By: Doug Daniels
Let me start this article by saying that I'm not a big fan of either incline or decline presses for powerlifting. What I'd like to do in this article is to point out how you can perform these moves more efficiently and suggest some alternatives with the powerlifter in mind.
Incline presses are a very popular exercise in bodybuilding circles. The main benefit sought after is developing the upper or clavicular portion of the pectoral muscles. The trouble is many lifters do not perform inclines in an effective manner. First of all, if the angle is over 30 degrees, more of the lifting is done by the delts, not by the chest. Another flaw many lifters practice when they incline is they raise their butt off the bench, in essence, making the incline press a flat press. This actually takes away the emphasis on the upper pecs, which were the targeted area. This is usually done to lift more weight or get more reps.
Declines are also popular. They tend to stress the lower or sternal pec. The biggest execution flaw is that lifters may start out hitting the nipple area, but as the weights increase, the bar tends to hit closer and closer to the waist area, with many lifters doing a 'belly bounce'. This shortens the range of motion considerably. Perhaps this explains why some lifters claim to actually press more doing declines than with regular flat benches. Less distance means that more weight can be lifted.
Many lifters may want to work their upper and lower pecs, but don't have access to incline or decline benches. For working the upper pecs, I suggest a wide grip bench lowering the bar to a point high on the chest, towards the head. If the elbows are kept at right angles to the body, the chest is emphasized even more. This really puts stress on the upper pecs and I feel is more effective than inclines. Be careful when starting to use this exercise. If you proceed too fast too quickly, you can easily pull a muscle. Start with lighter weights and warm-up and stretch slowly with this movement. This stretching of the pecs and shoulders is a drawback to this exercise. If you experience any pain or soreness, don't go as high as you were or drop the exercise.
To get the lower pec area, try the opposite of the previous example. Try hitting the bar lower on the chest, slightly below the nipple. Also as in the previous example, maintaining your elbows at right angles to the body will also adds to developing additional pec strength. Since the regular flat bench already works the sternal or lower pecs hard already, I really don't see much need for this exercise. I can't really think of any top benchers that use declines.
Working any of these assistance exercises into your routine is last. Inclines can be a good choice on your light bench day to the exclusion of the regular flat benches. Of course, benches high to the chest can be substituted. I would cease most, if not all, assistance work for the bench the last 4-6 weeks prior a meet. Concentrate on assistance work prior to this and during your off-season period. Dumbbells can be used instead of barbells for variety and stressing the stabilizing musculature. Skip declines and toss in some low chest benches in during this period also if you feel the need.
Inclines and declines
are two of many assistance exercises available to the powerlifter.
As with any assistance exercise, remember their purpose is to increase
the powerlifts. Use proper form and the most effective exercises
and you will derive optimal results.