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.
Should I Do Incline Bench Press Before Flat?
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.
1. What 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.
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 bench press first, as their aim is more geared towards hypertrophy.
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.
2. 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.
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.
3. Why Do Two 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:
- Flat Bench Press
- Weighted Bar Dips
- Incline Dumbbell Flyes
- Push Ups
- Incline Bench Press
- Machine Hammer Chest Press
- Standing Cable Chest Flyes
- One-Arm Medicine Ball Push Ups
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.
Flat vs Incline vs Decline Bench Press – Choosing Your Goals
4. 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.
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.
Blast Your Bench – The Bench Press Specialization Workout Program
Hi, I’m Partha, owner and founder of My Bodyweight Exercises. I am a Level 3 Personal Trainer and Certified Strength & Conditioning Specialist through the Register of Exercise Professionals, United Kingdom. I have been a regular gym-goer since 2000 and coaching clients since 2012. My aim is to help you achieve your body composition goals.