A GUIDE TO THE DECLINE BENCH PRESS

November 03, 2021 7 min read

A GUIDE TO THE DECLINE BENCH PRESS

The Decline Bench press is a modification of a regular bench press whereby your bench is set to a decline allowing you to press whilst activating more of your lower chest muscles when compared to a flat bench press.  The angle of the bench typically ranges between 15 and 30 degrees. 

WHAT ARE THE BENEFITS OF THE DECLINE BENCH PRESS?

The main reason for incorporating decline bench pressing into your chest routine is that it will help you to effectively target your lower pectoralis major, also known as pecs.  This is one of your major chest muscles that is responsible for flexion and adduction of your humerus, the long bone in your arm that runs from your shoulder to your elbow.

Whilst many simply stick to regular flat bench pressing, the purpose of undertaking decline bench pressing is that will help for overall chest development.  Flat bench pressing will certainly hit the lower pecs, but decline pressing will ensure more emphasis is placed on the lower chest. 

When compared to flat bench pressing and incline bench pressing, pressing on a decline will actually help to reduce stress on your back, making this an ideal exercise if you have any back injuries but still wish to train your chest muscles effectively.

As well as limiting stress to your back muscles, it will also help to reduce the load on your shoulders.  Essentially, what the decline angle is doing is moving all that stress from both your shoulders and back and placing most of it on your lower chest. 

There is some anecdotal evidence of people being able to lift more weight when decline pressing as opposed to incline or flat pressing.  So, if you want to be able to push yourself that little bit harder during your bench press session, doing so on a decline could be a viable option.  

WHAT MUSCLES DOES THE DECLINE BENCH PRESS WORK?

As mentioned above, the primary muscle that you’re going to be working is the lower part of your pectoralis major.  The movement will also work the upper part of this muscle but not to the same degree. 

The exercise will also work the anterior deltoids, this is front part of your shoulders and also your triceps.  If you are doing this movement with a close grip it will have much more emphasis on the triceps, so factor this in if that’s one of the muscles you’d like to target.

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HOW TO USE A DECLINE BENCH PRESS

The ideal way to under this movement is to make use of a proper decline bench, this will ensure you press with the correct form.  This should offer rollers to lock in your feet with many benches being adjustable so you can set  up to suit your build and stature. 

Once you’ve set up correctly, follow the below steps to safely and effectively undertake a decline bench press.  It’s worth noting that due to the somewhat awkward nature of this movement, decline pressing is better suited to athletes who already undertake regular flat or incline pressing. 

  1. Position your feet under the rollers (these will add stability and prevent any unwanted movement during the exercise) and then slowly lower yourself into position, lying back on the pad. Take care not to hit the bar, which will be behind you. 
  2. Once you are lying back, ensure that the bar is directly above your eye line. This is important as due to the angle that you are positioned you don’t want gravity to pull the loaded barbell behind you. 
  3. Keep your shoulder blades back and raise your arms to grab the bar. Hold on to the bar at shoulder width apart, going in with a wide grip can cause unnecessary stress increasing the potential for injury.  A wide grip will also decrease your range of motion. 
  4. Once you’ve un-racked the bar, lock out your arms keeping the barbell over your chest.
  5. Keeping your shoulders back, slowly lower the barbell to your chest, hold for a couple of seconds then press back up to the starting position. Most decline bench press don’t offer safety bars so unless you’re 100% confident that you won’t suffer the fate of a failed lift, it’s definitely worth having a spotter with you. 

Other things to consider when you undertake a decline bench press:

When you are at the bottom part of the movement, hold the weight for a couple of second to increase time under tension.  This will help stimulate muscle growth and strength. 

Think about your breathing technique with bench pressing.  Breath in as you lower the barbell, this is known as an eccentric movement and breath out as you press back up, this is referred to as a concentric movement.  Breathing like this will ensure your body receives enough oxygen and will help to improve your stability.  Be sure not to hold your breath as this could result in a rise in blood pressure.

IS A DECLINE BENCH PRESS EASIER TO DO THAN A FLAT BENCH PRESS?

Even though you may be able to press more weight when compared to a flat bench that doesn’t necessarily mean it’s going to be easier.  You’ll definitely notice less pressure on your back and shoulders, making this movement more comfortable for pressing, but a downside is that the angle can feel unwieldy so it’s not ideal for beginners who have just started bench pressing. 

