Incline vs. Flat Bench Press for Size and Strength

Written by the Boostcamp staff
Apr 1,2024|12 min| 161

Is incline bench better than all other chest exercises?

When it comes to improving size and strength in your chest muscles, many people automatically assume that the bench press is the king and should be in your workout routine no matter what. While it is a great exercise that is included in many different powerlifting and bodybuilding training programs alike, too often do people ignore a more crucial part of the chest, the upper pecs. That being said, the incline bench press is a movement that is too often overlooked. When it comes to incline bench press vs. flat, which one is better? 

Let’s take a look at the showdown between incline and flat bench press, and decide which one should take the crown for the best chest exercise.

Incline Bench Press Overview

Image courtesy of Sam Sulek

The incline bench press is just like the flat bench press, but the bench itself is angled typically at about 15 to 30 degrees. The exercise can be completed with plates and barbells, dumbbells, or even on the Smith machine if you really want to get a good mind-muscle connection and isolate the upper pectorals. 

Muscles Worked

The incline bench press is a compound exercise that targets the pushing muscles, which are as follows:

How to Perform the Incline Bench Press

  1. Lie back on an incline bench that is adjusted to between 15 and 30 degrees on an incline. If you go any higher than 30 degrees on the bench press, it will mainly work the front delts (shoulders). 

  2. Your grip on the barbell should be where your elbows make a 90-degree angle, and you hands should be shoulder-width apart. Wrap your fingers around the bar with your palms facing away from you. 

  3. Lift the bar up from the rack and hold it straight over you with your arms locked.

  4. Breathe in and come down slowly until the bar touches your upper pecs.

  5. 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 repeat the movement for the desired amount of sets and reps.

Dissecting the Flat Bench Press

On the other hand, the flat bench is done just like the incline bench press, but on a flat bench. Rather than targeting the upper pecs, this will target the mid and lower pectorals. This is a movement that has defined strength for a long time, hence the reason it is used as one of the main lifts in powerlifting meets.

Muscles Worked

The flat bench press is a compound exercise that targets the pushing muscles, which are as follows:

  • Triceps

  • Front deltoids

  • Pectorals (mid and lower)

How to Perform the Flat Bench Press

  1. Lie down on the flat bench so that your neck and head are supported, and keep your knees at a 90-degree angle with your feet flat on the floor. 

  2. 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.

  3. Exhale, squeeze your core, and push the barbell off the rack and up toward the ceiling. Straighten your arms out in the contracted position, and squeeze your chest.

  4. Inhale and bring the barbell down slowly to your chest, touching right around the nipple line. It should take you twice as long to bring the barbell down as it does to push it up.

  5. Explode back up to your starting position using your pectoral muscles and repeat for the desired amount of sets and reps.

Incline vs. Flat Bench Press for Aesthetics and Strength

Let’s take a look at incline bench press vs flat bench press when it comes to two desired components: aesthetics and strength.

Aesthetics

When training for bodybuilding, aesthetics are what is being sought after. That being said, you want the appearance of a big chest that protrudes out and looks like a shelf that you can put your supplements on top of. While the flat bench press is good for building size in the mid pecs, the upper pecs are where you need to focus your efforts on if you want the illusion of a bigger chest. When the upper pecs are bigger, the whole chest looks larger, as if everything is lifted. 

That being said, the incline bench takes the cake for the better movement for aesthetics.

Strength

Now, you see that in powerlifting you are judged on three movements: the squat, the deadlift, and the flat bench press. That being said, the flat bench press is the movement that will make you stronger, right? Not necessarily.

The incline bench will put you at a different angle, and make it harder to move weight. That being said, just because you bench 225 on a flat bench, you may not even be able to bench 185 on an incline bench. But, if you can bench 225 on an incline bench, you can probably move some serious weight on a flat bench. 

Incline vs. Flat Bench: The Verdict

Now that we have established all things involving the incline and flat bench, which one reigns supreme? 

While both should be in your training regimen, we do have to go with the incline bench being the more beneficial movement. This is because you are putting your body through more stress, meaning you can get much stronger, and aesthetically the incline bench is far more beneficial.

Where to Find Good Programs

When it comes to finding proper programs, it may be difficult to do so. There are a lot of programs out there that do not cater to everyone, do not use progressive overload properly, and just overall are not ideal. If you are a lifter or a beginner to the gym, check out Boostcamp, the lasting lifting app you'll ever need. With the Boostcamp App you can find tons of different workout routines that will truly push you to the limit, and they are made by renowned evidence-based coaches. Boostcamp also lets you create your own custom routines and log your progress, which is great for tracking your progress and making linear progression.


To maximize your gains and simplify your fitness journey, consider using Boostcamp, the last lifting app you'll ever need. Boostcamp helps you track your progress, offers customizable training programs, and provides expert guidance to ensure you get the most out of your chosen workout program whether it's linear
push pull legs or upper lower or whatever you choose. There are also plenty of different program styles to choose from such as push pull legs or upper lower splits. Start making the most of your workouts and download Boostcamp today!

Wrap Up

Overall, the incline and flat bench presses are great movements for building strength and size in the pectorals. Now, we do find the incline bench to be a bit more beneficial for lifters, but what do you think? 

Let us know! And be sure to follow Boostcamp on Instagram and subscribe on YouTube!

HEADER IMAGE COURTESY OF @GINGERCULES