The floor press has been used by powerlifters for 20 years to build Herculean strength in the upper body.
And if your goal is to bench press ridiculous weights, the floor press can be used as a supplementary lift to your bench to all new levels.
In this article, we’re going to cover every facet of the floor press, including why you would use them, and we’ll wrap up with a 12-week program that combines bench pressing and floor pressing to help you smash some PR’s.
Let’s do this!
Benefits of Floor Pressing
While some may argue that the floor press is just a shortened version of the bench press, I would have to respectfully disagree. Anyone who has floor pressed realizes it comes with its own unique set of benefits and limitations.
It Develops Raw Upper Body Strength
When you floor press (versus bench press), you really target and isolate the upper body. Leg drive is minimized with a floor press, forcing you to overload the big pressing muscles of the upper body such as the pecs, shoulders and triceps.
Builds Big Guns
I don’t know many bros who don’t want bigger triceps.
However, as soon as they start performing isolation exercises like skullcrushers, their elbows feel like they’re going to explode.
Floor presses really allow you to overload the triceps, without putting undue stress on the elbow joints. This is a true win-win.
Plus, have you ever seen a high-level powerlifter with small arms? Puhleeese…..
Decreases Stress on the Lower Back
Many people complain that the bench press irritates their lower back.
And when you watch them set-up for a bench press, this makes perfect sense!
When you set-up on a bench press you increase the natural curve or arch in your lower back. If you have poor mobility in your upper back (thoracic spine) or in your hips (poor hip extension), this cranks up the pressure on your lower back further.
Try this: Sit up nice and tall for me, and then arch your lower back as hard as you can.
Even if you don’t typically have lower back pain, chances are this doesn’t feel good!
Floor presses (either with the legs straight, or knees bent) reduces extension through your lower back and can keep you pressing even if your lower back is cranky.
Creates a Big Bench Press Lockout
If you compete in the sport of powerlifting, the bench press is one of your competitive lifts.
Often, lifters miss bench presses either at the midpoint of the lift (elbows at 90 degrees), or even further up towards lockout.
If you lift with supportive gear such as a bench press shirt, this will only magnify the need for lockout strength.
Floor presses may be one of the single-best ways to develop the lockout for your bench press, along with other big-bang exercises like board and pin presses.
Decreases Range of Motion and Shoulder Pain
Perhaps the most important reason you should floor press is because it takes stress and strain off the shoulder joints.
I don’t know any powerlifter who’s lifted heavy for years who hasn’t had an ache, pain or tweak around the shoulders. Even if you’ve mastered bench pressing technique, you can still get beat-up if you’re constantly going heavy.
The floor press naturally reduces extension at the shoulder joint, and I’ll show you a few variations later on that will reduce shoulder pain even further.
How To Floor Press: The Set-up
Lie on Your Back
Hopefully this much is obvious
Lie down underneath the bar with your eyes directly underneath the bar. If you set-up with your eyes too far behind the bar, you run the risk of pressing it back into the rack.
If you set-up with your eyes too far in front of the bar, getting the bar out and into the proper starting position is going to be a bear.
Set Your Lower Body
There are two ways to set your lower body for the floor press: Legs straight, or knees bent and feet flat on the floor. I’ll describe both.
If you really want to overload your upper body, extend your hips and knees so that your legs are totally straight. This feels a little awkward, as you’re getting almost no stability from your lower body.
If you want a bit more stability and control, bend your knees and place your feet flat on the floor.
Set Your Hands
Next we’re going to place your hands at the appropriate width. There are three common hand positions you can use:
Narrow/Close Grip– Approximately shoulder width apart.
Moderate Grip – This is where you’d have your pinky finger on the power ring.
Wide Grip – Competition width, or pointer finger on the power rings.
Which hand position you choose is based on a lot of different factors: Your injury history, shoulder flexibility/mobility, your goals, etc. It’s best to start with a moderate grip and then move it inwards or outwards over time.
Bar in Tight to Thumb
Even though it doesn’t appear to be a long lever, the width of your hand and the placement of the bar can make a big difference when the weights get heavy.
