"How much do you bench?"
This is a commonly asked question by both the laity as well as gym rats nationwide. The Bench Press is perceived by many as the ultimate test of ones manhood in the Iron Game. Prior to the mid 19th century the “how much do you bench” question may have been stated differently since instead of lying on a bench, lifters would lie on the floor to press. Once the Bench Press was “invented” the Floor Press was soon forgotten by gym rats and bodybuilders- but not by powerlifters.
As a bench presser, and a fairly decent one at that (Editor's note: Jason is currently ranked #4 in the USA), I will say that there is no exercise to “replace” the bench press. With that being said, the Floor Press is a damn good way to improve your Bench Press and may even act as a great substitution for it during times when you are forced to work around certain injuries. There are quite a few variations of the Floor Press, but the two I’d like to focus on are the Barbell and Dumbell variations with the knees bent and feet flat on the ground.
To set-up for the barbell version you will need a power rack (unless you have a training partner willing and able to deadlift the bar and hand it to you). Lying on the floor as you would on a bench with your shoulder blades pulled together, elbows tucked, back arched and feet flat you will un-rack the bar, lower it under control until your triceps touch the ground, pause for a split second and reverse the movement; simple as that.
The same rules apply for the dumbbell variation... minus the unracking of the weight from a power rack. If you’ve read this far you may be wondering:
“What’s the point”? If I have access to a bench, then why the hell would I wanna lay on the floor that hasn’t been cleaned in god knows how long?”
This movement is different from bench pressing for a number of reasons. The range of motion is limited to 90 degrees (approx. half way). One of the benefits in limiting yourself to this range of motion used in the Floor Press is that you’ll now be able to use heavier loads than you would in the regular Bench Press.
“But can’t I lay on the bench and just go down half way?”
If you’re like most people I’ve seen in the gym, you will notice that the amount of weight being used and range of motion have an inverse relationship. What I mean is, as the weight increases in each subsequent set, people tend to decrease range of motion. Pressing until your triceps touch the floor keeps the range of motion consistent and your volume (weight x reps) quantifiable. Doing so will allow you to make the proper adjustments and modifications to your future workouts to ensure you’re making steady progress. Descending to 90 degrees and pausing the weight before the ascend will strengthen the mid portion of your bench press where many lifters display weakness.
The point where you exhibit weakness in a lift is commonly referred to as your “sticking point”. Some individuals are weak off the chest, some mid range, and some at lockout. (Another note from the Editor: bench shirts will usually make you very strong off the chest and provide far less help in the lockout - almost nobody in a raw meet fails at the lockout).
If, when benching, you tend to fail half way up, then the floor press may be the missing link in your program, as it is very effective in increasing tricep strength. Another difference in the floor press compared to bench press is the elimination of leg drive due to less leverage since you’re laying on the floor. This shifts more work to your actual pressing muscles. Upon descent as your triceps touch the ground, it is important to pause. Pausing increases difficulty of the movement by breaking the eccentric and concentric chain (taking out the stretch reflex). This builds tremendous starting strength and should give you a good carryover to your regular bench press.
Yet another reason why it is important to pause during the floor press is to avoid injury. If you bounce your elbows on the ground with a loaded barbell in your hands you are risking serious injury to the wrist, forearm and elbows. Lowering the weight under control will help eliminate good majority of stress on your joints. You have a few options of how you may include the Floor Press in your workouts. It may be used as a substitution of the full range bench press. If used as a substitution, upon completion of the exercise I would suggest moving on to a full range dumbbell movement such as flat or incline dumbbell press. This is to ensure that you aren’t neglecting the bottom part of your press.
Or you can use it as a secondary movement after full range bench pressing. If done this way I would suggest using dumbbells although this is not imperative.
*If executed as a primary movement*
Floor Press (Barbell) Work up to 5 x 3-5
Incline DB Press 4 x 8-12
DB Front Raise 4 x 10-12
DB Lateral Raise 4 x 10-12
Skullcrushers 3 x 12-15
*If executed as a secondary movement*
Bench Press (Barbell) (Full Range of motion) Work up to 5 x 3-5 Floor Press (Dumbbell) 4 x 8-12
DB Front Raise 4 x 10-12 DB
Lateral Raise 4 x 10-12
Skullcrushers 3 x 12-15