How to Do a Decline Chest Press: Proper Form, Variations, and Common Mistakes

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Although the classic chest press is beneficial, other varieties of the press—such as the decline chest press—are used to stimulate the chest muscle differently for even better results. Incorporate this move into your upper body strength training routine to build a stronger chest.

Also Known As: Decline barbell bench press

Targets: Chest (especially lower pectoralis)

Equipment Needed: Barbell and decline bench

Level: Beginner to advanced

How to Do a Decline Chest Press

Man training with weights in gym
Thomas Tolstrup / Getty Images

You can use a decline bench station or decline bench/power rack combination for this exercise. Position the barbell at the correct reach level on the rack, then load the bar with a weight that is appropriate for your fitness level.

Next, secure your feet at the end of the decline bench and slowly lie backward. Pay attention to the bar to avoid hitting your head as you lower your body down. Grab the bar using a closed grip (your thumb wrapped around the bar) with your hands slightly wider than shoulder-width apart. This is your starting position.

Since the weight sits directly overhead during this exercise, a closed grip increases safety and reduces the chance of the bar slipping. This is different from an open or false grip, which is where you keep the thumb on the same side as your fingers and the bar rests on the palms.

  1. Unrack the weighted bar and slowly lower it to your chest, inhaling during this part of the motion.
  2. Raise the bar with an explosive push until your arms are fully extended, exhaling during the upward movement.
  3. Repeat the steps to perform more repetitions or place the barbell back on the rack to end this exercise.

Benefits of the Decline Chest Press

The decline press works the chest, particularly the lower pectoralis muscle. And it does so more than presses performed at inclined angles. This makes it beneficial to lifters trying to increase overall press and chest development.

Plus, varying the angle of your press can also change the amount of stress placed on the shoulders, elbows, and wrists. Therefore, the decline press can be a great alternative for people who find that a flat or incline press causes too much discomfort on these joints.

Since the decline press targets the lower pecs, it can help fix imbalances from chest routines that lack lower pectoral stimulation. It also helps build the muscles used in everyday movements, such as when lifting a child into the air during play or raising an item to place it on a higher shelf.

Other Variations of a Decline Chest Press

The decline chest press can be performed in a variety of ways to accommodate your fitness level.

Flat Bench Chest Press

If you’re new to weight training, you may want to perform a basic chest press on a flat bench until you are comfortable with the movement. The steps are the same; only the bench changes, going from a decline position to a flat position.

Verywell / Ben Goldstein

Dumbbell Chest Press

You can also use dumbbells instead of a barbell to do the decline chest press exercise. This will allow a deeper range of motion during the exercise and increase unilateral development of the lower chest muscle while increased stability demands cause the muscle to work harder to perform the movement.

Using dumbbells also enables you to perform the movement with lighter weights. This gives you the opportunity to feel more confident before progressing to the barbell. Start with a lighter weight and increase as you feel more comfortable holding dumbbells in this position.

Grip Width Variations

If you want to increase activation in your biceps brachii—the muscle known more commonly as simply the biceps—use a wide or medium grip, as a narrow grip has been found to reduce activity in this particular muscle.

Common Mistakes

The decline press is a great way to add variety to your chest workout, but there are a few things to consider to ensure proper form and technique.

Not Lifting Safely

The decline press places you in an awkward position when racking and unracking the weight. This can increase your risk of injury. When performing this exercise, enlisting the help of a spotter or using a Smith machine can help increase your safety.

A Smith machine is a steel frame that fixes the barbell between steel rails, only allowing the bar to move up and down versus any side-to-side or front-to-back movements.

Bouncing the Bar

Bouncing the bar off the chest is an attempt to push a very heavy weight up with momentum. This increases the risk of injury to the sternum and decreases the effectiveness of the exercise.

The press should be executed slowly and with control from start to finish using appropriate weight resistance. This ensures proper form and activation of the chest muscle.

Weight Too Heavy

Lifting weights that are too heavy is common among bodybuilders and regular gym-goers. Form and technique are sacrificed when you try to press too much weight and the risk of injury is increased.

If you struggle to perform the full range of motion, adjust the weight resistance to your fitness level to safely perform the decline press. Only add weight once you have mastered the technique and can lift with good form.

When beginning this exercise, perform it with an unweighted barbell first. This will help develop your form and function and allow you to progress comfortably once you're ready to add weight to the bar.

Improper Breathing

Many people hold their breath during the hardest part of the movement, causing internal body pressure. Yet, breathing properly is an important part of effective weight lifting.

Stay in tune with your body and your breath during the exercise. Inhale slowly as you lower the bar to your chest and exhale during the explosive upward press.

Safety and Precautions

If you have an injury to your chest, shoulder, neck, or back, check with your doctor or physical therapist before performing the decline chest press to ensure that it is safe. And if you feel any pain during this movement, stop the exercise immediately.

Start with one set of 8 to 12 repetitions and work your way up to three sets of 8 to 12 reps each as you grow stronger. Once you can do this amount, you may decide to increase the resistance on the barbell by adding more weights.

Try It Out

Incorporate this move and similar ones into one of these popular workouts:

2 Sources
Verywell Fit uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Lauver JD, Cayot TE, Scheuermann BW. 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

  2. Saeterbakken A, Mo DA, Scott S, Andersen V. The effects of bench press variations in competitive athletes on muscle activity and performance. J Hum Kinet. 2017;57:61-71. doi:10.1515/hukin-2017-0047

By Darla Leal
Darla Leal is a Master Fitness Trainer, freelance writer, and the creator of Stay Healthy Fitness, where she embraces a "fit-over-55" lifestyle.