the same incline, too.
The same study found another interesting wrinkle: Activity in the anterior deltoid, a key front shoulder muscle, increases as the bench incline increases. So if you're looking to target your shoulders, the 60- and 70-degree angle settings on your bench might be worth a try.
Explore Incline Bench Press Angles
In addition to targeting slightly different muscles, the incline bench press tends to go easier on the lower back than the flat bench, as the inclined angle supports the lumbar region. Similarly, being on an incline makes you less likely to arch your back as you press up, which a bad benching habit to get into.
If you're looking to focus on the sternal pecs, though, you'll be better off with a flat bench or an decline of up to -18 degrees. And, although the bench press in all of its angles doesn't exactly excel at lat engagement, a declined angle does make for more activity in the latissimus dorsi (mid-back) than an inclined angle.
- ExRx.net: "Bench Press Analysis"
- ExRx.net: "Pectoralis Major (Clavicular Head)"
- ExRx.net: "Pectoralis Major (Sternal Head)"
- ExRx.net: "Barbell Incline Bench Press"
- Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research: "An Electromyography Analysis of 3 Muscles Surrounding the Shoulder Joint During the Performance of a Chest Press Exercise at Several Angles"
- ACE Fitness: "7 Techniques for Promoting Muscle Growth"