Chest Day Dilemma: Incline or Flat Bench First? Do This For Epic Chest Gains!

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When it comes to building muscle and strength in your chest the bench press is typically the first place that we all look.

However, with many variations of the great barbell exercise you may be wondering whether it’s better to do incline or flat bench press first.

There are certain factors that you’ll need to take into consideration, so I’d like to reveal these and answer the bench pressing conundrum.

If you want to focus more on your upper chest and anterior deltoid development then you should do incline bench press before flat. However, if you simply want to strengthen your pressing muscles, it makes more sense to do flat bench before incline. Flat bench typically allows you to press more weight, whereas incline bench is the harder of the two exercises.

Which Muscular Development is More Important to You?

Realistically, which exercise you should do first comes down to personal preference, as well as if you wish to focus on one particular area of muscular development.

The flat bench press generally allows you to lift more weight.

So, if your aim is to simply increase your pressing strength and have more of an overall chest workout then it makes sense to do the flat bench press first.

"The flat bench press is the king of chest exercises, but the incline bench is the queen. You need both in your court to rule the kingdom of pecs." - Arnold Schwarzenegger

However, if you wish to focus more on your upper chest development, while strengthening your anterior deltoids, then the incline bench press is the way forward.

With that being said, whichever way round you prefer to do the exercises, you should be aware that you’ll be fairly fatigued by the time you hit the second exercise.

This is why it makes sense to initially decide which area of chest development you want to focus more on before choosing the exercise you’re going to start with.

It’s interesting to note that many bodybuilders choose to do incline first, as their bench press training is more geared towards hypertrophy (as is all their training).

But, most powerlifters specifically focus on just the flat bench press, as they want to get as strong as possible in their pressing muscles.

So, as I’ve mentioned, decide which form of muscular development is more important to you.

Why Not Alternate Between Incline & Flat?

If you’re simply looking to regularly perform both exercises then I would say that it makes sense to alternate between the two.

So, you’d perform the flat bench press first one week, and then do incline first the following week.

The body adapts fairly quickly to training stimulus, which is why we all typically train with progressive overload in mind.

Therefore, you’d look to add weight, sets, or reps to your workouts on a regular basis.

However, simply swapping exercises around within your workout could also count as progressive overload.

As I’ve mentioned, you will usually be stronger on the exercise you perform first.

So, by the time you get to the second exercise your pressing muscles will already be fairly fatigued.

"Mix things up! Alternate flat and incline days, or even superset them for a killer chest pump. Keep your muscles guessing and you'll keep growing." - Phil Heath

This obviously means that if you’re always doing both exercises in the exact same order then the exercise you perform first will always be your “stronger” lift.

For me, it makes much more sense to perform one exercise first one week and the other exercise first the following week.

This will also give you a good idea of progression with both exercises, regardless of when you choose to do them within your workout.

Why Perform Two Similar Pressing Movements in the Same Workout?

Something else to consider is whether you should be doing two main pressing movements in the same workout.

Once again, it does very much come down to your overall goals.

However, a varied chest workout where you hit a number of exercises could potentially produce the best results.

Yes, I agree that the pressing movements will hit the chest really well, but that’s not to say that there aren’t other exercises you could perform too.

So, as an example, you could have two separate regular chest workouts that could look something like this:

Workout A

  • Flat Bench Press
  • Weighted Bar Dips
  • Incline Dumbbell Flyes
  • Push Ups

Workout B

Once more, this completely separates the two exercises, but you still get to perform other exercises so that you can hit your chest from a variety of angles.

For me, by using a number of different exercises you’re likely to achieve better all-round chest development than simply performing the same two pressing movements all the time.

Vary Your Use of Equipment

In much the same way as you can use numerous exercises, you can also vary your use of equipment.

So, rather than sticking to both barbell flat and incline bench press, you can substitute either exercise with dumbbells.

When performing a press with dumbbells you take the movement through a greater range of motion, thus helping to develop even more muscle and strength.

You can also change the stimulus by performing both exercises on the Smith machine.

Then again, there’s the choice of hitting both exercises in the form of a weight-plate press.

Plus, I see nothing wrong with performing the floor press as an alternative to the flat bench press.

Basically, by using other equipment, varying rep ranges, exercises, sets, reps, weights, etc. you increase your chances of overall gains in your chest.

Admittedly, the incline and flat bench presses are typically your “go-to” chest exercises, but that doesn’t mean that you always have to do them every workout, or with a barbell for that matter.

In fact, if you’re always performing the same exercises with the same equipment it won’t be long before your gains plateau.

Plus, you could even get to a stage whereby you’re simply getting better at the exercises without producing any more muscle or strength.

Frequently Asked Questions

Can I Achieve Upper Pec Definition Without Incline Bench Press?

Absolutely! While the incline bench press is a popular and effective exercise for targeting the upper pecs, it’s not the only, or even necessarily the best, way to achieve upper chest definition. 

A Muscualr Man With Great Upper Chest Development Holding onto Cable Handles in the Gym

Here’s a breakdown of your options:

Focus on Exercises With Similar Movement Patterns

Dumbbell incline flyes: These isolate the upper pecs by mimicking the pushing motion of the incline bench press, but with a greater emphasis on internal rotation and adduction, which are key for upper pec activation.

Upper chest dips: Perform dips with your hands placed closer together on the bars, leaning forward slightly. This targets the upper pecs more than regular dips.

Decline push-ups: Place your feet on a bench or stable surface higher than your hands to target your upper chest.

Cable crossovers: Set the cables high and slightly inward to emphasize the upper pecs during the crossing motion.

Utilize Compound Exercises With Proper Form

Flat bench press: While primarily targeting the middle and lower pecs, the flat bench press still engages the upper fibers to some extent. Focus on squeezing your chest at the top of each rep and maintaining proper form to maximize upper pec activation.

