Decline Bench Press Guide

How to Perform This Exercise for Chest Size & Strength Gains

By: Jeremy Fox, CNC, CPTUpdated: March 26, 2024

Everyone is familiar with the traditional flat bench press exercise for building your chest. And many weight lifters combine it with an incline bench press variation to hit their chest from another angle.

But the decline bench press is sort of the forgotten sibling of pressing movements. It’s much less common in exercise programs. Yet it has a place in building a broad, defined, and balanced chest.

So I’m going to talk about the part of your chest the decline bench press works. And show you how to do it properly with a barbell, dumbbells, or other equipment.

Decline Bench Press

What Is A Decline Bench Press?

A decline bench press is a chest exercise performed while lying on a bench where the top is angled downward. There are some bench presses specifically designed for this exercise. But you can also use a stand-alone decline bench in a power rack.

It’s important to realize that laying on a decline changes the angle of your arm relative to your body. So the decline bench press targets a different part of the chest muscles than a flat or incline bench.

Decline Bench Press Muscles Worked

Like any chest press exercise, the decline bench press primarily works your pectorals. These are the large muscles of the chest.

In addition, the pressing movement also activates the anterior deltoid on the front of your shoulders. And the arm extension targets the triceps on the back of your arms.

Decline Bench Press Muscles Worked

However, the downward angle shifts the loading on your chest and the lower pecs do most of the work. To illustrate, the image below shows the part of the pectorals worked by different types of bench presses.

Decline Bench Press Muscles Worked

The different shades of color represent the areas of the chest targeted by flat, incline, and decline bench presses. The decline angle works the lower part shaded in red and yellow.

Decline vs. Flat vs. Incline Press

As you can see from the image above, the angle of the bench press changes the part of the chest worked. A standard flat bench press works the bulk of the center area of the chest (yellow, green, and cyan).

While an incline bench works primarily the upper chest (cyan and blue), and a decline press targets the lower chest (yellow and red).

An easy trick to remember is to look at the angle of your extended arm in relation to your body. Where your arm intersects your body is the chest area targeted by that bench press angle.

Incline vs Flat vs Decline Bench Press

When the angle between your arms and body is less than 90 degrees, you work your lower pecs.

Decline Bench Press Benefits & Limitations

As we’ve covered so far, the main benefit of the decline bench is that it allows you to focus your workouts on growing your lower chest. So it’s great for bodybuilders or anyone trying to create an aesthetic physique.

Also, the downward angle feels foreign at first because it uses different stabilizer muscles. But this helps you develop more balance and coordination with practice.

However, this exercise is not better than a flat or incline bench press in any other way except targeting the lower chest. So it should not be used as a replacement or alternative to regular bench press movements.

The decline press also has some shortcomings. For one, your feet are off the floor, decreasing your ability to generate power. However, this does force you to use a more strict form and isolates the chest.

In addition, the angle of your body decreases the range of motion. Therefore, the decline press is not the best bench variation for overall chest development. And it should only be used in conjunction with flat and incline presses.

Pros

  • Builds lower chest more than flat or incline bench press
  • Keeps your butt on the bench
  • Works different stabilizers

Cons

  • Less stable without feet planted on the floor
  • Decreases range of motion

How To Do Decline Bench Press

Before you begin the exercise, setting up your bench and weights properly is crucial.

With specialized decline bench presses, this involves adjusting the height of the bar and the footpads. In addition, you want to reach the bar to unrack and rerack it easily.

If you have a stand-alone bench, it’s essential to position it inside a power rack to be perpendicular to the bar. Then, test it out with no weight on the bar to make sure it’s in a comfortable position.

Once you’re all set up, secure your feet in the footpads and lay back on the decline bench. Next, squeeze your shoulder blades together to create a solid base and grab the bar about 1.5 times shoulder width.

From this starting position, lift the bar off the rack and keep it at arm’s length until your muscles get used to the angle. Now lower the bar to your sternum just below your chest. And press it back up until your arms are extended.

