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How to Strengthen Your Chest w/ Incline Bench Press – TechniqueWOD

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If you want to get better at putting heavy barbells overhead, you have to practice putting heavy barbells overhead, and often. That sounds like obvious advice, right? …It’s not.

In training, the obvious things sometimes sink in deep only after you’ve accumulated the experience, or in my case, after you’ve made some mistakes.

For years my primary goal was to drive up my flat bench press as high as I could get it. I assumed I was on the right track because I found some early success, but this sort of extreme pursuit always comes with a price. In my case, I gave no time or real intent to overhead work.

That was a costly mistake.

The result of all that training was a set of very stiff and inflamed shoulders, and a military press that was around 200 kilos under my best competition bench press! No shit.

In the end this imbalance drove down my shoulder health and eventually led to a rapid regression in strength. The lesson is clear…You have to apply an intense, highly specific stimulus in the gym if you want to drive extraordinary strength and performance. However, you have to know the point of diminishing return.

In the years since, and right up to this moment, my primary training focus has been on restoring shoulder health and work capacity. I would say 3 out of every 4 upper body training days carries this focus. A big step in this process was to start all over again with tiny weights, only now the primary focus would be on going overhead with great form. I still struggle with it, but my posture and position have improved dramatically in the last few years.

There are a few more lessons that could help guide your programming. First, know that you have to be very specific in the gym, especially when it comes to choosing assistance exercises.

Do you want to improve your standing press, push press or jerk? Introducing the bench press could work a bit, I suppose, especially if you’re brand new to it. But most gym rats have already done a lot of benching in their day. In my view, the better choice, the more specific choice, is the incline press.

I love this movement for two key reasons.

First, it’s much more specific to the standing press, push press and jerk. After all, the barbell actually does go overhead, right? That matters a lot. The bench might help out your standing work a little bit, but in my experience getting really strong on the incline press really has a but impact on the flat bench AND the overhead work.

Second, while specific, this exercise isn’t nearly as difficult and as the classical standing lifts. Is that a bad thing? Does this mean the incline is less functional? No! Because the incline press is not as hard you can practice it often. You can also work it in to your current weightlifting programming without undue fatigue or extra stress. The end training effect is that you get to put heavy barbells overhead more often, which is the whole point if jerking heavy loads is the goal.

I hope you’ll give this exercise a try. Start very light and give yourself some time to get comfortable. Work the loads up progressively week to week, unloading as fatigue sets in. Finally, make sure you’re practicing standing position as you incline press. You might be sitting, but that doesn’t mean you can’t practice putting your hands, arms, and shoulders in “jerking position”, for example.

I think you’ll find a lot of success with this exercise. Please, give it a try.

Happy pressing,



Doug Larson


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