Once you’ve grabbed the bar, try to bury the bar as deep towards your thumb as possible. This will align the bar directly over your lower arm, helping ensure you keep your wrist in a more neutral alignment throughout.
The closer the bar is to the base of your fingers (versus the base of your thumb), the more likely you are to have the bar roll back in your hands and lose your neutral wrist alignment.
Screw the Shoulder Blades Back and Down
Big floor presses are like big bench presses: If you want to move maximal weights, you need to be rock-solid and stable.
With your hands in position, actively squeeze your shoulder blades back and down. A tip that has really helped me actually came from my good friend Charlie Weingroff. He described it this way:
Imagine you’re grabbing the bar. Now, try to “screw” your shoulder blades back – if you’re looking at your right arm/hand, it should “screw” itself clockwise. The left arm/hand will move counterclockwise.
When I started setting up in this fashion I saw an immediate improvement in my stability and control when bench pressing and floor pressing.
Sorry but this ain’t yoga, and we’re not worried about controlling our breath.
Take those sexy little Lululemon pants elsewhere!
Okay, okay I’m being sarcastic here, but only a little. If you’re moving serious weights, take a big breath of air and hold it tight.
Pull the Bar Out (Preferably with a Lift-Off)
Once you’re all set, it’s time to get the bar into position. Think about “pulling” the bar out of the racks. If you’re lifting over J-hooks, you should literally be scraping them to “pull” the bar out and into position.
If you press up to clear the racks, you lose all that upper body stability you just created. Don’t do this!
Pulling the bar out with the lats helps you maintain that stability and put you in a great position to press. Pull the bar to a point where it’s hovering just over your nipple line/lower chest, and you’re ready to rock
How To Floor Press: Performance
Let the Bar Come Out
This is a big-time rookie mistake. Especially if you’re getting a hand-off, you need to let your hand-off person get the weight out over your chest.
The normal tendency here is to stop short; instead of the bar starting over the lower chest, it starts over the upper chest and/or throat area. This is definitely not a good thing.
The goal is to start with the bar where you want it to finish. It will feel awkward the first couple of times you do it, but once you get used to starting with the bar further over your chest, your stability and confidence will go through the roof.
Let the Bar Settle and Line it Up!
Once you have the bar in the appropriate starting position, give yourself a second to stabilize and settle before initiating the motion. Make sure the bar is exactly where you want it before starting the lift.
“Pull” the Bar Down
This tip is one part visualization, one part technical.
When you cue someone to “pull” the bar down, that changes the way they think about the lift. No longer are they simply allowing gravity to have their way with them; instead, now they’re an active participant in the lift.
The thought process here is to make the eccentric or lowering portion of the lift more active versus passive in nature. In a passive environment the bar acts on you; in an active environment you’re thinking about owning and controlling the bar.
Instead of being loose and sloppy and letting the bar crash down, think about using your lats to actively pull the bar down. This will not only help you control the weights better, but the additional stability should add to a stronger press as well.
Tuck the Elbows
Tucking the elbows is a critical component to safe and effective floor pressing. The more elbow flare you allow, the more likely you are to get loose, unstable, and you run the risk of injury.
When you’re pulling the bar down, think about tucking your elbows in to the sides.
The next question becomes, “How much should I tuck?”
A good general rule of thumb is to think about creating a 45-degree angle between the upper arm and torso. If you get too close the lift becomes very awkward, and when you get out into the 90-degree range, you run the risk of injury.
Here’s another way to think about it: Keep the forearms and elbows underneath the bar whenever possible. When the elbows and forearms get out from underneath the bar, chances are you’re not going to finish the lift successfully.
Upper Arms on the Ground
Lower the bar until the upper arms come in contact with the ground; this should occur before the bar touches your chest. The exception here is you have some combination of T-Rex arms, and/or a barrel chest.
My good friend Jim Laird immediately comes to mind, who sports both!
For most of us, however, the upper arms will be touching the ground before the bar touches our chest.
The next question becomes, “Should I pause while my arms are on the floor?”
You can argue either way, but my standard answer here is yes. Typically, you aren’t floor pressing to increase your floor press – you’re floor pressing to increase your bench press.
