Incline Bench vs. Military Press

You push or press something everyday, whether it's a door, stroller, chair or weight. For this action, you have to thank your shoulders — they aren't just functional, they're also pretty to look at when sculpted and toned.

A Smith Press machine is one option when performing an incline bench press. (Image: LUNAMARINA/iStock/Getty Images)

The incline bench and the military press, a variation of the shoulder press, both train your shoulders, as well as your triceps. Choose the incline bench if you're trying to squeeze in the most muscles in the shortest period of time, as it trains the chest, too. However, if you're after sheer activation of the anterior delts, the fronts of the shoulders, you'll get the most out of the military press.

About the Incline Bench

Perform an incline bench press by lying on your back on a bench set at a 45-degree incline. With a dumbbell in each hand, or with a barbell handed to you by a spotter or lifted from a rack, you press up and down by bending your elbows.

This pushing movement primarily targets the upper chest, or clavicular head of the pectoralis major. Your triceps and anterior delts, or the fronts of the shoulders act as synergists — helper muscles that contribute to get the work done. The biceps activate to stabilize the muscle joint.

About the Military Press

A strict military press is performed from a stand with your feet together and toes turned out, like a soldier. This stance is impractical, advanced and not always safe, so most gym-goers do a more typical military press with the feet hip-width apart or from a seat.

From there, you hold dumbbells or a barbell at your shoulders and extend your elbows straight up and down to perform the press.

Sitting provides your body with greater stability during the military press. (Image: gpointstudio/iStock/Getty Images)

This exercise uses the anterior delts as a primary mover, rather than as a helper. The upper chest is demoted to synergist. Another big difference in this strength move as compared to the incline bench is that your middle and lower traps and medial deltoid, at the tops of your shoulder, activate far more than compared to an incline bench. Researchers proved this in a study comparing the muscle activation elicited during the two exercises published in a 2013 issue of the Journal of Sports Medicine. The traps are a rope-like muscle that run from your neck to the middle of your back.

How to Incorporate Them

If you're short on time, strength train for health and are looking to do a full-body workout, the incline press covers your chest, triceps and shoulders. Round out your workout with just a few more exercises that target your biceps, hips, thighs and abs and call it a day.

When your goal is to develop greater size, you'd benefit from sticking to a flat bench press to build more mass in the totality of the pecs as well as the military press to cover the fronts and tops of the shoulders as well as the upper back. You'd also benefit from adding flyes, decline presses and chest dips for your chest as well as rear delt flyes and lat raises for your shoulders. The extra work on each body part targets the muscles from multiple angles and provides greater stress.

On other days, you'll train legs, back, arms and abs with multiple moves.

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