If you want to use your incline bench to build your upper pectoral muscles, scientific studies have shown that a 45-degree angle is more beneficial than a 30-degree angle. Although many say the 45-degree angle is undesirable because it utilizes the anterior deltoid muscles instead of the pecs, the truth is that along with that shoulder activation, you get better upper pectoral engagement. Next time you’re in the gym, set your incline bench to 45-degrees.
What are the Goals of Incline Bench Press?
The incline bench’s purpose is to target the upper portion of your pecs. This portion is known as the “clavicular head” of the pectoralis major. It is called the clavicular head because this is where the pec muscle attaches to your clavicles (collarbones). While we know the flat bench works a large area of the chest muscle, including the sternocostal head (where the pec attaches to the sternum), it doesn’t do a great job of activating the upper pec area. Similarly, the decline bench works the lower portion of the chest but ignores the upper portion.
- The flat bench focuses on the middle portion of the chest and the sternocostal pectoral head.
- The decline bench focuses on the lower portion of the pectoral muscle.
- For optimal pec development, the incline bench should focus most on the upper portion (clavicular head) of the pecs.
- We will decide which incline bench press angle is best based on which one provides the most muscular activation to the clavicular pectoral head.
Since the flat bench and decline bench do not activate the upper chest, it’s up to the incline bench press exercise to work the clavicular head of the pectoral muscle. With this in mind, we’re going to decide which incline bench press angle is best based on which one works the upper chest more effectively.
What Incline Bench Angle Provides the Best Upper Pec Workout?
A scientific study published by the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research measured pectoral activation at 4 different bench press angles. These angles were 0 (flat bench), 28-degree incline, 44-degree incline, and 56-degree incline. The greatest muscular activation of the clavicular pectoral head occurred when athletes bench pressed at a 44-degree incline. In fact, benching at 44-degrees showed a 42% increase in clavicular head activation over a 28-degree incline. Because 44-degrees and 28-degrees are similar to 45 degrees and 30 degrees, we can surmise that a 45-degree incline bench works the upper chest better than 30 degrees.
- Scientific research has found a 44-degree incline bench activates the upper portion of the chest more than a 28-degree incline.
- This means a 45-degree incline is a more efficient upper chest workout than a 30-degree incline.
- A 30-degree incline bench is less effective at activating your clavicular pectoral head than a 45-degree incline.
- Incline angles close to 30 degrees provide middle-of-the-road muscular activation for both the clavicular head and sternocostal head of the pectoral muscle. Flat bench and 45-degree bench are better at targeting specific regions of the chest.
This study showed that while the 28-degree bench activated the sternocostal head of the pectoralis major better than 44 degrees, it was less effective at this activation than a flat bench press. This puts the 30-degree incline bench in a no man’s land where it doesn’t work the middle of your chest as well as flat bench and fails to activate the upper chest as well as a 45-degree incline bench press.
How Do You Set Your Incline Bench Press to the Correct Angle?
Now that we know that a 45-degree angle is better for your upper chest than 30 degrees, how do you set your bench correctly? Don’t worry, there’s no need to carry a protractor to the gym. Simply set your adjustable bench at an angle and then measure that angle with your iOS or Android device. This way, you’ll get the correct angle every time.
- Use the iPhone’s built-in Measure app to find the angle of your adjustable bench.
- Use this app for Android to measure your incline bench angle.
- Dial in your bench press to 45 degrees for the best upper chest workout.
Once you’ve set your incline bench press up a few times, you’ll soon memorize the exact settings to get the proper angle. This will ensure the best upper chest activation during bench press, enabling you to build overall chest size and strength.
Does Incline Bench Build Shoulders?
Incline bench press provides a great workout for your shoulder muscles. In addition to providing the most engagement of the upper pec, a 45-degree incline bench angle also provides more of a workout for your anterior deltoids (the muscles on the front of your shoulder) than a flat bench or 30-degree incline.
- Performing incline bench at the optimal angle for upper chest engagement works your shoulders more than flat or shallow-incline bench press.
- Embrace the incline bench press as a workout for both your upper chest and anterior deltoid muscles.
While some believe that you should avoid shoulder engagement during the incline bench, the truth is the optimal angle for upper chest development also engages your anterior deltoids. The two simply cannot be isolated. It’s a good idea to shift your thinking and start viewing the incline bench as a hybrid upper chest/shoulder workout.
What Angle Should Your Incline Bench Press be Set to?
The science is in and the mystery of the best angle for incline bench is solved. Here are the facts.
- A 45-degree incline provides better activation of upper chest muscles than a 30-degree incline.
- Use your incline bench to focus on the upper chest muscles since flat and decline bench are better at working other portions of your chest.
- Although you will increase the focus on your shoulders at a 45-degree incline, the tradeoff is better upper chest development.
Next time you set your bench press up for incline, use your phone to measure the angle. Keep in mind, if you want to focus on building the upper portion of your chest, 45 degrees is the best angle for incline bench press.