Leave your ego at the door and do it the hard way. Staying tight and pausing on the ground will help you develop a tremendous amount of starting strength, as well as stability throughout the entire upper body.
When coming off the floor, this is the time when most lifters get squirrelly and unstable. They start shaking and everything goes to sh*t!
Focus on staying tight throughout the lift, but most importantly when coming off the floor.
Keep the Elbows Tucked – DO NOT FLARE (YET)!
When coming off the floor, you’ll also have a tendency to let the elbows flare hard. While the elbows will naturally flare a bit at the top of the lift, letting them flare too soon will get you into trouble.
Remember, the goal is to keep the elbows and forearms underneath the bar as long as possible.
There’s not too much to say here: Once the bar gets past that awkward point where the elbows are on the floor (or just above 90 degrees), all you really have to do is finish the lift. It’s not uncommon to flare the elbows a bit at the top, but this is more of a personal preference than a hard-and-fast rule.
Finish the lift exactly where you started it. If the bar is finishing in a different position after every rep, drop the weight and tighten up your technique before going heavier.
Floor Press Variations
Barbell Floor Press
The barbell floor press is the standard floor press option that we described above. Here’s a short video demonstrating proper technique:
SWIS Bar Floor Press
The SWIS bar floor press is an alternative option you can use, especially if straight bar bench pressing irritates your shoulders and/or elbows.
The SWIS bar is a god-send for lifters who have beat-up elbows, but who want the overloading benefits you get from a barbell versus dumbbells. If your shoulders and/or elbows complain after every heavy barbell bench or floor press session, consider picking up a SWIS bar ASAP!
You can pick up a SWIS bar over at Dave Tate’s site, Elite FTS.
Fat Bar Floor Press
The far bar is another specialty bar that works well for the floor press. In this case, the wider circumference of the bar really overloads the wrist and forearm muscles, while simultaneously taking stress off the elbows.
It should be mentioned that many high-level powerlifters perform fat bar floor presses with a false grip, where the thumb is on the same side of the bar as the fingers.
Normally I would never recommend a false grip, but if your goal is to become an elite-level powerlifter (and you have a great spotter!), this may be something you play around with. The false grip, fat bar floor press absolutely crushes your triceps, which will pay-off when it comes time to lock out those big weights.
Dumbbell Floor Press
Dumbbell floor presses are much like their traditional bench pressing brethren. The big benefits you get from using dumbbells versus barbells include:
- More balanced loading between limbs,
- A non-fixed bar path, and
- Potentially less shoulder range of motion (when using a neutral grip).
Like the standard dumbbell bench press, focus on tucking the elbows at the start. If your elbows flare on this exercise, you’re in for a world of hurt!
In all honesty, the most difficult part of the dumbbell floor press may be getting into position with heavy dumbbells. The safest option is having someone physically hand them to you, but I’ve gotten away with an ugly mix of ballistic dumbbell curl/back extension to get the weights onto my thighs.
Definitely not pretty, but it is effective.
Dumbbell Floor Press – Neutral Grip
The neutral grip dumbbell floor press is just another option in your floor pressing arsenal. Like all neutral grip options, the neutral grip floor presses takes some stress off the shoulder, making it a great work around if you can’t perform a standard dumbbell variation.
Kettlebell Floor Press
The kettlebell floor press is another tweak you can play around with. I’m not sure these are much more effective than any of the traditional dumbbell variations, but if you need some variety, give these a shot!
Single-Arm Kettlebell Floor Press
The single-arm kettlebell floor press is something we’ve just started playing around with at IFAST, and I can tell you we’re really enjoying them!
We like to perform the lift with the hips extended, knees straight, and the ankles dorsiflexed. It may even help to think about blowing some of your air out and exhaling hard to get the ribs down. This will help you “get your abs,” and make you more stable.
The focus on this exercise isn’t throwing around as much weight as possible, but rather to train your core and trunk stability. Focus on keeping your core and trunk stable throughout, and not allowing the weight to rotate you.
