Incline Barbell Bench Press – Chest Exercise Guide with Photos


The incline barbell bench press is a great way to add variety to your pressing routine and to hit muscle groups from different angles leading to new growth. Taking nothing away from the barbell bench press, the incline press can allow you to really focus on your upper and inner chest muscles and shoulders. The strictness of the exercise takes away any arching of the back to shorten your range of motion and decreases the help from leg drive. Let’s take a look at how this exercise can help you round out your physique and bust through any plateaus you might have with the flat bench press.



Muscles Targeted: The incline barbell bench press focuses on similar muscle groups as the flat bench, but puts more stress on the shoulders and includes the trapezius muscles. Your upper chest or pectoralis minor is recruited more heavily than in the flat bench. This extra recruitment can help build the chest muscles near the collarbone and give a more rounded look to your chest. Your anterior deltoids and triceps still play a major part in raising the bar.

Exercise Instructions: This exercise is very similar to the regular barbell bench press except that you will be using an incline free weight bench and your upper chest will be the muscle group targeted. Lift the barbell off of the rack and slowly lower it to about 3 inches above your clavicle (top of the chest) and then press the bar back up to the start position. Be sure that when you are lowering the bar that you do so in a slow and controlled fashion. Conversely, when you press the bar upward, you want to do so in an explosive fashion. Repeat this movement for as many repetitions as you can until failure. Remember to always use a spotter when performing this exercise.

Why This Exercise is Important: The incline barbell bench press is a great alternative to the flat bench. Not only can it give you a break mentally from trying to break through plateaus on the flat bench, it can also strengthen muscle groups that can help add poundage to your flat bench. The incline bench press is stricter than the flat bench due to the legs being taken out of the equation. The athlete can’t use their legs to drive the weight up or arch their back to shorten the range of motion. This emphasis on strict form can help the lifter focus on working the muscle groups being used in the exercise.

Things To Avoid: The number one rule to effective pressing is to stop bouncing the bar off your chest. This takes stress off the muscles and can also hurt your chest. Make sure that the bench isn’t angled too steeply. The optimal angle for the incline is somewhere between 30 and 45 degrees. This will put the emphasis on the upper chest without turning it into a seated military press. Avoid having the racks too far back from the bench and placing unnecessary strain on your shoulders. When pressing make sure to go straight upwards and don’t let the bar angle back over your face.

Reps and Sets: The incline barbell bench press is a versatile exercise. You can use higher reps in the range of 8-12 with sets of 2-4 to really hone in on the muscles while they are working. If you’re looking to build strength in the movement stick with repetitions in the 3-6 range with sets in the 3-5 range.

Other Exercises To Use: Typically the incline bench press is used as an alternative to the flat bench press or military press. However, if you are intending to design a program around the incline bench press then when it is time to use other exercises consider these options. The standing deltoid military press targets similar muscle groups but also forces you to use your core to stabilize the weight while pressing. The decline bench press goes in the other direction but still works the same muscles. Or you can even substitute the flat bench press as well. View our extensive database of exercise guides for a comprehensive list of exercises that target the chest.

The incline barbell bench press is great to strengthen your shoulders and add size to your upper chest. It also cuts down on cheating and will let you know where you stand in regards to pressing strength. Use this variation of the bench press often to balance out your physique.

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  1. Anwar Qureshi on

    Excellent article and detailed instructions! There is always some wisdom and focus in your articles. Here what I learned: less involvement of feet contrary to flat bench press and include a slow negative. However, one thing needs to be clarified. In the picture demonstration we see the hand position and the thumb is locked out but we also see some experts using a thumbless position on the bar while keeping the thumb backward or behind the bar. Is there any logic with this technique? I would appreciate an explanation and clarification.

    • Hi Anwar – For beginners, we highly recommend the normal grip on the bar with the thumb locked and positioned securely around the bar. Some people prefer to use the thumbless grip (aka: suicide grip) with the thumb on the same side as the rest of the fingers for their own personal “feel” but it can be very dangerous since it’s less secure and the bar can possibly slip off the hands in this position and cause serious injury.

      • Anwar Qureshi on

        Many thanks for the clarification and it’s much better to have a full grip around the bar just to be on the safe side. I was literally scared while reading your clarification and promise I will not use a thumbless grip on the bench press.

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