What is the Best Angle For Incline Bench Press? (30 vs 45 Explained)

Last updated on November 15th, 2022 at 11:05 am

If you’re looking to build your pecs, I’m sure you’re aware that you’ll need to hit your chest from a variety of angles.

So, you’ll typically perform numerous exercises including flat bench press, incline bench, and maybe even decline bench too.

However, something that you may not be sure about is the best angle for incline bench press.

So, allow me to explain the optimum angle to really pump up those upper pecs.

What Angle For Incline Bench?

A study conducted in 2015 by the European Journal of Sports Science found that a 30 degree incline bench press angle produced the most muscle activation throughout the pectoralis major muscle. The higher the angle of the bench, the more the shoulders were involved.

The Science-Backed Best Incline Press Bench Angle

I’m sure you’ll agree that training the upper chest is extremely important for overall aesthetics

In fact, having more of a focus on your upper chest will make your pecs look fuller, and can completely transform the appearance of your upper body.

It’s true that the flat bench press will hit the entire pectoralis major muscle.

But, you’ll obviously work the upper and lower chest slightly better with incline and decline bench press respectively.

With that being said, there have been various studies performed on the best angle for incline bench press.

Realistically, most of us tend to hut incline bench with either a 30 or 45 degree angle.

Most fixed incline benches in a gym environment will typically be set at a 45 degree angle.

But, is this really the best option?

The European Journal of Sports Science conducted a study in 2015 to determine the best incline bench press angle.

The study took 14 healthy men who regularly trained with weights.

The participants initially performed a one rep max bench press followed by a second training session that involved performing 6 reps at a variety of angles.

So, the second training session had each man perform the bench press at 0, 30, 45, and a minus 15 degree angle.

The aim of the study was to compare muscular activation in the pectoralis major, anterior deltoid, and triceps brachii.

This involved using surface electromyography (sEMG) to measure muscular activation of these various muscles.

The study concluded that incline bench pressing at an angle of 30 degrees produced the most muscle activation throughout the pectoralis major muscle.

So, in effect, if you really want to hit your upper chest to the greatest extent then incline bench at 30 degrees.

Use Bench Press Variations to Protect Your Shoulders

Something that most of us are aware of is that the higher the angle of the bench, the more shoulder involvement there will be during the movement.

So, depending on your actual training goals, it’s not unheard-of to use a 45 or even 60 degree angle for the incline bench press.

With that being said, if you experience pain in your shoulders, or would simply like to focus more on the upper chest muscles, then using an even lower angle would work well.

Personally, I prefer to do the incline bench press with an angle closer to 20 degrees.

For me, this allows me to really feel my chest throughout the movement, with far less stress placed on the shoulders.

Additionally, the lower the angle of the bench, typically the more weight I’m able to press.

However, there are pressing variations that allow you to protect the shoulders even more, or simply to take the movement through a greater range of motion.

An extremely popular variation is the reverse grip bench press.

As the name suggests, this simply involves having your palms facing towards you rather than away from you.

You’ll find that the reverse grip bench press, even when performed on a flat bench, hits the upper chest much more.

Furthermore, it also activates the triceps to a far greater extent.

I would suggest initially trying the reverse grip bench press with a lighter weight, as well as having a spotter available.

Basically, you may find that it’s harder to remove the barbell from the rack with your palms facing towards you.

Plus, if it’s a new exercise to you it makes more sense to have the safety element of a spotter to help if required.

Other great variations that tend to hit the upper chest muscles better are the guillotine bench press and landmine presses.

The guillotine press involves you bringing the barbell down towards your throat.

Whereas the landmine press is typically associated with the front delts, but it also hits the upper chest really well.

From a personal perspective, I much prefer to do the incline press with dumbbells than a barbell, as it allows me to move through a greater range of motion.

The Benefits of the Reverse Grip Bench Press

Use a Variety of Incline Bench Press Angles

Okay, science tells us that a 30 degree angle is best for incline bench press.

However, I’ve always been a great believer in variety, and therefore hitting the muscles from a variety of angles.

So, for me, I would never stick to simply incline bench pressing at just once angle.

Admittedly, if you do suffer with shoulder problems or difficulties then keeping the angle quite low will work best.

However, I will typically take my incline bench press through many angles over the period of a month.

This may involve hitting incline bench 4-6 times during this time.

And I’ll typically perform the movement at a 15, 30, and a 45 degree angle.

Plus, I’ll also alternate between using a barbell, smith machine, and dumbbells.

Personally, I would never go above a 45 degree angle, as I find that it places a lot more pressure on my shoulders.

And in all honesty, this is something that I usually find quite uncomfortable.

But, as the saying goes, “Variety is the Spice of Life”, and I definitely agree when it comes to performing the incline bench press.

Final Thoughts

The European Journal of Sports Science has determined that 30 degrees is the best angle for incline bench press.

The 30 degree angle provides the greatest muscle activation throughout the pectoralis major.

However, there is nothing wrong with performing the movement at a 45 degree angle, or even higher (or even at a lower angle than 30 degrees).

But, just be wary that the higher the angle, the more the shoulders will be activated.

If you do suffer with shoulder problems, then keep the angle much lower, or even use an alternative exercise such as the reverse grip bench press.

With that being said, for the best results you should use a variety of bench angles, and even equipment.

I’ve mentioned shoulder issues that can potentially come with incline bench press.

However, here’s something you’ll find interesting, I’ve recently discussed the fact that some people never actually get sore shoulders after a workout (even when specifically training shoulders).

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