Single-Arm, Bottoms-Up Kettlebell Floor Press
Take the previous exercise (and all the core demands it places on your body), and now multiply that times 100.
Now you have single-arm, bottoms-up kettlebell floor presses!
This exercise is a monster, because you’re forced to not only stabilize your core and trunk, but the kettlebell is constantly trying to flip over on you as well.
The key here is not only maintaining core and trunk stability, but trying to crush and control the ‘bell as well.
Give it a shot – I think you’ll really enjoy this variation!
Common Floor Press Flaws and Cues
Loose upper back during set-up
One of the biggest issues when floor pressing (or bench pressing, for that matter) is being too loose when setting up.
If your upper back is loose or unstable, you simply won’t be able to move as much weight as possible. Furthermore, being loose or unstable through the upper back also increases the likelihood of you tweaking a pec, injuring a shoulder, or incurring some random upper body injury.
Before you ever think about taking the bar out, pin the shoulder blades back and down. The more rock solid and stable you are through the upper back, the better.
Last but not least, it’s entirely possible that you’re trying to do all the right things, but simply don’t have the upper back strength and stability necessary. If this is the case, consider taking 2-3 months and really focusing on upper body pulling exercises.
Whether it’s vertical pulling (chins and pull-up variations), horizontal pulling (rowing variations), face pull variations or simply I’s, T’s and Y’s, more upper back stability will eventually lead to bigger benches and floor presses.
NOT getting a hand-off
Whether you’re floor pressing, bench pressing, or even board pressing, getting a hand-off is crucial. Without one, it’s very difficult to maintain your upper back stability, while simultaneously getting the bar into the appropriate starting position.
Furthermore, if you have to lift off for yourself, there will be a time when you take the bar out and the it simply feels way heavier than it should.
This isn’t good for the psyche. If the bar feels heavy before you ever try to actually move it, you’re psyched out before the lift even starts.
A good hand-off allows you to retain your upper back stability , while also setting the bar in the ideal position (just above the lower chest).
Random aside: There’s a big difference between a “spot” and a “hand-off.” A spot implies you’re going to miss, and I’m going to pull the bar off your chest.
A hand-off implies you know what you’re doing, that you know how to set-up, and that you have full intentions of making the lift.
Starting with the bar over the face
This goes hand-in-hand with the previous point. If you don’t get a hand-off, you’re much more likely to initiate the lift with the bar in a poor starting position.
It’s going to feel awkward at first, but make sure to “pull” the bar (using your lats) into the appropriate starting position. The bar should start over the nipple line/lower chest.
Not pulling the bar down
When initiating the lift, don’t simply allow the bar to fall. Trust me, when all know that gravity works!
Instead, think about actively “pulling” the bar down using your lats. This active eccentric will make the bar feel lighter, while also keeping you more stable and in a tighter groove.
The best cue in this case, is simply “pull the bar down.”
Another trick (if this is a consistent issue) is to perform some slow eccentrics throughout the course of your training cycle.
Even though bench presses and floor presses go through a short-range of motion, you can still emphasize the lowering phase of the lift. Try 3-5 second eccentrics, which will allow you to better control the lift and focus on pulling the weight down.
Not tucking the elbows
If your goal is to throw around maximal weights, you need to tuck your elbows. If the elbows are flared on the way down or coming off the floor, chances are you’re going to miss the weight.
If you watch any powerlifting videos on the Innertubez, or if you dare go to a powerlifting meet, it’s not uncommon to hear the cue “TUCK!” used over and over again.
And for good reason.
Keeping the elbows tucked when lowering the bar and initiating the press are critical. This will keep the forearms and wrists directly underneath the bar, where you’re not only stronger but less likely to get injured as well.
Poor wrist position
While it may not seem like a big deal, poor wrist position can cause you to miss weights. You’ll often see someone get loose through their upper back, flare the elbows, and the bar rolls back in their hands when they miss a weight.
To fix the issue, it helps to think about keeping the wrist neutral throughout. Here’s a quick video to outline what neutral wrist looks and feels like:
Along those same lines, it will help to try to “bury” the bar as close to your thumb as possible, too.
