Incline Bench Press Variations
The incline bench press is one of the most effective upper body exercise variations you can perform to develop the chest, shoulders, and triceps. At Westside, it is not uncommon to see athletes performing various incline bench press exercises using barbells and dumbbells.
When writing a Conjugate-based training program, it is important to understand how to manipulate different exercises and amplify specific training effects to achieve your desired training results. Incorporating different incline bench press variations into your programming helps to avoid accommodation and accelerate improvements in upper body strength and size.
If you are a powerlifter, including incline bench press variations in your training will improve your bench press. For the strongman or weightlifter, incline bench press variations will improve your ability to press barbells and dumbbells overhead. As an athlete, the incline bench press will enhance strength and durability in the chest, arms, and shoulders.
Here are a few of our go-to incline bench press variations we use at Westside Barbell:
High Incline Bench Press
We use the high incline bench press as our main variation, considering that a slight incline change is easy for athletes of all training levels to manage. The high incline will place tremendous demand on the triceps, shoulders, and upper back, similar to a shoulder press.
To set this exercise up correctly, you will typically have to use a removable incline bench and a squat rack. Most incline benches do not allow for adjustment to a high incline. We will usually stick to a regular power bar when performing this exercise, considering the high incline will provide enough change to the training effect while increasing the exercise difficulty.
To program this exercise, you will want to feature it as the main movement on a max effort day or an accessory movement on either ME or DE upper day. When performed as a max effort exercise, we will work up to 1-3 repetitions. We will complete 5-8 repetitions when used as an accessory exercise.
Incline Axle Pin Press
As we mentioned previously, the incline bench press greatly emphasizes the triceps. To further amplify this training effect, we use an axle bar that will place a greater demand on the triceps than a regular power bar. In addition, the pin press forces a lifter to produce significant amounts of starting strength with the anterior shoulder and triceps.
This exercise is an excellent option for powerlifters, strongman competitors, or CrossFitters. The incline axle pin press will help you build tremendous amounts of tricep strength and will also help improve your off-the-chest strength in both the bench and overhead press.
To program this exercise, you can feature it as a max effort exercise or an accessory on ME or DE upper day. As a max effort exercise, we most commonly work up to a top set single on this exercise. We will also change pin height to alter the training effect and focus on different joint angles throughout the bench or overhead press. Set the pins where you need strength the most.
Incline Banded DB Bench Press
The incline banded DB bench press is a great way to hit the chest, triceps, shoulders, and upper back with meaningful hypertrophy work. This exercise is excellent if you need to add size and strength to your upper body quickly. With the band attached, the body is under a more significant amount of tension throughout the entirety of the lift, considering proper lockout cannot be achieved with a band attached.
After a few strenuous sets of this exercise, it is common to be ready to call it a day on upper body accessory press work. The amount of work performed by the pecs, shoulders, and triceps is much greater with the band attached.
We recommend programming this exercise as your primary accessory exercise or the accessory exercise you perform immediately after the primary accessory exercise. We will typically perform four sets of 12-15 reps or five sets of 10 reps.
Many like to scoff at the idea that exercise variations are necessary. These folks believe you can squat, bench, and deadlift every session while adding 5lbs to the bar each week and expect to make progress forever. If you understand one of the most basic training laws, the law of accommodation, you can understand why including variations like the ones above is essential.
Exercise variations allow us to manipulate the training effect of a given exercise and accomplish more precise training outcomes. These exercises are the tools that lead to more optimal programming for athletes, improving strength, size, speed, and coordination more efficiently.
For more information regarding how we train the bench or overhead press, check out the Westside Barbell website for access to all our educational resources. If you need help programming, check out the official WSBB online training platform, Conjugate Club.
Simmons, L. (2007). Westside Barbell Book of Methods. Westside Barbell.
Verkhoshansky, Y., & Siff, M. C. (2009). Supertraining. Verkhoshansky.
Zatsiorsky, V. M., & Kraemer, W. J. (2006). Science and Practice of Strength Training. Human Kinetics.