DECLINE BENCH PRESS VS FLAT BENCH PRESS

The fundamental difference between a decline bench press and a flat bench press is, of course, the angle that you are at whilst pressing. 

The flat bench is going to target both the upper and lower heads of the pectoralis major with the decline putting much more emphasis on to the lower part of this muscle. 

There is more activation of your shoulders with incline pressing so proper form is vital to prevent any injuries. 

DECLINE BENCH PRESS VS INCLINE BENCH PRESS

When pressing on an incline you’re going to be doing so at an angle of between 15 to 50 degrees.  The more of an incline you are on the more of your front deltoids you are going to target so consider this when setting up for an incline bench press. 

Incline pressing does put significantly more stress on your shoulders and rotator cuffs so factor in any upper body injuries before undertaking this movement. 

It may seem obvious but pressing on an incline is going to target the opposite of that whilst decline pressing.  So, the upper part of the pectoralis major.  The angle of incline pressing means you’re also going to be activating your delts and your stabilisation muscles.

When it comes to decline, incline and flat bench pressing we wouldn’t recommend one exercise over another but rather a combination of all three.  This will ensure a balance of both muscle size and strength. 

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WHAT ARE THE ALTERNATIVEs TO A DECLINE BENCH PRESS?

If you don’t have access to a decline bench or don’t feel confident enough to undertake decline pressing with a barbell but you still want to be able to workout the same muscle groups, then consider some of the below examples as alternatives to the decline bench press. 

Decline Dumbbell Press

You’ll still need access to a decline bench for this one but it’s the closest variation to decline pressing with a barbell.  This one is generally a little easier in respect of set up and execution.  Essentially, instead of using the bar just use a pair of dumbbells.  You’ll find you have a better range of motion by using dumbbells which allows for better muscle activation.

Dumbbell Pullover

Whilst this movement doesn’t completely isolate the lower pecs in the same way as a decline press, it will offer an effective lower chest workout whilst also activating your serratus anterior muscles, these are the muscles located either side of your ribcage. 

To do the movement, lay with your back flat on an adjustable or flat weights and hold a single dumbbell in the base of both palms.  Raise the dumbbell so your arms are straight up in front of you and keeping your arms very slight bent, lower the dumbbell behind you until your arms are parallel to the floor.  Hold for a second or two and then return back to the starting position and repeat. 

This movement can put a bit of stress on the shoulders so make to do this one slowly and don’t go too heavy. 

High Cable Fly

You’ll need access to either a dual adjustable pulley or cable cross over machine for this exercise.   To undertake this movement, select the desired on each stack and make sure the cables are located above you, ideally at the highest setting.  By keeping them placed high like this, you’ll be targeting more of your lower chest muscles.  Get hold of the stirrup handles on either side and keeping a slight bend at your elbows, slowly bring your hands together until they touch.  At the bottom part of the movement, squeeze the chest muscles and return back to the starting position. 

A tip with this movement, as you bring the handles together rotate your hands so that at the bottom part of the movement your little fingers are touching one another.  This will offer greater activation of your lower chest muscles

Forward Lean Dips

You can perform this movement using dipping bars on a power rack or a dipping station.   Whilst this movement would generally target your triceps, by leaning forward you’re going to be activating much more of your lower chest muscles making this an ideal alternative to using a decline bench. 

To do this exercise, grab a bar in each hand and take your feet off the ground keeping your whole body weight in your hands.  Lean forward slightly and then slowly bend your arms until they reach a 90 degree angle.  If you are a beginner at this, reaching this point may be more tricky so do what feels comfortable to prevent injury.  From there, push back to the starting position and repeat as required. 

Incline Reverse Grip Push Ups

This a great alternative that you can do pretty much anywhere.  All you need is access to is a raised surface, something like a flat weights bench or even a chair would work. 

Whilst this movement is a variation on an incline chest press it also replicates the decline bench press.  To do this, place your hands on your chosen raised surface with your fingers pointing towards your toes.  Assume a push up position and keeping your elbows tucked in, lower yourself until your chest touches the raised surface, then return to the starting position. 

IS DECLINE BENCH PRESSING WORTH IT?

If you happen to be a powerlifter then undertaking decline bench pressing won’t be offering you too much in the way of benefits and has little carry over to help improve your flat bench numbers. 

However, if you want to be able to obtain a well balanced physique with equal muscle strength and symmetry then incorporating decline bench pressing, or any of the alternatives mentioned above, will certainly help you to achieve these goals. 


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