Bench Angle and Muscle Activation

by Ryan Halvorson on Jun 17, 2015

Making News

Have you ever wondered about differences in muscle activation when the bench press is performed at a variety of angles? A report printed in the European Journal of Sport Science (2015; doi:10.1080/17461391.2015.1022605) may satisfy your curiosity.

The goal of the small study was to determine whether changing the bench angle would alter activation of the pectoralis major, anterior deltoid and triceps muscles during the barbell press. The study featured 14 “trained” men, all about 21 years old. Each performed six reps at 65% of one-repetition maximum with the bench placed at 0-, 30-, 45- and -15-degree angles. Five minutes of rest separated sets. Muscle activa- tion was measured via surface electromyography. To ensure uniformity in time under tension, participants completed each repetition to the ticks of a metronome.

Here are a few highlights from the researchers’ findings:

UPPER PECTORALIS MAJOR

  • Greater muscle activation occurred in the concentric phase than in the eccentric phase at all angles.
  • During 26%–50% of muscle contraction, activation was greater at 30 and 45 degrees.

LOWER PECTORALIS MAJOR

  • Greater muscle activation occurred in the concentric phase than in the eccentric phase at all angles.
  • Muscle activation was greater at 0 and -15 degrees than it was at 30 degrees throughout the entire contraction.

ANTERIOR DELTOID

  • Muscle activation was greater in the concentric phase than in the eccentric phase at 30 and 45 degrees.
  • Muscle activation was lower at the -15-degree angle.

TRICEPS

  • Muscle activation during the concentric contraction phase was greater in the 30- and 45-degree positions than in the decline position.
  • Bench angle resulted in no difference in activation during the eccentric contraction.

“The results of this study support the use of a horizontal bench to achieve muscular activation of both the upper and lower heads of the pectoralis major,” the authors noted. “However, a bench incline angle of 30° or 45° resulted in greater muscular activation during certain time points, suggesting that it is important to consider how muscular activation is affected at various time points when selecting bench press exercises.”

In conclusion, the authors supported the use of both horizontal and 30-degree bench angles to maximize muscle activation. “The use of a decline or 45-degree incline bench would have little to no added benefit,” they said.

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About the Author

Ryan Halvorson

Ryan Halvorson IDEA Author/Presenter

Ryan Halvorson is an award-winning writer and editor. He is a long-time author and presenter for IDEA Health & Fitness Association, fitness industry consultant and former director of group training for Bird Rock Fit. He is also a Master Trainer for TriggerPoint.