When training, the best cue we’ve found is “Knuckles up.” If the wrist is rolling back, cuing knuckles up will remind you (or your training partner) to keep the knuckles pointed towards the ceiling.
Poor bar path
Newbie lifters are notorious for inconsistent bar paths. They simply haven’t had the time under the bar to understand what their body should be doing, where the bar should be, etc.
The easiest way to rectify this is to use a ton of volume. This needs to be kept within reason, but the surest way to get better at something is to do a lot of high quality reps.
Another way to improve bar path is to increase the time under tension by slowing down the eccentric, and possibly even the concentric. This wouldn’t be done for extended periods of time, but one training block that slows down either the eccentric, concentric, or both can definitely iron out kinks in bar path.
Elbows flare immediately off the ground
This may be the most common issue I see with lifters. When lowering the weight they look great, but as soon as the drive off the floor, their elbows flare immediately.
This is typically due to one of two reasons:
- A weak upper back. If the upper back is weak or unstable, chances are you need to make it a priority in training. Try doing twice as much pulling volume (vertical pulling, horizontal pulling, etc.) versus pressing volume for the next 3 months.
- Weak triceps. If the triceps (aka triceptz) are weak, the body will immediately seek out stronger muscles, i.e. the chest and shoulders. Instead of keeping the elbows tucked, the elbows will flare. Try performing tricep-specific pressing work like board presses, close-grip bench presses, and yes, even floor presses to improve this. Drop the weight and focus on perfect technique.
If someone is flaring when they initiate the lift, cue them to keep their elbows underneath bar.
Floor Press Gear and Accessories
Everyone knows that if you’re a serious lifter, you have serious lifting accessories. Here are just a few tools you can use to get more out of your floor press training.
Wrist wraps have been scientifically proven to boost your street cred in the gym by 15.875%.
Ok, I made that up.
In all seriousness, you just don’t see clowns in the gym wearing wrist wraps, because their use is typically reserved to serious lifters. Wrist wraps give you some additional stability around the wrist joint.
If you’re rocking legit 6 3/4″ wrists like myself, any additional stability you can get is awesome. Unfortunately, you can’t grow a bigger bone structure, so wrist wraps give us some extra support.
Chalk is another key component of big lifts. Most commercial gyms are notorious for oily, smooth bars.
Nothing screams “I’m looking to get injured!” than crappy bars.
If you want to maximize performance, you need a strong connection with the bar, and that starts with your grip.
The ideal combination for lifting big weights is a bar with solid knurling and liberal application of chalk. If your goal is to hit PR’s, there’s really no way around this.
Bands and Chains
We’ll discuss these options in more depth below, but if you’re benching serious weight, consider playing around with bands and chains on your floor press workouts. My personal favorites are floor pressing against chains and reverse band floor presses.
In contrast, while you can floor press against bands, many lifters (myself included) aren’t huge fans.
Fixing up Your Floor Press
If you miss at the top of the floor press….
Missing at the top of the floor press is typically due to weak triceps. At this point in the lift, the chest and shoulders have done their far share of the work, and it’s up to the triceps to finish the lift.
To bring up the triceps, consider some of the following exercises:
- Close-grip bench press
- Close-grip floor press
- High board presses (4 or 5 board)
- Triceps isolation work
- Floor press (with decreased load and perfect technique)
If you miss off the floor of the floor press…
Missing off the floor during a floor press comes down to one or two primary issues:
- Poor starting strength, or
- Poor scap stability.
Let’s examine both.
If you have poor starting strength, consider doing paused isometrics. You’ll have to drop the weight considerably, but nothing will make you stronger than pausing for 3-5 seconds on the floor and then pressing the weight up.
You’ll not only learn to stay tight and stable, but you’ll learn how to turn all those muscles back on and fire simultaneously to move the weight.
If scap stability is the issue, again, consider bombarding your upper back with vertical pulls, horizontal pulls, face pulls, and anything in between.
If you can’t pull the bar down and stay stable…
Pulling the bar down can make a huge difference in your floor press performance. Not only will it make the bar feel lighter, but you’ll be more stable, in better control and maintain a better “line” throughout.
