Is Incline Bench Harder?

The incline bench is one of the three pillars of bench presses. Moreover, it is a standard weightlifting workout in which many proud pectoral muscles have been crafted. 

Along with flat and decline bench presses, an incline bench press promotes chest growth in many ways. However, is the incline bench harder than the other traditional bench press variations? If so, why and why does it matter?

All these are what we’re going to focus on in this post. By the end of this article, you’ll know whether an incline bench is more challenging. Also, we’ll offer some tips to leverage your benching options to achieve a bigger and stronger chest. 

Let’s get started!

Is Incline Bench Harder Than Flat Bench Press?

Yes. An incline bench is harder than a flat bench press for many reasons: 

1. It Forces You to Recruit Enough Power to Lift off the Weight

An incline bench press is more complex than a regular bench press because it forces you to recruit enough power to lift off the weight, especially if you’re normally weak off your chest.

When a bench is in an incline position (15 to 30 degrees), you activate your shoulders because it is equivalent to a shoulder press. Moreover, an incline bench press puts less stress on the rotator cuff because of the angle of the workout bench. 

Rotator cuff injuries and shoulder injuries are more common in a flat bench press than in an incline bench press.

2. It Activates Your Upper Pec Muscle More

The nature of the lift when doing an incline bench press is more complicated than a flat bench press because it requires more upper pec activation. The workout develops the upper pec muscles more, while the flat bench builds mass over the entire muscle group.

As the workout bench is inquired, the activation of the upper bears the burnt because of the activation of the lower and middle pec decreases. Therefore, your upper pecs will likewise be below the line of force.

Compare that to a flat bench press, wherein the line of force goes through the center of chest muscles.

3. The Front Delts Are Activated to a Greater Extent

The incline bench press produces high muscle activity in the anterior deltoid (front delts). Inclines target both the middle and the anterior the most.

Since your front delts are active in the bench pressing activity, it makes the incline bench more challenging.

4. It Targets Smaller Muscle Groups

An incline press is harder than other presses as it targets smaller muscle groups, like the anterior deltoids (front shoulder muscles). 

And because incline presses cause your shoulder muscles to work harder, the smaller shoulder muscles tire quickly. Given these points, the incline bench press exercise is way more complicated. 

5. It Has a Longer Range of Motion

Incline bench press requires more shoulder flexion, making the range of motion longer than a flat bench. Since your body is angled slightly downward, you’ll lose a few inches of thickness in the upper chest region. As a result, this angle gives you longer ROM.

A longer range of motion refers to moving the barbell further, making an incline bench more complex than a flat bench. Moving the weight and extra distance needs more work on your part. On the other hand, a shorter range of motion allows you to lift more weight.

6. It Has an Increased Time Under Tension

Another difference between the incline bench press compared to the traditional flat and decline bench press is that it has an increased time under tension. The longer the muscles move or hold up a weight, the more difficult it feels.

Take, for instance, pausing on your chest for two to three seconds before pressing the weight.

7. There Is a Lack of Triceps Involvement

The incline bench is harder than other bench press variations because triceps involvement is lacking. A 2017 study demonstrated that an incline bench press had a 58.5 to 62.6% lower triceps activation than a decline and flat bench. 

And as you know, triceps muscles are the prime mover in a bench press. This explains why an incline bench is harder; it activates less triceps muscles.

Incline Bench Press Is Hard: What It Means For You

The incline bench is harder, but it doesn’t mean it’s not worth doing. Sometimes, more challenging workouts are better because they provide more benefits, like building more muscles and burning more fat.

To some people, an incline bench is even better than a flat or decline, especially if they have shoulder issues. Many lifters find an incline bench easier on their shoulders and incorporate the dumbbell bench press if they want greater shoulder joint mobility.

In addition, the incline bench press has benefits of its own. But if you want total upper body development, include another bench press variation in your routine. You just have to be careful in the structure of your workout, such as the order in which you perform the exercise.

Additionally, you can even switch up your chest routines, such as doing three sets of eight (decline barbell bench), three sets of 12 (pec dec), three sets of 12 (incline dumbbell flyes), and three sets of eight (incline dumbbell bench).

Related: Best Weight Bench Under $200

Bottom line

While incline benching right is challenging and requires a precise yet complicated set-up, don’t interpret this article as me discouraging you to the bench. You just have to focus on doing it right – from your back, hand, and foot positions to your shoulder blades and bar path.

Whether you do more flat, incline, or decline presses, all of them are effective workouts for having strong chest muscles. In other terms, it’s a matter of preference, what you’re trying to achieve, and your personal goals. 

Interested to know more about strength training? Check out our other gym guides at ExpertFitness.org.

Nathan Lloyd, MSc
LICENSED PERSONAL TRAINER

I’m a personal trainer, based in Boulder, Colorado.
I service clients physically in the Boulder area, mainly in the ONE Boulder Fitness Gym, but am also available for online consulting and coaching.

If you’re interested in my personal coaching programs, please contact me via the contact page.