Build a bigger and stronger chest with the decline bench press
The decline bench press is the least popular of the main barbell bench press variations. But it needs to feature in your muscle-building gym plan if you’re serious about maximising the size, strength and definition of your chest, says New Body Plan creator and Men’s Fitness cover model Jon Lipsey
Pitch up to any gym on a Monday and there’s a high chance that the flat bench will be occupied. It’s equally likely that the decline bench press next to it will be free.
So why is that? Why do guys flock to the flat bench to do their barbell bench press but overlook the decline option? Is it because the flat bench is superior? Or is it because most guys aren’t sure about why and when they should use the decline bench?
The truth is that both the flat bench and the decline bench are great muscle-building tools to increase the size and strength of your chest (as well as you shoulders and triceps).
Your task is to use the right tool at the right time. Here’s the information you need to do just that and build the bigger, stronger and more defined chest you want.
What is a decline bench press?
The decline bench press is a bench press variation where the bench is set at an decline angle. The angle means that when you lie back on the bench your head is lower than your hips. Pressing from this body position works the main muscles differently than when lying on a flat bench.
What muscles does the decline bench press work?
Like the flat bench press the decline press is predominantly a chest move. Lying on a decline emphasises the lower part of the pecs, so it works this portion of the muscles more. But it still works the middle and upper part of the chest too. The move also targets the anterior deltoids (front shoulders) and the triceps.
What equipment do I need to do it?
Some gyms will have a dedicated decline bench, which is fixed at a decline. It will also have a rack for the barbell so you can get into position safely. Unlike in the flat or incline bench press, when in a decline your feet won’t be on the ground. Most decline benches have a pad in which you can secure your feet and ankles. You can also do the move on a Smith machine.
Can I still do it without specialist equipment?
If your gym doesn’t have one of these specialist benches you can still do the move. You just need to position a flat bench in a squat rack, then raise the bottom feet of the bench (on a box or some sturdy and wide weight plates) to create a decline.
What are the differences between the decline and flat bench press?
The big difference is the way the moves target your chest muscles. The decline press works the lower part of your chest, so it’s the smart option to add size and definition to your lower pecs. (Just as the incline bench press is a great exercise to build a bigger upper part of the chest.)
Doing the decline bench also offers a fresh challenge. And with a fresh challenge comes a new opportunity to stimulate muscle growth. You don’t want to do the flat bench all the time. The decline press is a useful tool to use periodically to avoid a chest-building plateau.
Does the decline bench feel different to other variations?
If you’ve never done the decline bench press then there are a couple of big things you’ll notice. The first is that your feet will be off the ground. This means you can’t use leg drive to help power the lift, you won’t have such a strong and stable base to create tension through your body. The second is that the arm angle will be unfamiliar. This may mean you have to back off with the load at first. But the more you do it, the more confident you’ll become. You may even get to a point where you can lift more on the decline press than you can in all other variations of the lift.
When should I do the decline bench?
The (sort of) joke answer would be “when the flat bench is busy”. The reason that’s sort of a joke is that it would be a perfectly good substitute. But if you are going to add it to your workout you should do it early in a session. It’s a big compound move so you want to be fresh so you can lift as heavy as possible with good form.
How to do the decline bench press
• Position yourself on the decline bench. If you’re using a specialist decline bench, secure your lower shins under the pad for stability.
• Take the bar out of the rack and hold it, with your arms straight, above your chest.
• Slowly lower the bar to your chest then press back up powerfully.
• Ensure that the line of the lift is vertical.
Decline bench variations
Decline dumbbell bench press
This is very similar to the barbell decline press. They key difference is that dumbbells will do more to develop the stabilising muscles of the shoulder. It’s also a safer option because you’re less likely to hurt yourself on a failed rep.
Decline cable bench press
This variation is also excellent at working your stabilising muscles. It’s a great option if you want to do a drop set because it’s quick and easy to change the load.
Decline Smith machine bench press
This is a useful variation if you want to use a barbell but you’re wary of going heavy and failing. The downside to a Smith machine is that it locks you into a fixed path. That’s not great for activating your stabilising muscles.
Wide-grip decline bench press
Just like a normal wide grip bench press, this adjustment will place more emphasis on the pecs and less on the triceps.
Narrow-grip decline bench press
Taking a narrow grip on the decline bench press will shift the emphasis towards your triceps.
Machine decline chest press
This machine mimics the angles of a decline bench. You sit in the machine but the back rest is angled back. It’s a really good option for pushing yourself safely towards the end of a session. It’s also great for beginners because it’s hard to get wrong.
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