Why Is Incline Bench Press So Hard – Close Look

incline bench press
August 4, 2022 0 Comments

Table of Contents


So you want to know “why is incline bench press so hard?”. This is exactly what I will be exploring in this post and I will go into great detail leaving no stone unturned. 

Anyone who has ever performed the incline bench press knows that it is a tough exercise and is harder than the flat bench press for the vast majority of people. There are many reasons for this!

Why Is Incline Bench Press So Hard?

You are at a mechanical disadvantage compared to the flat bench press where you are strongest. The incline bench forces you to recruit a lot more upper pec and shoulder muscles into the movement. 

There is less overall pec and tricep involvement compared to a flat bench. It places a heavy toll on your front delts and upper chest in particular. This is what makes the incline bench press so hard. 

Less Recruitment Of Pec Muscles 

You have less ability to recruit the pec muscles as a whole with the incline bench press. Instead the focus is primarily placed on the upper pecs – the diagram below illustrates how the upper pecs are put under a lot more tension with the incline bench.

Because you are not able to use the musculature of the pecs to its fullest the movement will be tougher.
In addition the upper pecs are not trained as regularly for a large percentage of trainees. 
EMG data incline

Varying Angles Of Incline Has An Impact

Adjusting the level of incline has a big impact on the difficulty of the exercise. The higher the incline, the more difficult the incline bench press will be.

It is advisable to stick to an incline angle of 30 degrees, however every individual will be different. The reason the incline bench becomes harder as the angle of incline increases is due to a lot more use of the anterior deltoid.

I personally prefer an incline bench angle of 30 degrees as I find a 45 degree incline puts too much unwelcome stress on the shoulders. 

The video below from Eugene is very informative and he talks about the effect of varying the angle of incline. 

Requires Greater Coordination

In addition, as many people focus their training a lot more around the flat bench press, the incline is not trained as often.

Therefore the supporting muscles that are used on the incline bench press will be weaker on the whole and it will take time to get acclimated to the movement and engrain it.

As such the incline bench press requires greater coordination. Many lifters will not be as efficient as they are with the flat bench press.

They will waste some energy unnecessarily when performing reps and this too will serve to make the exercise harder. I am guilty of this myself!

Dumbbell Incline vs Barbell Incline

There are two main choices when performing incline bench presses in general – dumbbell or barbell. 

The dumbbell incline is tougher as there is more stabiliser muscle recruitment, but it is more rewarding in my personal opinion. 

I also have found from my experience that the dumbbell bench press carries over very well to the flat barbell bench press. You will also benefit more from better hypertrophy of the upper pecs and anterior delts. 
incline dumbbell

Incorrect Mechanics

Incorrect mechanics can make your incline bench presses harder. Very often I see people performing this exercise with bad technique.

What they will do is flare their elbows out a lot on the way down. This makes the exercise harder and also can lead to serious injuries if left unchecked. Shoulder injuries are very common from this form error. 

Faulty mechanics can make any exercise a lot harder. With the incline bench, your shoulders are already in a compromised position so you have to be extra careful. 

Instead of flaring the elbows out focus on tucking them in on the way down, flare slowly on the way back up. You will be stronger and also less likely to encounter injuries. 

To learn how to incline bench with good technique please read Athlean-X’s article on incline bench technique here


As is often the case with everything in life, there are always anomalies and outliers. I know someone who is actually stronger on the incline than they are on the flat bench!

This is because the person in question performs the incline bench more often than the flat bench. As a result they have over developed upper pecs and weaker triceps. 

This is very rare but it can happen. When you train a movement very often you will become better at it and gain a lot of strength in that range of motion. 

I am stronger on the close grip flat bench than I am on the wide grip flat bench. This is because I exclusively train the flat bench and so have very strong triceps. But my pecs would be stronger if I trained the wide grip variation. 

For the vast majority of people the incline bench press will be harder and they will be weaker on it than the flat bench.

Final Thoughts

To conclude, in this article I have explored in great detail why the incline bench press is so hard. The primary reason is that you are in a mechanically weaker position than the flat bench.

You can’t make full use of your pecs and triceps to maximise pressing power. The exercise is also harder at higher degrees of incline as you utilise the anterior delts to greater amounts.

It takes time as well to develop efficiency with the incline bench as generally it isn’t performed as often as the flat bench. 

As with anything there are anomalies – there are a small percentage of people who are stronger on the incline. This is due to them placing a bigger focus on this exercise. 

If you have any questions about anything in my article please leave me a comment below. I would love to interact with you and help you.

As always, stay safe and enjoy your training!

Saeterbakken AH, Mo DA, Scott S, Andersen V. The Effects of Bench Press Variations in Competitive Athletes on Muscle Activity and Performance. J Hum Kinet. 2017 Jun 22;57:61-71. doi: 10.1515/hukin-2017-0047. PMID: 28713459; PMCID: PMC5504579.

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