Bench Press Decline
- Lie face-up on a decline bench (angled -15 degrees) with feet secured at the end.
- Ensure that the back of your head, shoulder blades/upper back, and glute region/lower back are in contact with the bench throughout the entire exercise.
- Adjust yourself on the bench so that your eyes are below the edge of the supports of the barbell.
- Grasp the barbell with a closed, pronated grip. Grip should be slightly wider than shoulder width.
- (Signal the spotter for assistance with lifting the bar off the supports.)
- Extend elbows (without locking elbows), to lift the bar off of the rack and position the barbell above your chest.
Downward movement/eccentric phase:
- In a controlled fashion, allow the elbows to bend while lowering the bar towards your chest.
- Lower the barbell until the bar reaches your chest.
- Maintain the wrists rigid and directly above the elbows throughout the entire movement.
Upward movement/concentric phase:
- Extend elbows, pushing the bar upward, returning the bar to starting position (do not lock elbows).
- When your set is complete re-rack the bar or signal your spotter to assist with re-racking the bar.
- Maintain a tense grip on the bar until it is racked.
- If a spotter is present, they should assist with bar lift off. Once the lifter has control of the bar, the spotter should position their hands in an alternated grip position (close to the bar but not touching) as the bar descends and ascends. The spotter should slightly flex at the knees, hips and torso (keeping the back flat) while the bar is lowered and slightly extend as the bar goes upward.
FAQ'S & FACTS ABOUT Bench Press Decline
What Is A Barbell Decline Bench Press?
A decline bench press is a resistance exercise, which involves the primary horizontal shoulder adductor, the pectoralis major. It is a variation of the traditional bench press. This exercise can be performed with an Olympic bar or other barbell alternative. It is performed lying face up on a declined bench.
The concentric portion of the lift is horizontal shoulder adduction and elbow extension, which involves the lifting of the weight. The eccentric portion is horizontal shoulder abduction and elbow flexion, which involves the descent of the weight.
The purpose of the decline bench press is to strengthen the pectoralis major while promoting hypertrophy (increases in size) of this muscle.
Why Do A Barbell Decline Bench Press?
Decline bench presses increase the size and strength of the upper (clavicular) and lower (sternocostal) heads of the pectoralis major. The decline position allows the lifter to vary their bench press angle. Targeting muscle fibers of the pectoralis major from different angles optimizes muscle fiber activation in a well-strategized training program. Therefore, the decline bench press is a staple exercise to develop the chest. The triceps and anterior deltoid are also activated in this movement.
The decline bench press serves not only as an exercise to improve aesthetics of the pectoral muscle, but also as a valuable training tool for sports that entail pushing and throwing.
Anatomy Of A Barbell Decline Bench Press
The pectoralis major is a large, fan-shaped muscle that spans across the chest, forming the front portion of the axillary fold (arm pit). It is divided into two parts: clavicular and sternal. Its origin is located at the sternal end of the clavicle, the sternum, rib cartilage (ribs 1-6 [or 7]), and the aponeurosis of the external oblique. The fibers of the pectoralis major converge at the point of insertion located at the greater tubercle of the humerus. The pectoralis major aids in pushing movements as the shoulder adducts the arm against resistance. The shoulder adducts as the barbell is pressed upward.
The declined positioning of this exercise induces greater activation of the lower fibers of the sternocostal head of the pectoralis major.1 Therefore, decline bench presses are an effective exercise for developing the lower region of the chest.
The triceps brachii is located on the back of the upper arm, originating at the shoulder and inserting in the elbow joint. It consists of three heads, the long, medial and lateral head. The medial head lies beneath the long and lateral head. The long head origin is located at the infraglenoid tubercle of the scapula (shoulder blade). The original of the lateral head is located at the posterior shaft of the humerus. The medial head origin is located at the radial groove of the posterior humeral shaft.
The long and lateral heads make up the “horseshoe” portion of the triceps. All three heads merge, sharing insertion into the olecranon process of the ulna, located at the elbow joint.
The triceps brachii extend the elbow joint. The long head assists in arm adduction as with the bench press pushing motion.
The deltoid is a thick, multipennate muscle that forms a curtain around the shoulder. It is the primary muscle involved with arm abduction and the anterior fibers are a primary shoulder flexor. The anterior deltoid is a primary synergist of the pectoralis. When developed, the deltoids give the shoulder their round shape. The origin of the deltoid is located at the insertion of the trapezius, lateral third of the clavicle and the acromion spine of the scapula. Its insertion is located at the deltoid tuberosity of the humerus.
