Is Incline Bench Harder Than Flat Bench? [4 Incline Tips]

Incline bench press is more difficult than flat bench for most people because it requires more work from smaller muscle groups. While flat bench allows you to recruit the triceps and large portions of pectoral muscles, incline bench puts a large workload on the anterior deltoids (the muscles on the front of your shoulders). Because your pectoral muscles are deemphasized during incline bench, it is much more difficult for most individuals to lift heavy weights while doing incline bench when compared to other bench press styles.

Is incline bench harder?

Why is Incline Bench Harder than Flat Bench?

Incline bench is more difficult than flat bench press because it targets smaller muscle groups and has a longer range of motion. Although setting your incline bench press to the correct angle will improve your ability to build size and strength in your upper pectoral muscles, it also causes your shoulder muscles to work much harder. Because your shoulder muscles are smaller than your pectorals, most athletes lift lower weight on incline bench press compared to flat bench.

  • Flat bench recruits the large pectoral muscles and places less emphasis on the shoulder muscles.
  • Incline bench requires more work from the smaller shoulder muscles, which tire more easily.
  • Incline bench requires more shoulder flexion, which makes the range of motion longer than flat bench.
  • A longer range of motion means you have to move the weight over a further distance, which makes incline bench more difficult than flat bench.

The upward angle of incline bench press requires increased shoulder flexion when compared to flat bench press. This means that the weight you move during incline bench press has to travel a further distance. Moving weight over a greater distance increases the difficulty of an exercise. So, the biomechanics of incline bench press make it difficult to lift extremely heavy weights.

4 Ways to Improve Your Incline Bench Performance

Even after you’ve learned the correct form for incline bench press in order to maximize strength training results and prevent shoulder injuries, you may still feel like your incline press is lagging behind your traditional bench press. In order to increase the weight you lift on incline bench, use these tactics:

Start Training for Strength

In order to build strength in the muscles responsible for the incline bench press—and thus increase the weight you lift—start performing sets and reps designed for strength. For incline press, this means performing 3–5 sets of 3–5 reps each time you have the exercise in your routine.

  • Each time you do incline bench press, perform 3–5 sets.
  • Do 3–5 reps of incline bench per set to build strength and increase your maximum incline bench press.
  • Rest for 90 seconds between sets so you can push yourself to the limit each set.

Performing incline bench press with relatively few reps per set allows you to lift heavier weight. Training in this manner encourages the greatest increases in muscular strength. By following this program, your maximum incline bench press will increase.

Prioritize Incline Bench

In order to increase the amount of weight you can move during incline bench, make sure it is the first exercise you perform during upper body or “push” training days. You have the most energy during your first exercise in the gym. This allows you to lift more weight, push yourself harder, and thus get greater strength increases from the exercise you prioritize.

  • Make incline bench the first exercise you do when it is on your training schedule for the day.
  • You have the most energy during your first exercise of the day, which allows you to push your muscles harder and develop strength in the movement you prioritize.
  • Prioritize incline bench for 3 months to see improvement in the amount of weight you can lift.

Many lifters prioritize flat bench over incline bench press, which means they will advance faster on flat bench over time. If you prioritize incline bench for 3 months, you’ll see advances in strength that remain even if you later change your routine to prioritize a different exercise.

Perform Complementary Exercises

Increasing the amount of weight you can lift during incline bench requires strong pectorals, anterior deltoids, and triceps. So, it’s essential to perform exercises that target these muscle groups. Here are the best exercises to target these muscle groups:

  • Pectorals: Flat bench, push-ups, dumbbells flyes, and cable crossovers.
  • Anterior Deltoids: Overhead press, upright row, and front raises.
  • Triceps: Skullcrushers, overhead triceps extensions, parallel bar dips.

By targeting these muscle groups during training, you’ll build the muscle necessary to increase your performance on incline bench. In a few months, you can transform incline bench from a weak exercise to one of your strongest lifts.

Avoid Overtraining

It’s essential to allow your body to rest and recover between workouts that include incline bench press. Do not do incline bench more than 2–3 times per week. Also, allow at least 48 hours of rest between workouts that include this exercise. So, if you do incline bench on Monday, don’t do it again until Wednesday, at the earliest.

  • Allow at least 48 hours of rest between incline bench workouts.
  • On rest days, take a day off from the gym or work muscles that are not recruited during incline bench press.
  • Overtraining greatly increases your injury risk.
  • Training the same muscle group too often results in diminished strength gains.

Failing to provide adequate rest between workouts puts you at greater risk of injury, which can prevent you from progressing in the gym. It’s also important to note that overtraining actually reduces the strength and muscle mass you gain.

Is Incline Bench Press Necessary?

Incline bench press is a great exercise for targeting the upper chest, but it is not strictly necessary for a weightlifting routine. The upper portion of the pectorals can be somewhat neglected by traditional, flat bench press. So, if you want to build bigger, stronger chest and shoulder muscles, incline bench is a must. For this reason, it’s commonly included in training regimens.

  • Incline bench press is not considered one of the foundational exercises of weight lifting.
  • Beginner programs include flat bench press for chest but often do not include incline bench press.
  • Incline bench press is a great addition to your routine because it builds upper chest muscle that flat bench does not.

Despite the benefits of the incline bench press, not all weightlifting programs include this exercise. It is not considerd one of the foundational lifts because it is a hybrid exercise that works chest and shoulders. Some lifting programs focus on flat bench for building a strong chest, combined with overhead press to build the anterior deltoids (muscles in the front of your shoulders). You can build a strong, balanced physique without incline bench press, but you’ll miss out on some development of your upper chest muscles.

What Should Be Stronger: Incline or Flat Bench?

For the majority of weightlifters, it is possible to lift more weight during the flat bench press than incline bench. The reasons for this are:

  • Incline bench press requires more work from smaller muscle groups in the shoulders, which are typically not capable of moving very heavy weights.
  • Flat bench recruits more of the large pectoral muscle during the movement, which allows you to lift heavier weight.
  • The shoulder flexion required during incline bench means you have to move the weight further during incline bench press than flat bench.
  • The further you have to move the weight during an exercise, the harder it is to lift heavier weights.

Although your incline bench press may not ever equal your flat bench press, you can improve your performance on incline bench. To do so, begin training incline bench press for strength by performing 3–5 sets of 3–5 reps. Prioritize incline bench press in your workout plan, add in exercises that further build the muscles used during incline bench, and allow 48 hours between incline bench press workouts.

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