If you're looking to build upper body strength, bench presses are a tried and true method to work on both muscle mass and strength. But researchers just found a way to make it even more effective.
The study, just published in the European Journal of Sport Science, looked at muscle contractions during free weight barbell presses while the participants were on a bench inclined at 0, 30, 45 and –15 degree angles. While a flat bench activated both the upper and lower pectoral muscles, the steeper inclines of 30 and 45 degrees were better at activating the pectoralis major (the front, upper chest) muscle group.
The study was small, just 14 participants who had experience with resistance training. But the researchers saw improvements in the length of contraction in all the major muscle groups involved in bench presses, including the triceps. They settled on a recommendation of doing horizontal presses on a bench inclined 30 degrees to amp up its muscle-building power.