Weighted dips: Regular dips are a fantastic compound exercise that hits all chest fibers, including the upper pecs. Adding weight further increases the challenge and potential for growth.

Implement Progressive Overload

Gradually increase the weight, reps, or sets you perform for these exercises over time. 

This challenges your muscles and encourages them to adapt and grow, leading to improved definition.

Incorporate different workout tempos and contraction variations (slow reps, pause reps, etc.) to keep your workouts stimulating and maximize muscle engagement.

Prioritize Compound Movements Early in Your Workout

When you’re fresh and have the most energy, tackle exercises like dips or weighted bench press that engage multiple muscle groups, including the upper pecs.

Save isolation exercises like flyes or cable crossovers for later in your workout when your upper pecs are already pre-fatigued for a more targeted burn.

Are Cable Chest Flyes as Effective as Incline Bench Press For Upper Pecs?

Whether cable chest flyes are as effective as incline bench press for upper pecs depends on several factors and individual preferences. 

Here’s a Comparison:

Muscle activation

Incline bench press: We’re aware that the incline bench press activates the upper pecs more than flat bench press. It also engages the shoulders and triceps to a significant degree.

Cable chest flyes: While not as potent as decline bench press for upper pec isolation, cable flyes offer a high degree of muscle activation and control. They minimize shoulder and triceps involvement, focusing the tension directly on the chest.

Jay Cutler: "Don't underestimate the cable fly. It's a magic potion for upper pec activation. Feel the squeeze at the peak and watch those upper fibers pop!"

Pros and Cons

Incline bench press



  • More technical execution, requiring proper form to avoid shoulder injuries.
  • Less isolation for the upper pecs compared to cable flyes.
  • May not be suitable for beginners or those with shoulder limitations.

Cable chest flyes


  • Excellent isolation exercise for targeting the upper pecs directly.
  • Adjustable cable tension allows for customized resistance throughout the movement.
  • Lower risk of shoulder injuries compared to incline bench press.


  • Less effective for building overall chest mass compared to compound exercises.
  • Limited potential for progressive overload with weights.
  • Requires proper stabilization to avoid engaging other muscle groups unnecessarily.

Ultimately, the “better” choice depends on your goals and preferences.

For building overall chest strength and mass, the incline bench press might be preferred.

If your primary goal is upper pec definition and isolation, cable flyes could be a better option.

Additional tips

Combine both exercises in your workout routine for a well-rounded chest workout.

Focus on proper form with both exercises to maximize muscle activation and minimize injury risk.

Experiment with different cable fly variations, like high to low or low to high cable flyes, to target different portions of the upper pecs.

Should I Use Different Bench Angles For Incline Bench Press?

Whether you should vary the incline for incline bench press depends on your specific goals and limitations.

However, it’s something I would definitely recommend.

Sure, there may well be a “best angle” for incline bench press, but variety is a great way to challenge the muscles.

Here’s a breakdown to help you decide.

Benefits of Using Different Angles

Target different pec muscle fibers: The upper pecs have multiple fiber bundles that respond best to different angles of stress. Changing the incline angle allows you to hit these fibers at slightly different angles, promoting more well-rounded upper chest development.

Prevent plateaus: Using the same angle every workout can lead to plateaus in muscle growth and strength gains. Introducing variations in incline angle keeps your muscles challenged and stimulates them to adapt and grow further.

Break up monotony: Doing the same incline angle every time can get boring. Mixing it up keeps your workouts interesting and enjoyable, increasing the likelihood you’ll stick to your routine in the long run.

"Remember, the bigger the angle, the more shoulder involvement. Respect your joints and listen to your body. But don't shy away from challenging steeper inclines when you're ready. They can forge incredible upper pec strength." - Dorian Yates

Considerations For Using Different Angles

Beginner vs. advanced: Beginners might benefit from sticking to a moderate incline angle (30-45 degrees) until they master proper form and technique. Advanced lifters can experiment with a wider range of angles (15-75 degrees) for more targeted muscle activation.

Shoulder health: If you have shoulder issues, be cautious with steeper incline angles (60 degrees and above) as they put more stress on the shoulder joint. Start with shallower angles and prioritize proper form to avoid injury.

Personal preference: Ultimately, the best angle for you is the one that feels most comfortable and allows you to maintain proper form throughout the exercise. Experiment with different angles and see what works best for your body and goals.

Here are some specific angle variations you can try

Shallow incline (15-30 degrees): This targets the middle and upper pecs with a focus on chest expansion and contraction.

Moderate incline (30-45 degrees): This is a good all-around angle that effectively hits the upper and middle pecs while minimizing shoulder stress.

Steep incline (60-75 degrees): This primarily targets the upper pecs with a strong emphasis on shoulder flexion. Use caution and proper form to avoid injury.

Final Thoughts

So, as you can see, there’s no one-size-fits-all when it comes to whether you should perform incline bench or flat bench first.

Realistically, this is down to the area of chest development you wish to focus on more, as well as personal preference.

So, if you want to develop your upper chest more then go with the incline bench press first.

However, if you want to lift as much weight as possible, while hitting your chest as a whole, then do the flat bench press first.

With that being said, if you regularly perform both exercises then it makes sense to alternate which exercise you do first from workout to workout.

Then again, it may make even more sense to only perform one of the exercises each training session and perhaps include other chest-related exercises in your workout.

The choice is completely yours.

I’ve spoken a number of times about shoulder involvement with the incline bench press.

Plus, I’ve also mentioned potentially avoiding two similar compound pressing movements in the same workout.

So, check out what I have to say about doing overhead press and bench press on the same day.

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