Chest training for women: incline press vs bench press

Should women train chest? Despite what you may think, women can benefit from building muscle in their chest just as much as men do.

The best chest exercises for men are the same for women, including the incline bench press and flat bench press.

woman doing dumbbell chest press

There seems to be a misconception that women don’t need to train their chest muscles, but this is not true.

Chest workouts are just as important for women as they are for men.

Five reasons why women should train chest:

Reason 1: Chest muscles are a major muscle group

The pectoralis major and pectoralis minor, the correct anatomical name of the chest muscles, are a part of the male and female body. They are one of the major muscle groups in the body.

Reason 2: Develop rounded, more defined muscles

Training your chest will result in lifting the muscle tissue and pushing them up resulting in a perkier chest. It’s like have a non-surgical breast augmentation.

Reason 3: Improves overall strength

Training upper body also will help improve your shoulders and triceps through compound movements.

Reason 4: Improves posture

As one of the largest muscles in your upper body, the pecs play a major role in maintaining good posture. In addition to your back and shoulder muscles, your pecs help to stabilize the shoulder joint.

Reason 5: Make Everyday Activities Easier

Chest muscles in women assist in everyday activities. Chest exercises mimic daily activities, specifically pushing activities including pushing a heavy door open, pushing a stroller, etc.

Bench press

The bench press, also known as the chest press, is second to push-ups when it comes to key chest exercises. It is a great exercise to build muscle mass and strength. You also can engage different muscles depending on the bench press variation you’re doing.

The flat barbell bench press also utilizes the anterior deltoids and triceps. When performed correctly, the lats, lower back, and glutes are also firmly tensed.

The barbell bench press is a compound exercise and a great way to activate all muscles in your chest, but also your front delts, triceps, lats, traps and rhomboids.

woman doing flat bench press
woman pushing up in flat bench press

How to do it: 

  1. Lie back on the flat bench and place your hands on the bar with an overhand grip. Keep your feet flat on the floor.
  2. Extend elbows to a 90-degree position, triceps should be resting, while holding the barbell above your chest.
  3. Embrace your core and lower the bar down toward your chest. Then exhale and press the bar towards the ceiling.

Tip: Only your arms should be moving during this exercise. Your legs should remain firm on the floor. If your legs begin to lift off the ground, the amount of weight you’re using is too heavy.

Incline bench press

The incline bench press activates as much of the upper chest muscle as the flat bench press. However, with a different angle to the chest press, it challenges different muscles.

The incline bench press activates as much of the upper pecs and upper chest muscle as the flat bench press. The outer pectoralis major also gets a great workout along with the front deltoids.

For beginners, the incline barbell bench press is an easier exercise form-wise, especially when using a wide grip.

woman on incline bench press
woman in black shirt doing incline press

How to do it: 

  1. Sit down on an incline bench. 
  2. Once you lie on the bench with your feet flat on the floor, your arms should be parallel to the barbell and your hands roughly wider than shoulder-width apart. 
  3. Slowly lower the bar to your chest, above your breasts and below your collarbone.
  4. Focus on squeezing your upper chest together to raise the bar back up.

Changing up the degree angle

In addition to the incline press, the decline bench press is an effective exercise to add to your strength training. Switching up the angle of benching and adding some secondary chest exercises to your regimen will create a well-rounded workout.

The decline barbell bench press offers the same basic benefits as the flat bench press with an added bonus of focus to the lower pecs. While there is still triceps activation, shoulder stress is reduced greatly with proper form.

Additional chest exercises

  • Flat dumbbell chest press has several advantages over a flat barbell bench press exercise. It allows for a greater range of motion and better stabilizer activation using dumbbells. 
  • Cable chest fly is an isolation chest exercise. Like the dumbbell chest press, cable chest flys are good for adding more training volume and stimulating outer chest muscle growth.
  • Standard push-ups may not be popular in the gym, but they are effective. You can do push-ups anywhere and they do not require any equipment.
  • Incline dumbbell chest press allows for extra range of motion with dumbbells over a barbell. You will work upper pecs and upper chest muscles.
  • Smith machine incline press is a great exercise when you do not have a spotter. Similar to the variety of incline presses, just with the added security the smith machine can bring.

Do you have to arch?

You do not have to arch. Arching while bench pressing shortens the distance the bar needs to travel making it easier to move more weight. 

Should you use dumbbells?

You get more range of motion with a pair of dumbbells because there is extra mobility at both the top and the bottom of each press. It allows for more muscle activation in your upper body.

How much weight should women lift?

The weight you lift should challenge you by the last few reps, or even with each rep if you are training with very heavy weights.

Each time you train, you can try to increase the weight lifted from the last session. This is one way to help you progress in your strength training goals and continue to see results.

The bottom line

So, is it incline bench press vs bench press on chest day? No.

Do not shy away from chest development exercises. They will help with your upper body strength and any muscular imbalances.

Strength training will help you with your shape.

Whether you decide to use free weights or machines is up to you. The goal is for your workout program to include different ways to strengthen your pectoral muscles.

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