Here are the step-by-step directions for how to perform the decline bench press:

  1. Adjust the decline bench so you can reach the bar
  2. Lay back and grab the bar (watch your head so you don’t bump the bar)
  3. Lift the bar off the rack at arm’s length
  4. Lower the bar so it touches your sternum just below your chest
  5. Press the weight back up until your arms are near full extension
  6. Repeat for the desired number of reps and rerack the bar

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Decline Bench Press Form

One of the main advantages of the decline press is that you can’t cheat by lifting your butt off the bench. But it’s still possible to use improper form in this exercise.

As with other bench press movements, it’s also important not to bounce the weight off your chest at the bottom. Instead, control the bar at all times through the range of motion.

Also, make sure you don’t lower the bar too far down towards your stomach, as this decreases the range of motion. Also, don’t lower it too high towards your neck, or you’ll put extra stress on your shoulders.

Decline Bench Press Variations

As I mentioned in the introduction, you don’t need a barbell to do the decline bench press. I’m going to show you some variations using dumbbells and machines.

Decline Dumbbell Bench Press

A decline dumbbell bench press is similar to the barbell version except that each hand works independently. With this variation, you’ll want to start lighter until you get a feel for the balance and the angle.

Another tricky part of this exercise is getting in position on the bench with the dumbbells, especially when lifting heavier weight. You weightsed a partner to hand them to you after you’ve gotten on the bench.

Decline Dumbbell Bench Press

Lower Chest Machine Press

Some gyms have special machines designed to work your lower chest, like a decline bench press. Usually, it’s a large metal structure with an upright seat and handles connected to weight plates or a weight stack.

A decline bench press machine may not be on a decline at all. But if the angle between your arms and torso is less than 90 degrees, it works your lower chest. Refer to the diagram in Figure 2 to see what I mean.

Smith Machine Decline Bench Press

Another option is to use a Smith machine to do the decline bench press. For this variation, you still need a decline bench. But you put it inside a Smith machine with a barbell on vertical guide rails.

While it takes more time to set up, this variation is great for isolating your lower pectorals. The reason is that you don’t have to worry about balancing the bar. Instead, all you need to do is press it up and down.

For more information on the benefits, check out my article on the incline Smith machine press.

Decline Bench Press Alternatives

If you don’t have a bench for doing traditional decline press exercises, that’s okay! I also have a couple of decline bench press alternatives you can do with a basic home gym setup.

Dips

One of my favorite lower chest exercises is parallel bar dips. One major difference between dips and presses is that dips are a closed chain exercise, meaning your body moves, not the bar.

In addition, dips provide plenty of resistance with just your body weight, so you don’t need extra equipment. But, as you get more advanced, you can add resistance by doing weighted dips.

Also, make sure you follow these form tips for chest dips vs tricep dips.

Incline Push-Ups

Lastly, incline push-ups are a decline bench press alternative you can do if you don’t have a dip station. Don’t let the incline in the name fool you! This exercise targets your lower chest like a decline bench.

The term incline refers to the fact that you’re doing a push-up with your hands placed higher than your feet. You can do this by leaning against a bench or placing your hands on a platform or box while doing push-ups.

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More Chest Exercises

The decline bench press is a great exercise to build your lower chest. But if you really want to reach your fitness goals, you need a complete chest workout with several exercises.

So I’ve hand-picked some additional articles I know you’ll find helpful in creating your ultimate chest-building routine.

Full Comparison of Incline vs Flat Bench Press

Benefits of Doing Incline Bench On a Smith Machine

Press Up vs Push Up for Building Chest

Incline Dumbbell Press for Upper Chest

11 Barbell Chest Exercises With or Without a Bench

With this information, you’ll be well on your way to reaching your fitness goals. And if you found this exercise tutorial helpful, click on the articles below for more fitness-related tips!

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