If you’ve ever thrown a few free weights around at the gym, you’ve probably at least seen the tried and true bench press and its friends, the incline and decline press. The three machines are very closely related – so, what’s the difference?
When you perform a bench press, you are activating a full range of muscles. Obviously, your chest muscles are being engaged primarily. And the common belief is that the incline bench press focus on your upper pecs, the decline focuses on lower pecs and that the flat bench does a bit of each. As it turns out, this isn’t really true.
15 years ago, a study using a fancy electromyograph (EMG) set out to determine just which muscles the various bench presses actually engaged – and to what degree.
When it comes to lower pecs, the study determined that the flat bench is better than either the incline or decline bench.
When it comes to upper pecs, the study found that the incline bench is just slightly more effective than the flat or decline bench. The study also tested grips, and found that a narrower grip (just beyond shoulder width) combined with an incline bench press is the best for those upper pecs.
As I mentioned, the bench press does more than just train your chest muscles – it also works your triceps, deltoids and lat muscles. The best tricep combination was a flat bench and narrow grip. The best deltoid combination was an incline bench with a wide grip. And the best lat combination was a wide grip on the decline bench – though the degree to which the lats are engaged is fairly minimal. The bench press, after all, is a chest exercise. There are plenty of other, more powerful ways to engaged these other muscle groups.
So, as it turns out, there really aren’t any huge pectoral advantages to the incline or decline machines. The bottom line: The flat bench press is the ideal chest-training machine for most gym goers.