What is an incline bench press with a barbell?
The incline barbell bench press is among the most popular gym exercises and for good reason. The movement strengthens your chest, shoulders, and triceps when done correctly. Plus, thanks to the torso angle, the incline press emphasizes the clavicular (upper) portion of your chest, leading to more balanced development.
Doing the incline press with a barbell is beneficial because it allows you to overload your muscles with more weight, causing greater mechanical tension for growth (1). Aside from building muscle, the barbell incline press develops your pressing strength, improving sports performance and making everyday tasks more accessible.
We recommend including the barbell incline press as a first or second exercise in your workouts. In doing so, you can train with better technique and lift more weight, reaping the full benefits of the activity.
How to do the Barbell Incline Bench Press
- If you’re working with an adjustable bench and a rack, set the incline to around 45 degrees and position the bar at a height where you can easily reach it without having your arms entirely straight out.
- Position yourself on the bench and place your feet flat on the floor with your heels planted firmly.
- Extend your arms and grab the bar with a slightly outside shoulder-width grip.
- Take a breath, make sure that your back and butt are planted on the bench, and push through your triceps to unrack the bar.
- Hover the bar over your chest, bring your shoulders back, push your heels into the floor, and take a breath.
- Lower the bar toward mid-chest by bending your elbows as you keep your shoulders, upper back, wrists, and legs steady.
- Lower the bar until it touches your chest and press the bar back to the starting position until your elbows lockout. Exhale near the top.
- Take another breath and repeat.
- Once you finish, slowly bring the barbell back behind your head and secure it on the rack.
What muscles do an incline bench press with a barbell activate?
The primary muscles that work during an incline bench press are the pectorals (2). Our pecs cover the front side of the upper torso, producing arm adduction and assisting with arm extension. Incline pressing emphasizes the upper portion of the chest thanks to the torso position (2).
Incline pressing also activates our deltoids, which offer stability at the shoulder joint. Aside from that, our front deltoids assist with pressing the barbell (2).
Our triceps are the third major muscle group that works during an incline press (2). The triceps cover the posterior of our upper arms and produce elbow extension, which occurs as we push the barbell (3).
The entire midsection musculature (rectus abdominis, transverse abdominis, and obliques) also plays a role during incline pressing, providing torso stability.
Tips on Proper Form when doing a Barbell Incline Bench Press
The first incline press tip relates to a proper setup. You have to place the barbell at the appropriate height and angle to unrack it with relative ease. First, position the barbell over your head or slightly behind it. Second, have the bar high enough so your arms are almost straight when you grab it. In doing so, you can easily unrack the bar, using only your triceps strength.
Retracting your shoulders and keeping them in position is essential for the incline press. Bring your chest out and shoulder blades back once you unrack the barbell to prevent injuries and allow your pectorals to do more of the work.
You should also keep your elbows somewhat tucked in. Don’t tuck your elbows by your sides but don’t flare them, either. Instead, seek a middle position that will keep your shoulders safe and allow for maximum power output.
Keeping your feet on the floor and your quadriceps flexed is also beneficial. The goal is to dig your toes into the floor, pressing them forward as if to extend your knees. Doing so provides stability and allows you to use leg drive to produce more force and lift more weight.
Variations and Modifications of the Barbell Incline Bench Press
1. Close-Grip Incline Press
The close-grip incline press is an effective variation you can perform to emphasize your triceps. Having your hands close prevents your chest from contributing as much, forcing your triceps to do more of the work in pressing the barbell.
2. Dumbbell Incline Press
The dumbbell incline press is an effective variation that offers many of the same benefits you would get from a barbell. Plus, using dumbbells is beneficial because it allows you to use a slightly longer range of motion, and each side must work independently, reducing the risk of muscle imbalances.
3. Barbell Incline Pause Press
The barbell incline pause press is a helpful variation you can perform to build more strength off the bottom. By pausing the bar over your chest, you force your pecs to work extra hard to lift the barbell.
Mistakes to Avoid
One of the most common mistakes related to incline pressing is shortening the range of motion. Many trainees lower the barbell halfway down and stop pushing before reaching the top. Doing so prevents you from training your muscles through a full range of motion, robbing you of an effective growth stimulus. Instead, you should press the barbell until you straighten your elbows, then lower it until it taps your chest.
Another common mistake with the incline press is flaring your elbows. Aside from making the exercise more challenging, doing so places more stress on your shoulders, increasing the risk of an injury. Avoid the mistake by tucking your elbows several degrees.
The third mistake to avoid is having your back flat against the bench. Many trainees forget to retract their shoulder blades, which stresses the joints. Fix the error by bringing your shoulder blades back and into the bench before doing a single repetition. In doing so, you’ll be able to engage the correct muscles, prevent shoulder aches, and lift more weight.
Similar Exercises to the Barbell Incline Bench Press
Bench Press (Barbell)
The barbell bench press is one of the most popular and effective exercises for chest development. Like with the incline press, you can use more weight to overload your muscles and build strength. The primary difference between the two exercises is the torso angle. The flat press allows for a more balanced development of your chest, whereas pressing at an incline emphasizes the clavicular portion (4).
Chest dips are an effective bodyweight exercise you can do to strengthen your chest, shoulders, and triceps. Like incline pressing, you develop many of the same muscles through an identical range of motion. But unlike the incline press, chest dips allow you to emphasize the lower portion of your chest. Combining the two exercises is a smart way of ensuring balanced pectoral development.