When all the benches are taken on International Chest Day and everyone is getting antsy waiting for their chance to lift, you don’t have to stand around and waste your warm-up. The bench press isn’t the only chest and triceps powerhouse to mark the start of your week: enter the floor press.
The floor press is a fantastic pressing variation for lifters of all levels to improve muscle mass, lockout strength, and bench press technique. It can even be a great variation for those with achy shoulders.
This article will take you through the unique benefits of the floor press. You’ll also learn exactly how to perform the lift, as well as variations and alternatives you can consider.
Benefits of the Floor Press
- Chest and Triceps Builder
- Upper Body Strength Gains
- Lockout Strength
- Beginner Friendly
- Space and Time Saver
Chest and Triceps Builder
When performed for three to five sets of six to 15 reps, the floor press is a great move to add mass to the chest, shoulders, and triceps. You can do all of this without adding excessive strain to the shoulders due to the decreased range of motion. So the floor press can help you add volume to your upper body pushing routine but want to train at submaximal weight and range of motion to maximize recovery.
Upper Body Strength Gains
Like other partial range of motion lifts (rack pulls and box squats), the floor press is great for targeting certain portions of the lift. With the floor press you can handle heavy loads in the top half of the movement, strengthening your triceps, chest, and anterior shoulders.
Lockout strength is often a weakness when it comes to bench and overhead pressing, Olympic lifts, and even Strongman events. It often results in missed lifts and unstable lockout positions. The floor press is a fantastic exercise to target this weakness as you can handle heavier loads with undue strain on the rest of your body.
Due to the floor reducing shoulder external rotation, this variation is an excellent lift for those with banged up shoulders. The shoulders are sometimes vulnerable when in abduction and external rotation — common positions of a standard bench press.
This move is great for beginner lifters because the reduced range of motion (ROM) can reduce aches and pains that might be caused by larger ROM movements. It also helps build up strength and better control for more difficult lifts such as the bench press. Finally, the increased stability of the floor can help improve pressing mechanics and positioning.
Space and Time Saver
Sticking to your program can be difficult when your gym is crowded, or when you’re training from home. Benches take up a lot of real estate in your home gym — space you might not have. Or someone might have way too many sets left on the only remaining bench at your gym. Whatever the case, you don’t need to throw up your hands and surrender your gains.
Floor presses save a lot of physical space, and a lot of time waiting around. You’ll get a more efficient workout that’s comparatively easier on your shoulders — and don’t worry, your chest and triceps will get a solid pump.
How to Perform the Floor Press
The floor press is similar to the bench press except rather than using a bench, it is done while lying on the floor. If you haven’t got a training partner to pass you a bar, these can be performed with dumbbells or in the squat rack instead.
The differences (besides the obvious) are less range of motion (ROM) and minimal assistance from the lower body. Due to this shortened ROM, there is more of an emphasis on the triceps and less on the chest. Here’s how to perform this shorter range of motion lift.
Step 1 — Establish a Starting Position
Lie on your back on the floor. If your body allows, scoot yourself under a bar — using bumper plates can help. Can’t get under the bar and have no partner to pass it to you? No problem. Use the pins in a squat rack or simply select a different implement. Kettlebells and dumbbells work very well here.
Having feet on the floor or legs extended while floor pressing is a matter of personal preference. Try both and find out what works best for you.
Step 2 — Set Your Grip
Grasp the bar or bells at a similar width that you tend to with your regular bench press. Folks with longer arms might go for a wider grip, but the preference is up to what feels best for your body and your shoulders. Make sure your wrists are straight.
Step 3 — Brace Your Core
Take a solid breath in and brace your core just as you do with a bench press. If it feels better for your lower back, imagine curling your tailbone in slightly so that your low back stays pressed against the floor.
Step 4 — Press
Maintain a steady bar path as you press the bar out to full extension. Establish a steady position at the top of the lift, finding balance across the back of your torso. Hold for a moment at lockout and then slowly lower until your elbows gently graze the floor.
Floor Press Tips and Tricks
It can be difficult to find your sweet spot of comfort when you’re learning a lift that is at once new and familiar. Check out these floor press tips to help smooth your pressing journey.
You don’t want to be lying on something super soft — you want to be braced against the ground as firmly as you can — but consider putting down a yoga mat between you and the floor. If you’re performing floor presses at the gym, the ground may very well grate into your bare skin (especially if you’re wearing any kind of tank top).