Strengthening the lats via rowing movements is a great start, as it will mimic the motion you’re trying to create. If you want to get uber-specific, consider using bench press rows into your training sessions as well.
Set-up just like you would on a traditional bench, although your shoulder blades won’t be pinned back and down. The bar will be supported by bands, which are attached to the rack above
From here, it’s just like any other row, although you won’t be able to retract the shoulder blades quite as well because they’re “blocked” by the bench.
BUT, if your goal is to learn how to pull the bar down when bench pressing, this is about as sport-specific as it comes!
If you flare too soon…
I feel like we’ve covered this numerous times already, so I’ll keep it brief here.
Pull the bar down on the lowering phase.
Stay tight on the floor, keeping the shoulder blades back and down.
Keep the elbows underneath the bar as long as possible.
And basically, don’t get sloppy when the weight gets heavy. Make it your goal to get tighter and tighter with your technique the heavier the weight gets.
Floor Press Modifiers
We’ve covered all the basics of the floor press up to this point.Now I want to cover some of the cool tweaks and variations that you have available.
If you follow a program where you have specific max effort days and you’re throwing around some heavy weights, consider using some of the floor press modifiers outlined below to take your performance to the next level!
Reverse Band Floor Press
When I was competing seriously in powerlifting, I loved reverse band floor presses. Not only do you get to move serious weights, but I also feel it creates good mojo when you see more weight on the bar than you’re accustomed to.
The set-up here is simple: Attach bands to the rack above, and then place the bands under the bar. As you lower the weight, this will increase the tension/stretch on the bands, allowing you to move some pretty serious weights.
Floor Press against Bands
You can also floor presses against bands, although this option isn’t quite as awesome.
The big issue here is that floor pressing against bands can put some serious stress on your elbows. And if you’ve lifted weights for any extended period of time, you know that elbow injuries can take forever to heal.
Regardless, if you want or need a change of pace in your training, floor pressing against bands could be a viable option.
Floor Press with Chains
Last but not least, we have floor pressing against chains. For the lifters that compete in powerlifting gear, this may be the best option out there.
Floor presses with chains mimic the strength curve used when pressing in a shirt. As the bar is lowered, the chains pile up on the floor, reducing the weight. As you lift the chains come off the floor, increasing the weight.
This is identical to how a bench shirt works – as you lower the bar the shirt locks up and gives you “pop” off your chest. As you lift the weight, though, that pop wears off and you’re left to finish the weight yourself.
If you’ve tried all the standard floor pressing options and want to start dabbling with more advanced techniques, this is probably the safest and most effective version to start with.
A Simplified Floor Press Routine
If your goal is to develop a bigger bench press, using the floor press as a supplemental lift can be an integral component to the program.
Let me say that again:
If your goal is to develop a bigger bench press, the floor press can be an integral tool to build a strong lockout.
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I feel like a “floor press only” routine would be a little silly, unless of course you’re working around some sort of injury.
The program below utilizes a periodized approach to build starting strength, stability, and all the areas I typically find to be weak on someone who wants to press bigger weights.
Download the RTS Big Bench Workout HERE
(If you’re having issues downloading the file, please right click and “Save As.”)
Floor Press Motivation
Before we part ways, I want to leave you with some serious floor press motivation.
The lifts below are ridiculous feats of strength, and hopefully they’ll inspire you to hit the gym with a vengeance!
So there you have it, a complete guide to floor pressing. I hope you enjoyed it!
Floor pressing may not be as sexy as bench pressing, but when you create a program that combines floor pressing with bench pressing, the two can work synergistically to take your bench press to all new levels.
Incorporate some floor pressing into your routine, and I guarantee you’ll be on your way to bench press PR’s as a result!
P.S. – Needless to say, these posts take quite a bit of time to pull together. If you learned something (or at the very least I entertained you a bit!), help a brother out by sharing it on Facebook, re-tweeting it to your Tweeple, or just sending the link via e-mail to a friend. I very much appreciate your support!
P.P.S. – Did you miss the workout link? You can download it via the link below:
The RTS Big Bench Workout