Build Strength and Size With Incline Bench Variations

STACK Expert Joe Giandonato explains how to perform variations of the Incline Bench Press to help you build upper-body strength and size.

If you want to build upper-body strength, it's not always the best idea to run to the row of flat benches as soon as you enter the gym. If you truly want a strong upper body, you also need to bench on an incline.

The incline bench activates the upper part of your pecs and the front of your shoulders. [1,2] These muscles do play a role on the flat bench, but they are more emphasized on the incline.

You can perform the same set and rep schemes that you normally use on the flat bench for the incline bench, but I suggest adding some variety to your training.

To build serious strength and size, try one of the follow Incline Bench Press variations during each of your upper-body workouts.

Dumbbell Incline Press

Dwight Freeney DB Incline Press

The Dumbbell Incline Press allows you to work your shoulders through a natural range of motion. It also works each side of your body individually to help eliminate imbalances.

If you're coming off your season, start slow and work your way up to higher weights. Don't put too much stress on your body when you are already broken down and fatigued.

  • Week 1: 3 sets of 15 reps
  • Week 2: 4 sets of 12 reps
  • Week 3: 5 sets of 10 reps

Once you're ready to start lifting heavy, begin to lower the reps and simultaneously increase the weight.

Alternating Dumbbell Incline

If you lack shoulder and/or core stability, Perform Incline Presses in an alternating fashion. Choose one of the following methods:

Continuous Lockout

  • Set up in the same position as the Dumbbell Incline Press.
  • Press the dumbbell in your right hand and hold it in the locked-out position.
  • Press the dumbbell in left your hand and hold it in the locked-out position.
  • Lower your right hand, then your left hand.
  • Repeat for specified reps.

One Up, One Down

  • Set up in the same position as the Dumbbell Incline Press.
  • Perform a complete press with your right arm, then with your left arm.
  • Continue in alternating fashion.

1.5 Press

  • Set up in the same position as the Dumbbell Incline Press.
  • Perform a complete press with your right arm, then your left arm.
  • Perform a press with both arms.
  • Repeat this pattern for specified reps.

Mechanical Drop Set

You are probably familiar with traditional drop sets, in which you progressively decrease the weight when performing consecutive sets. Mechanical drop sets take a similar approach, but they change the angle of the exercise. They are extremely challenging, so only do them at the end of a workout—and sparingly over the course of your training.

  • Perform a set of Dumbbell Presses at a 45-degree incline until failure.
  • Repeat at a 20-degree incline.
  • Finish with a set of presses on a flat bench.
Read more:

[1] Barnett C, Kippers V, Turner P. "Effects of variations of the bench press exercise on the EMG activity of five shoulder muscles." J Strength Cond Res. 1995.

[2] Welsch EA, Bird M, Mayhew JL. "Electromyographic activity of the pectoralis major and anterior deltoid muscles during three upper-body lifts." J Strength Cond Res. 2005.

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