Bench Press, Incline Press and Military Press

Often people are not doing the exercise they think they are because of poor form. I know this sounds crazy but often people are doing bench when they *think* they are doing incline press. Or they *think* they are doing military press for shoulders when they are really exercising.

People fail to realize that which exercise you are doing isn’t determined by the bench you use, but how you sit on it!

First, lets think about what makes each of these exercises distinct.

Bench Press In bench press, the motion of the bar is perpendicular to the spine.
Incline Press In the incline press, the angle between the spine and the motion of the bar is between 90 and 180 degrees
Military Press In the military press, the motion of the bar is co-linear with the spine.

Almost everyone I know is strongest in the bench press, next strongest in the incline press and weakest in the military press. Why is this important? Because very often, people lift more weight than they can control and have to compensate with bad form. For example, this happens at the gym all the time. Someone is doing “incline press” with way more weight than they can really do, here is what they look like:

They arch their back to raise their hips way off the bench. What exercise are they doing? They are doing bench press, not incline press!! Why? Because the motion of the bar is perpendicular to the spine, the definition of bench press!

Lets take an even worse example, the military press. This exercise is for shoulders, not chest. The problem is that the shoulder is very weak when compared to the pecs, here is what happens all the time at the gym when someone is doing “military press” with way more weight than they can really do:

They slide their butts forward and lean way back on the bench. What exercise is this? Its incline press, not military press because the motion of the bar is not co-linear with the spine. What’s worse, this is almost 100% pecs and almost no shoulders.

You have to always be thinking about what you are doing when you are lifting. Think what muscles are being used, feel it. If you are working out shoulders, then work out shoulders – not chest!

Don’t be blinded by the never ending quest to lift more and more weight or you will fall into these traps and remember:

The exercise you are doing isn’t determined by the bench you use, but how you sit on it!

17 thoughts on “Bench Press, Incline Press and Military Press”

  1. Great post. One of the best so far (even though nothing will ever be as good as the shirtless journey to Germany)! So many angles and lines in the picture – I love it!

  2. you are right!!!. That is why i always telling people the right position can help you training.
    You are the best Scooby!!

  3. @gotimbrown123, bench press has always bothered my shoulder no matter how many different grips and angles I try. Joint pain is always bad so I just avoid the bench press, there are plenty of other great exercises!

  4. why do you not use the bench press scooby? i have seen you do dumbbell press in previous videos. Is there any particular reason you promote dumbbell over bench press?

  5. scooby, i know you dont do the bench press as a chest excercise and havent for many years but since you have a bench, what is your max on the bench press?

  6. Hey Scooby,

    I often see people do a bench press with an extreme arch in their back, the same way you demonstrated in the incline chair position.

    Does this degrade the bench press into something more like a dip? Or, since the shoulders and neck are still in contact with the bench, does it not matter as much?

  7. Very good video Scooby! I totally agree with you! I see this all the time! People think they are doing incline bench press but then they do regular bench press. Same with the military press for the shoulders, they use way too much weight and they start sliding down and now it's an incline bench press! I always use strict form and I know you always do too! :)We have something in commoN! hehe. You still look in great shape Scooby! :)

  8. Great stuff. I'm guilty of doing the military press at 90 degrees sometimes. I will keep in mind now to do it correctly.

  9. I use to do it the wrong way so I could bench 300lbs.After a while it cost me my L6 disc.I even invented a name for my arching bench press called it the Macho Dumb Press.
    Scooby Baba

  10. @Howard, yep! Flex magazine and all their IFBB pro workout routines do a true dis-service to everyone trying to learn!

  11. I think people watch the training videos of the pro bodybuilders and think they can do the exercises in the same way. say, the last photo "This is incline press, not military press!" is very commonly seen in the gym. I think what those people don't realize is that when an exercise is performed, the target muscle group should be isolated. The pros may do the exercise in this form because they are experienced to know how to isolate their muscle groups.

    Therefore, we should always do these exercises in good form with heaviest weights that we can handle :)

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