One popular variation of bench pressing -- and a personal favorite of mine, is the incline bench press. The incline bench press is beneficial because when done correctly it can result in many rewards. Compared to the flat bench press, the incline bench has a similar setup and the following rules still apply:
- Check to see that the bar is even in the rack and not lopsided or off-loaded by accident.
- Generally shoulder width to slightly wider than shoulder width grip.
- Gripping the bar close to the base of your palms with the thumbs wrapped around for safety.
- Always make sure your wrists are straight and not bent during all aspects of the lift.
- Keep shoulders back and shoulder blades pinched together for stability.
- Push your chest out for greater chest activation.
- Maintain proper shoulder and shoulder blade position to create the natural arch of the spine. DO NOT OVERARCH.
- Keep feel flat on the floor and shins pointing vertically so that they are perpendicular to the ceiling.
- Make sure that your glutes are engaged and you are driving through the floor but keep your butt on the bench.
- Keep elbows locked straight and begin with the bar over the eyes. Before the descent, have the bar directly over your shoulders.
- Inhale when the bar is descending towards your chest and exhale as the bar moves away from your chest.
- Maintain a vertical forearm position and prevent the elbows from flaring out during all times. Elbows should be less than 90 degrees away from the side of your body.
Now . . . you are probably asking about how the bar path should be for the incline bench press because I have not included tht in the list. This is the main difference between incline and flat benching and I want to harp a little on this.
Since this exercise focuses more on the upper chest, this is exactly where I want you to lower the bar to. To do this safely, you lower the bar from directly over your shoulders to your upper chest. If you want a good mark of where to lower to, aim to touch right below your clavicle, your collarbone. Commonly, you will see people lowering the bar way too low, which puts extreme strain on your shoulders. Remember to make sure that the bar comes down to right below your clavicles and then press it back up to the starting position.
Here is more on Incline Bench Pressing, both with bar and dumbbells, from Stuart McRobert's book "The Insider's Tell-All Handbook on Weight-Training Technique."
Use the same grip as in the standard bench press. Do not use a thumbless grip -- wrap your thumbs around the bar securely. Do not lower the bar to as low a point on your chest as in the regular bench press. Due to the inclination of the bench, a low position of the bar on your chest would lead to excessive and unsafe extension of your shoulders, and reduced control and power coming off the bottom. Nor should you lower the bar to your neck or near your clavicles -- that positioning is very dangerous for your shoulders. But the lower the incline, the lower the bar can safely go on your chest.
[Note: by playing around with, feeling out the degree of incline, you will be able to find the incline benching angle that lends itself best to the current state of your shoulders. A lot of stinking gyms only have an incline bench with a permanent single angle. If that's the case, you might want to fiddle around a bit, lowering the angle of the bench by putting some damn thing under the not-head end of it, or you may wind up using a flat bench with some other damn thing placed under the head end of it. Use your head. Not there. Use some other damn thing there. Also, if your shoulders are already problematic, a.k.a. a tad effed, you can play around with and experiment with range of motion, cutting out some of the lower end by using board(s). The goal is to be able to incline bench press in some way that doesn't further irritate an already existing condition.
Goldilocks and the Three Presses.
You need vertical forearms when viewed from the side.
Bar too high on the chest (top photo)
Too low (middle)
Rather than wonder where to place the bar on your chest at the bottom of the incline press, look at it in terms of your forearms and upper arms. Your forearms should be vertical at the bottom -- vertical when viewed both from the side and from the front. At that position your upper arms should be at about a 45-60 degreee angle to your rib cage. The precise angle will vary from individual to individual, largely due to arm length and torso girth variations. Get your forearms in the right position and you should automatically find the ideal placement of the bar on your chest.
Once you have practiced the technique with a bare bar, to discover where the bar should touch your chest, you can proceed on with this exercise.
Position yourself on the incline bench and plant your feet solidly on the floor, or on a foot brace if provided. Keep your feet fixed in position. Do not lift them. Take the bar out of the stand. Lock out, pause briefly, and then lower the bar under control. Touch your chest at the appropriate position, and pause briefly. Keep yourself tight during the pause, with your abs contracted. Then press up and slightly to the rear, with some horizontal movement. After locking out over your face, pause briefly, move the bar forward a little, and then lower it for the next rep. Use the same breathing pattern as in the flat bench press and, as in that exercise, never exaggerate the arch in your lower back.
Dumbbell Incline Bench Press
Once the bells are in pressing position, the technique is basically the same as in the barbell version, but harder to implement.
ATTENTION OLD FARTS AND SHOULDER-BROKEN OTHERS: A BIG ADVANTAGE of dumbbells is that you can use whatever wrist positioning is most comfortable, rather than have your wrists fixed by a barbell. But there are handling difficulties getting the bells into position.
For a few bucks, problem solved.
During the pressing, pay special attention to keeping the DBs from drifting out to the sides, go no deeper than in the barbell version, and keep them moving in tandem. Go easy for the first few workouts to get the feel for the exercise, and to find the wrist positioning that best suits you. This may be a parallel or near-to-parallel grip at the bottom of the movement, and a pronated or near-to-pronted grip at the top.
To help prevent back injuries when you incline press, you need to minimize it not almost eliminate the arch in your lower back. Here are three strategies for minimizing arching, each of which must be enhanced by keeping your abdominal muscles tightly contracted during each rep.
First, with your feet flat on the floor, keep your heels IN FRONT of an imaginary vertical line dropped from your knees. Wear shoes with non-slip soles and argyle socks, to avoid your feet slipping. Trainees usually have their heels behind an imaginary line dropped from their knees and thus they exaggerate the arching of their backs. But if the seat of the bench is too high or if you have [short, stumpy, hard to look at and really quite laughable] short legs, this first strategy will not work well enough.
For the second strategy there must be a foot rest attached to an extension from the end of the bench. If so, keep your feet on that rest when you incline press, as this will reduce the arch in your lower back so long as the desing of the bench does not place your hips too high.
For the third strategy, place a non-slip block or platform under each foot, with your heels slightly in front of an imaginary line dropped from your knees. The blocks or platforms need to be high enough so that the arch in your lower back is reduced. Start with blocks or platforms about four inches high. If they don't reduce your arch, try something a little higher. A wide single platform would also do the job. The wider your feet are, the greater your flexibility.
Enjoy Your Lifting!
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