The last thing you want is to cut your sets short because your skin is getting pinched or sticking uncomfortably to the ground. With a yoga mat, you can set yourself up for success.
Use What Works
Most people can’t just scoot themselves under a barbell, or adjust it safely on their own while underneath it. If you’re doing floor presses solo, don’t try to force yourself to perform this lift with a barbell.
Dumbbells and kettlebells work tremendously well, and they’re much easier to set up with. You can scoot them into your lap and clean them to your shoulders from a seated position, then gently lie back with them already set up. Plus, these have the added benefit of giving you unilateral training and all the asymmetry-fighting power that comes with it.
Keep Your Feet Down
You might be more comfortable with your legs extended flat out during the floor press. Or, you might find it easier to simulate a bench press position with your knees bent and your feet flat on the floor. Either set-up works well for this lift.
Whichever of these starting positions you use, make sure that you are driving your feet down into the ground during the lift. This will help keep your core engaged. If your legs are extended, this means driving your heels down. If your knees are bent with your feet planted, it means grinding your feet into the floor — just make sure your glutes don’t rise off the ground.
Floor Press Variations
The floor press is performed by using a barbell, kettlebell, dumbbell, or a trap bar. Here are three variations to consider.
Barbell Floor Press
This is likely the most popular way of floor pressing because it has a simple set up and allows for heavier lifts. It has great carryover to the regular bench press because of the lack of lower body involvement, which can help improve lockout strength.
Trap Bar Floor Press
The trap bar floor press is easier on the shoulders as the floor stops them going into excess external rotation. Combined with the neutral grip, it is easier on the wrists as well due to a clean alignment of the elbow to the wrist for the duration of the movement.
The trap bar can offer the benefit of more manageable heavy loads than the dumbbell floor press, as you won’t have to contend with stabilizing each weight individually. Of course, heavier weight is great for those with a goal of building mass and strength.
Dumbbell Floor Press
Using dumbbells does allow you the capacity to change the angle of the shoulder and wrist. This is useful if you have shoulder issues when pressing the barbell, or find a particular angle to be more comfortable. The barbell locks your wrists and shoulders into one position for the entire ROM, which doesn’t agree with all lifters.
Using dumbbells can reduce strength imbalances on each side. Since dumbbells are harder to stabilize than a barbell, it may slow the lift down, providing more time under tension.
Floor Press Alternatives
Don’t want to settle down on the ground, but still want to develop your triceps, go easy on your shoulders, and boost lockout strength? There are great floor press alternatives that have got your back — erm, your chest.
Simply put, board presses — and their cousins, pin presses — are designed to target specific weak points in your bench press. You’ll need a partner for a board press so they can place a wooden board on your chest to restrict the range of motion you use. Instead of bringing the bar all the way down to your chest, you’ll stop where the board is.
It could be a very thick board — in which case, you’ll be targeting your triceps for increased lockout strength. Or, it could be a thinner board, which will help develop strength in the middle of your bench press.
Grab yourself two dumbbells — preferably with a hexagonal shape (hence the name of this puppy) — and get ready to squeeze. The hex press is a dumbbell bench press variation that requires you to squeeze two dumbbells together as you bench them.
You can do this on the floor or on a bench set to any angle — flat, decline, or incline. It’ll target your triceps, front delts, and inner chest, and it’ll humble your mind. So be prepared to lift about half of what you otherwise can.
The Spoto press is another humbling move, but it’s a great one to have in your pressing arsenal. It’s almost like a board press, in that it will shorten your range of motion. The Spoto press will have you bring the bar to a full stop just above your chest — except without a board to support the weight.
In other words, you’ll be stopping all that downward momentum with only your muscles. You’ll then have to reestablish the force you need to press the bar back up, all without the help of a soft, friendly bounce off your chest or a board. These are mentally and physically demanding, but they’re bound to make your bench press that much more powerful.
The floor press is a great exercise to have in your training arsenal because it is an excellent upper body strength builder, is great mechanically for beginning lifters, and can help those recovering from injury ease back into pressing movements.
It allows you to lift heavy from the safety of the floor without putting excessive strain on your joints. Never again will you have to worry about all the benches being occupied at the gym, as you’ll have a new perspective when seeing open floor space.
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