The Decline Beats the Incline Bench Press. Here's Why

Best Bench to Build Your Chest

The incline bench press doesn’t do what you think it does. Choose the decline press instead for more chest growth. Here’s the science.

Incline Bench Press vs. Decline: What’s Best for Growth?

It’s becoming increasingly rare to see decline benches in the gym. Sure, we get that. People sometimes assume the decline bench is non-essential or redundant. They believe that while the flat bench works the lower or sternal part of the pec muscles, the decline also works the same part, albeit at a different angle and to a lesser degree.

Besides, the decline bench is uncomfortable, what with all that blood flowing to the head. If decline benches do get used, it’s usually for some sort of bastardized sit-up where people use entirely too much of their lower-back erectors.

That’s too bad, because an all-but-forgotten study shows that the decline is, surprisingly, as good or maybe better than the incline bench for building the upper (clavicular) part of the pectoralis major, and is better overall for the sternal part of the chest than the incline.

Do They Do What You Think They Do?

The motivation of the researchers was simple: Do incline bench press and the decline bench press do what lifters think they do? The answer was a clear no.

To come to this conclusion, they recruited 15 seasoned lifters and wired them up while they did inclines and declines in the lab. The electrical activity reflected during exercise told the researchers everything they needed to know.

On the concentric, or lifting part of the movement, the incline bench press stimulated the upper part of the chest muscle a tiny bit more than the decline, but on the eccentric, or lowering part of the movement, the decline stimulated the upper part of the chest a tiny bit more than the incline.

In short, the effect on the upper pecs was pretty much a wash. However, when it came to activating the lower part of the chest muscle (the main body of the pec), the decline blew away the incline.

So, contrary to what most lifters assume, the angle of the bench press doesn’t much affect the upper pectoral muscles, but the angle definitely affects the lower pec muscles.

What to Do With This Info

Based on this study, the decline bench press is superior to the incline when it comes to working the whole pec.

Additionally, the decline is equal, or perhaps a tad superior (when you take into consideration the greater stimulation on the eccentric part of the movement) to building the upper part of the pec.

That doesn’t mean you should ditch the incline press. It only means that you should pull the decline bench out of the gym dustbin and not only put it back into your routine, but give it just as much respect as the incline.

You may also want to experiment with a very slight decline, especially if you have banged-up shoulders.



@Cyrrex was this written for you

1 Like

Especially that very last sentence about “banged-up shoulders”.


Would this “kind of” apply to dips as well ??


Seems a bit bold…or naive…posting an article like this based upon a single study which uses EMG, of all things, to draw its conclusions.

Sorry, but I’d need something more to make the switch myself. EMG data isn’t entirely worthless, but there can be substantial limitations in applicability and the conclusions which can be drawn from it.


Can you clarify.


…but with studies involving the flat bench also, it is likely superior to both in working the whole pec.

Most people programming a flat variation and an incline variation will pretty much have all bases covered. Decline is a great variation to throw in, that is obvious, but I feel there’s a reason why a lot of people tend to not bother with it. I love the option for very slight inclines and very slight declines also. It would be naive to ever write off an exercise though, if you’ve been doing incline bench for so long you might stand to see your best gains for years by switching to decline.

When you add things like dips into the mix as well, these kinds of things aren’t a case of “X is better than Y”, but a “how does this fit into the structure of the rest of my program”?


Love these types of articles that make us think about why we prefer (or avoid) certain exercises. I don’t think the real question is Incline vs decline its do I need to decline bench if I’m doing dips. I do my dips with a forward lean trying to hit my lower pecs and of course my triceps. If I’m doing those along with flat bench am I getting anything material out of decline bench…I don’t think so.

1 Like

My 66 year old shoulders totally agree

1 Like

I never liked the reduced ROM of the decline when using a straight bar.


When I first started I was told the only thing Decline bench works, is your ego. :joy:


If you ever get sick of dips, or the gym you’re in on holiday doesn’t have anywhere to do them, you’ve hit an apparent plateau, you feel you need to back off to let some minor repetitive stress injury calm down, maybe you’re in a rush and a group of friends are using the only dip belt in the gym, or maybe you just want some variation to add some spice week to week, enter the decline bench. All these variations are just tools we can use.

I like reading the EMG data but people seem to argue back and forth so much on stuff that’s probably not that relevant to them. 140lb dudes acting like regular lat raises are now obsolete because EMG studies say doing them one-arm with this attachment is better than doing them facing the other way with this other attachment. I understand it, I adore the science and keep wanting to read about it. People just be worrying more about the pawn that’s on another person’s board when they still have their Queen. Chess analogies on T-Nation. You love to see it.

1 Like

I like to just forget the “decline” in “decline bench” when logging my internet numbers


I mean, the decline could be superior to flat bench for pec development, but if we’re being honest…

They’re both trash for pectoral development.

Dumbbells or no deal.


“In Charles’s Glass” opinion, the decline bench press is the most complete chest exercise one can do. He states that if you have decline you don’t need flat or incline" Training Fundamentals With Charles Glass - Pt. 3 Chest - YouTube


Then go read up on NPC and IFBB Championship winner Charles Glass because he says the same thing…

1 Like

I guess I like looking down the road and minding the details.

Always keep in mind that any pawn is potentially six moves away from becoming a queen. I have won more than a few games promoting a pawn.

1 Like

Of course, but not a pawn on another person’s board. You’re not at that board, you’re dealing with your own moving pieces. Things can get so nuanced for your own anthropometry and form that for many of the things people read about, the already potential inaccuracy and unmeasured attributes (like ROM) becomes even more unmeasurable.

Listening to some EMG study say “This targets this region 1.7% more than this other movement” is nonsense amounts of meticulousness that the average lifter has no need to shout about unless they are reaching elite levels and trying to min-max or bring something out for a comp or something. I love all this data, and I do believe it has real-world use… but all it leads to for most is a distraction from the main pillars of success, and has them thinking other staples have now become obsolete.

You totally lost me when you clarified a board that I am not playing on. I just don’t see an analogy for any concern with a game that I am not engaged, while I am engaged in my own game. I suppose there is an analogy there that I just missed. Sorry.

1 Like

If you’re not willing to try some new methods, maybe you’re not cut out to be a champion