Aug 16, 2018
Perfecting the Chest Press

Having strong chest muscles is vital for almost any athlete. One of the best ways to strengthen them are with chest presses. There are multiple chest presses to choose from, including the popular flat bench press as well as the incline press. According to Kat Miller, CPT, contributor to, both of these exercise can be effective if done correctly.

The incline press and the flat bench press both work an array of muscles, including the Pectoralis Major, Anterior Deltoid, and Tirceps Brachii. But depending on an athlete’s goals and the muscles they want to focus on, they might want to choose one exercise over the other.

By setting the bench at an incline of 15 to 30 degrees, you activate the shoulders more. Therefore, the incline press focuses more of the work on the upper pecs. This exercise also puts less strain on the rotator cuff, which is a common area for injury when doing the flat bench press. The potential downside, however, is that the incline press can overwork the upper pecs, whereas the flat bench tends to build mass over the entire pec. If you decide to do the incline press, be aware of the extra strain put on the shoulder and don’t over train this area.

The flat bench press has the benefit of working the entire pectoralis major, which is comprised of the upper and lower pec. This makes the flat bench one of the best for overall pec development. The exercise does come with some cons, however. According to Miller, the flat bench can put the pec tendons in a vulnerable position and many shoulder injuries can stem from this exercise. Yet, Miller also believes that these issues can be addressed by having an effective spotter who helps to re-rack the bar, and making sure the athlete who’s lifting is using an even grip and lifting both sides of the bar evenly instead of favoring their strong side.

With both exercises, it’s important that athletes properly warm up their chests and shoulders by stretching and using resistance bands. When doing flat benching, athletes need to have full shoulder mobility and scapular stability to reduce the potential for injury. Miller also recommends that if athletes have any discomfort when doing the flat bench press they should try the incline press or using dumbbells instead.

Here’s how to properly perform each exercise:

Incline Chest Press

  1. Lie back on an incline bench. Make sure the bench is adjusted to between 15 and 30 degrees on an incline. Anything higher than 30 degrees mainly works the anterior deltoids (shoulders). Your grip should be where your elbows make a 90-degree angle.
  2. Using a shoulder-width grip, wrap your fingers around the bar with your palms facing away from you. Lift the bar up from the rack and hold it straight over you with your arms locked.
  3. As you breathe in, come down slowly until the bar is an inch away from your chest. You want the bar to be in line with your upper chest the whole time. Your arms should be at a 45-degree angle and tucked into your sides.
  4. Hold this position for one count at the bottom of this movement and, with one big exhale, push the bar back up to your starting position. Lock your arms, hold, and come down slowly.
  5. Do 12 repetitions and then place the bar back on the rack.
  6. Complete a total of five sets, adding weight after each set.

Flat Bench Press

  1. Lay down on the flat bench so that your neck and head are supported. Your knees should be at a 90-degree angle with your feet flat on the floor. If your back comes off the bench, you might consider putting your feet on the bench instead of the floor. Position yourself underneath the bar so that the bar is in line with your chest. Place your hands slightly wider than your shoulders, with your elbows flexed at a 90-degree angle. Grasp the bar, palms facing away from you, with your fingers wrapped around it.
  2. Exhale, squeeze your core, and push the barbell off the rack and up toward the ceiling using your pectoral muscles. Straighten your arms out in the contracted position, and squeeze your chest.
  3. Inhale and bring the barbell down slowly to your chest, again about an inch away. It should take you twice as long to bring the barbell down as it does to push it up.
  4. Explode back up to your starting position using your pectoral muscles. Do 12 repetitions and then add more weight for your next set.
  5. Perform five sets.

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