Influence of bench angle on upper extremity muscular activation during bench press exercise

Eur J Sport Sci. 2016;16(3):309-16. doi: 10.1080/17461391.2015.1022605. Epub 2015 Mar 23.


This study compared the muscular activation of the pectoralis major, anterior deltoid and triceps brachii during a free-weight barbell bench press performed at 0°, 30°, 45° and -15° bench angles. Fourteen healthy resistance trained males (age 21.4 ± 0.4 years) participated in this study. One set of six repetitions for each bench press conditions at 65% one repetition maximum were performed. Surface electromyography (sEMG) was utilised to examine the muscular activation of the selected muscles during the eccentric and concentric phases. In addition, each phase was subdivided into 25% contraction durations, resulting in four separate time points for comparison between bench conditions. The sEMG of upper pectoralis displayed no difference during any of the bench conditions when examining the complete concentric contraction, however differences during 26-50% contraction duration were found for both the 30° [122.5 ± 10.1% maximal voluntary isometric contraction (MVIC)] and 45° (124 ± 9.1% MVIC) bench condition, resulting in greater sEMG compared to horizontal (98.2 ± 5.4% MVIC) and -15 (96.1 ± 5.5% MVIC). The sEMG of lower pectoralis was greater during -15° (100.4 ± 5.7% MVIC), 30° (86.6 ± 4.8% MVIC) and horizontal (100.1 ± 5.2% MVIC) bench conditions compared to the 45° (71.9 ± 4.5% MVIC) for the whole concentric 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. 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.

Keywords: Resistance training; electromyography; muscular activation.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study

MeSH terms

  • Biomechanical Phenomena
  • Deltoid Muscle / physiology
  • Electromyography
  • Humans
  • Isometric Contraction
  • Male
  • Muscle, Skeletal / physiology*
  • Pectoralis Muscles / physiology
  • Upper Extremity / physiology*
  • Weight Lifting / physiology*
  • Young Adult