The anconeus is a short, triangular muscle located at the elbow joint. Its origin is located at the lateral epicondyle of the humerus, inserting at the lateral aspect of the olecranon process of the ulna.
Like the anterior fibers of the deltoid, the coracobrachialis is a synergist pectoralis major with horizontal shoulder adduction. It is a small muscle originating at the coracoid process of the scapula and inserting half way down the shaft of the humerus.
The wrist flexors and extensors stabilize the wrists, the abdominals stabilize the torso and the rotator cuff muscles stabilize the shoulder girdle.
1. Lauver JD, Cayot TE, Scheuermann BW. (2015). Influence of bench angle on upper extremity muscular activation during bench press exercise. Eur J Sport Sci. 23:1-8. [Epub ahead of print]
Variations Of A Barbell Decline Bench Press
Dumbbell decline press, decline Smith machine bench press, [flat] bench press, incline bench press.
How To Improve Your Barbell Decline Bench Press
To minimize negative stress on your shoulder joint, it is best to not flare your elbows to the sides when lowering the bar. Maintain your elbows closer to your sides while lowering the bar to prevent shoulder injury. This technique also activates the pectoralis major fibers to a greater extent. Keeping your elbows tucked in your sides will have the bar descending lower in the upper chest area as opposed to the higher level it reaches when elbows are flared out to the sides. Another way to measure this is by having your upper arms at an approximate 45-degree angle from your torso as opposed to keeping arms perpendicular to torso when elbows are flared out to the sides.
Utilizing a spotter can ensure the safety of bench press execution. They can also monitor your technique.
Focus on the concentric portion of the contraction, concentrating on “squeezing” as arms are fully extending as you push the barbell upward.
Emphasis on eccentric contractions, prolonging the eccentric portion of the contraction, may also be incorporated in a training program focused on increasing strength. This should be implemented accordingly and with adequate muscle recovery as eccentric contractions cause substantial damage to muscle tissue.
In order to improve pushing performance through “sticking points”, partial repetition ranges may be implemented to improve full range of motion of the decline bench press. Strategically varying your grip width (narrow, standard and wide grip) and hand positioning (supinated grip, pronated grip) can improve overall bench press performance.
Varying your bench press angles (e.g. flat bench, decline bench) can optimize fiber activation of all portions of the pectoralis major. In addition, strategically incorporating heavy elastic bands and weighted chains in a periodized training program may increase upper body strength and power for experienced lifters and elite athletes.2
It is important to note that your repetition and set volume will depend on your goals (e.g. strength, hypertrophy, muscular endurance). It is also important to allow adequate recovery days in between chest and triceps training to allow muscles to repair.
2. Ghigiarelli JJ et al. (2009). The effects of a 7-week heavy elastic band and weight chain program on upper-body strength and upper-body power in a sample of division 1-AA football players. JSCR. 23(3):756-64.
Common Mistakes When Doing A Barbell Decline Bench Press
Lowering the barbell too low should be avoided as it results in excessive shoulder extension and horizontal abduction, which can place great stress on the shoulder joint. Ensure that the upper arms do not pass the level of the torso when lowering the barbell towards your chest. 3
It is very common to observe an individual arching their back in efforts of lifting the weight with more ease. This technique should only be performed by weightlifting professionals and can compromise the safety of lifters.
Lifting heavier weight without a trained spotter. With moderate to heavy weight loads, a trained spotter should monitor the lifter throughout their set for optimal safety. In heavy weight cases, two spotters at each end of the barbell may be appropriate.
3. Reinold MM, Gill TJ, Wilk KE et al. (2010). Current concepts in the evaluation and treatment of the shoulder in overhead throwing athletes, Part 2. Sports Health. 2(2):101-115.
Injuries Or Ailments & Their Effects Regarding A Barbell Decline Bench Press
If proper technique is not adhered to (e.g. arching of the back, lowering the upper arms past the level of the torso, dropping the weight quickly instead of controlling the descent on the eccentric portion of the lift), the likelihood of injury increases.
If proper technique and recovery are not adhered to, impingement syndrome, rotator cuff injuries, biceps tendonitis/biceps tendinosis and glenoid labrum tears may result. It is best to avoid bench press exercises when addressing impingement syndrome/rotator cuff injury unless advised by a physical therapist.