Flat vs. incline bench: Which builds more muscle?

Out of the two iconic brothers of the weightlifting world — the flat and incline bench press — which is better?

The chest (pectoralis major) is comprised of a clavicular and sternocostal head or as otherwise known, the upper and lower pecs.

When flat benching, both are stressed evenly, while the anterior deltoids and triceps are also activated.

Common sense will tell you that the incline bench places more focus on the upper chest and front deltoids — but the triceps are also worked.

So which will help you build more muscle?


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Image: Jason L. Austin

Flat Bench

Flat bench is arguably the most popular exercise in the gym and it’s easy to know why — it can pack on both mass and strength.

Because it is one of the elite upper body multi-joint movements, it activates the majority of muscle tissue from the pecs, shoulders and triceps

Its PROs: it builds muscle, strength and power.

But, the flat bench also puts your shoulders in a position that could cause injury.

If you let loose form or your ego try and tackle too much weight, it puts great pressure on your pec tendons and rotator cuffs.

So, keep your elbows tucked in and drive the bar up and down with a slight bend in your back.

It’s important to make sure you have a strong base with your feet firmly planted on the floor and a butt that stays on the bench.

This releases the pressure on your back.


Jonathan Neese bench press
Image: Lance Guyke

Incline Bench

This close relative is a more challenging exercise for some, but it can do a great job in packing mass to your upper chest.

While requiring less weight than the flat bench, it really does stretch the pecs due to the greater range of motion.

The exercise also puts your shoulders in a better position, but in doing so may sacrifice more all-round chest activation.

Form remains important for the incline bench — it should be almost identical to the flat bench.

Just ensure you utilise the full range of motion by bringing the bar all the way down to your chest.

More stretch equals more contraction, spelling more muscle mass and strength.


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Image: Military Health System

In truth, the two exercises are very similar in execution and lack significant differences in effect.

While common sense would tell you that flat stresses the middle and lower portions of the pecs and the incline works the upper, they still both stress the entire area to some degree.

The longer range in motion gives the chest a better stretch on the incline bench, helping to build more muscle.

Meanwhile the flat bench allows you to lift heavier and build your overall strength and power.

It’s important to know yourself — if you feel as though your upper chest needs some work, spend some more time on the incline.

If aiming for a fully proportioned upper body, ideally both should be in your program.

It’s important to not only have variety, but recognise what’s right for you.

The amount of incline, grip width variety, and barbell or dumbbell variations can make a difference in your training and results.


22nd MEU Marines dominate Bataan weight-lifting competition
Image: US Navy Photo

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