How does angle of bench press affect muscle activation?

Do your clients bench press, and if so do you advise horizontal or incline? And if the latter, what degree of incline? Recent research has compared the effect of different angles of incline on muscle activation.

In the article “Influence of bench angle on upper extremity muscular activation during bench press exercise ” published in European Journal of Sport Science the authors, Jakob Lauver, Trent Cayot and Barry Scheuermann, set out to discover the effects on muscle activation during free weight barbell bench press at 0°, 30°, 45° and –15° bench angles.

For the study, 14 resistance trained participants undertook two training sessions; in the first session, participants were asked to complete 1 repetition maximum (1RM), i.e. one repetition of a horizontal barbell bench press with the greatest amount of weight. In the second session, fitted with electrodes to assess muscular activation, participants completed six repetitions for each of the four barbell press angles at a resistance equivalent to 65 per cent of the previous weight. Effects of bench condition were observed on the duration of muscle contraction and the contraction phase of the upper and lower pectoralis major, anterior deltoid and lateral triceps brachii.

The authors’ outcomes support the use of a horizontal bench press to attain activation of the upper and lower pectoralis major during the lift. However, interestingly it was found a bench incline of 30° or 45° resulted in increased muscle activation, providing a useful insight into effective adaptations of bench press exercise for optimal strength and musculature. They conclude that ‘the present investigation demonstrate(s) the importance of considering the effects of muscle activation throughout different time points of the contraction/lift as variations may be evident …in an effort to optimise a resistance-training programme with the goal of improving muscle strength and development of the pectoralis major, it would be beneficial to include horizontal bench press and an incline bench of 30°.’

Source: Routledge Journals