In a decline bench press, the bench is set to 15 to 30 degrees on a decline. This angle places your upper body on a downward slope, which activates the lower pectoral muscles as you push weights away from your body.
When part of a complete chest routine, decline bench presses can help your pecs look more defined.
In this article, we’ll cover the benefits and drawbacks of the decline bench press as well as tips for doing this exercise safely.
The pectoralis major muscle is located in your upper chest. It consists of the clavicular head (upper pec) and sternal head (lower pec).
The purpose of the decline bench press is to work the lower pecs.
In addition to lower pecs, this exercise also uses the:
- triceps brachii in the back side of your upper arm
- biceps brachii on the front side of your upper arm
- anterior deltoid in the front of your shoulder
During the upward phase of a decline bench press, the lower pecs work to extend the arm. It’s assisted by the triceps and anterior deltoid.
In the downward phase when bringing the weights back toward you, the lower pecs and anterior deltoid work to flex the arm. The biceps brachii helps this movement to a lesser extent.
Compared to other types of bench presses, the decline version is less stressful on the back and shoulders. That’s because the decline angle shifts the stress to your lower pecs, which forces them to work harder.
Work with a spotter
It’s best to do this exercise with a spotter.
A spotter can help you safely move the weight up and down. Plus, if you feel pain or discomfort, they can lend a hand.
Check how far apart your hands are
Be mindful of your grip. A wide grip can strain the shoulder and pecs, increasing the risk of injury.
If you’d like to do a wide-grip bench press, avoid lowering the weight all the way to your chest. Instead, stop 3 to 4 inches above your chest to help keep your shoulders stable.
A narrow grip is less stressful on the shoulders. However, it may be uncomfortable if you have shoulder, wrist, or elbow problems.
A personal trainer can recommend the best grip width for your body.
During a decline bench press, your torso and head are placed at a downward slope from the rest of your body and the weight you’re holding. This angle may feel awkward for some people.
Gravity also pulls the weight downward. This can make the move more challenging.
If you’re new to bench presses, you may want to try with incline or flat bench presses first.
Before starting this exercise, set the bench to 15 to 30 degrees on a decline, then:
- Secure your feet at the end of the bench. Lie down with your eyes under the barbell.
- Grip the bar with your palms facing forward, arms slightly wider than shoulder-width apart.
- Straighten your arms to lift the barbell from the rack. Move it over your shoulders, locking your elbows.
- Inhale and slowly lower the barbell until it touches your mid-chest, keeping your elbows 45 degrees from your body. Pause.
- Exhale and lift the barbell to starting position, locking your elbows. Pause.
- Complete 12 repetitions. Return the barbell to the rack.
- Repeat 3 to 5 sets total.
Due to the angle, it’s best to start with lighter weights. You can increase the weight as you get used to the downward slope.
The decline bench press can be done with a barbell or dumbbells.
Each weight engages your muscles in different ways, so it’s important to know the difference.
A barbell lets you lift more weight. This is because your muscles don’t need to stabilize to keep the weight even.
Compared to dumbbell bench presses, barbell bench presses produce greater activity in the triceps.
On the other hand, individual dumbbells let you rotate your wrists. This increases activation in different muscles, which allows for more variety.
For example, leading with your thumbs during the upward phase increases pec activity. If you lead with your pinkies, your triceps will also engage.
In comparison to barbell bench presses, the dumbbell version produces more activity in the pecs and biceps.
The best option depends on your comfort level and goals.
The decline and incline bench press both target the chest, shoulders, and arms.
However, in an incline bench press, the bench is set to 15 to 30 degrees on an incline. Your upper body is on an upward slope.
This targets your upper pecs instead. It also works the anterior deltoids more than the decline version.
Flat bench press
Another bench press alternative is the flat bench press. It’s done on a bench that’s parallel with the floor. Since your upper body is horizontal, your upper and lower pecs are equally activated.
The following table shows what muscles are worked most during the different bench press angles:
|Incline bench press
|Flat bench press
|Decline bench press
The decline bench press targets your lower pectoral muscles. It’s performed on a bench that’s set to 15 to 30 degrees on a decline.
For a complete chest workout, do this exercise with incline and flat bench presses. Doing all three types will help chisel out your pecs.
To reduce your risk for injury, rest your chest and shoulders the day after you do bench presses. Work a different muscle group instead.
If you’re new to strength training or you’re recovering from an injury, talk to a personal trainer. They can help you perform decline bench presses safely.