The decline barbell bench press is a rarely used variation of the bench; however it is useful for more than just the sake of variety. The decline bench forces you to use your lower pecs, triceps and back to lift the weight, which carries over quite well to competition or powerlifting style of benching. Using the decline bench regularly will help you add more weight to the bar on the flat barbell bench and that’s something most trainees will be just fine with.
Muscles Targeted: The decline barbell bench press targets your triceps more so than other variations. Your pectoralis major (lower chest) is heavily involved in the movement. In contrast to the flat barbell bench press, your pectoralis minor is minimally involved if at all. Your latissimus dorsi is more heavily recruited on this variation than flat or incline bench presses. Your anterior deltoids are heavily involved in this press too.
Exercise Instructions: Position yourself on a free weight decline bench press and grab the barbell with an overhand grip that is about shoulder width apart. Lift the barbell off of the rack and slowly lower it to your chest and then press the bar back to the start position. Because of the angle of this exercise, touching the bar to your chest is actually okay since doing so does not cause unneeded stress on your shoulders nor does it take the emphasis away from having your pecs do the work. 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.
Why This Exercise is Important: This variation of the regular bench press is a good one for those looking to improve their flat bench press. It more heavily targets the triceps and lats, both of which are needed at the end of the bench to lockout the weight. For the physique minded, the decline targets and can add mass to the triceps. This variation does still involve the shoulders but they are greatly de-emphasized compared to the flat and especially the incline barbell bench press. For that reason, it can be a good way to relieve stress on your shoulders that could need a break from too much flat bench pressing.
Things To Avoid: Make sure that your feet are locked in or looped over the end of the bench to prevent any slipping and sliding while performing this exercise. Do not use a grip that is too wide as this can cause discomfort to your shoulders when lowering the bar. Also avoid a grip that is too narrow. This exercise targets the triceps highly on its own without an overly narrow grip being needed and this type of grip can lead to excess stress on your elbows and wrists. As with all variations of the bench press, make sure you always have a spotter handy in case you get overly fatigued or if an injury occurs while lifting.
Reps and Sets: The decline bench is typically an exercise that you would want to go heavy on. The triceps respond well to lower reps when you are trying to add mass. If you are looking for strength to carry over to the flat bench then you will want to go heavy too. Stick with 3-5 sets and repetitions of 4-6 for strength. If you are looking to add size to your triceps go with 2-4 sets for repetitions of 6-8.
Other Exercises To Use: Switch between the flat barbell bench press and the decline barbell bench press. Whenever you hit a plateau on one, go to the other one to strengthen the muscle groups that are lagging. Incline can be mixed in as well to focus on your shoulders which the decline does not target much. If you really want to target the deltoids to make up for the lack of use on decline bench go ahead and try the standing deltoid military press. View our extensive database of exercise guides for a comprehensive list of exercises that target the chest.
The decline barbell bench is a great change of pace to throw into your routine. Since it targets your triceps heavier than the regular bench it can help you with your lockout on flat bench. Make sure to always have a spotter handy when you are benching and especially when you are going heavy. Try it today and see if it doesn’t help you increase the poundage on your flat bench.