September 10, 2021 9 min read

If you’re someone who loves bench pressing and is looking to perfect your technique or work on other areas to help get your max up, the floor press is something you should include in your workout routine.

It is used by all sorts of different athletes, whether they’re powerlifters or bodybuilders and it has several benefits. In this article, we’ll cover just what exactly those benefits are, as well as what muscles are targeted during the exercise and how to do it properly.

The Floor Press: What is it? 

Before we get right into what makes this bench press variation so special, you need to know what it is. Essentially, it’s a barbell bench press, but without the bench! You lay on the floor and perform a bench press with your legs bent or completely straight.

It provides a partial range of motion and you won’t be able to get the bar level with your pecs like on a normal bench press. Working only a specific part of the whole movement has some benefits we’ll get into later. For now, just know that the exercise is perfect for triceps, overall form, and your shoulders.

Something to keep in mind if you plan on trying out this exercise is that you should use less weight than you would when doing a normal bench press. The reason being is that the partial range of motion causes your triceps and shoulders to be worked more than your chest during the exercise.

This is unlike a regular bench press where a lot of the power, at least initially, comes from your chest muscles. It is popular with athletes for a variety of reasons. Mostly because it allows them to work on the accessory muscles that are involved with the bench press.

By increasing the strength of these muscles, the bench press will ultimately be easier and will actually end up easing the stress on the joints involved in the exercise. 

What Muscles Does the Barbell Floor Press Work? 

The barbell floor press works three muscles groups: The shoulders, chest, and triceps.

chest muscles anatomy chart

Chest

Even though we said that the chest isn’t really used in this exercise, it’s still used to a degree. After all, you’re still doing a bench press motion. You’ll mostly feel this exercise in your chest as you bring the bar back down for another rep as the chest muscles are used for stabilizing the barbell.

Some people will practice a form where they do not tuck in their elbows like they would with a normal bench press. While this does work the chest muscles, we would recommend against this. Doing this can ultimately lead to forming the poor habit of not tucking in your elbows during a normal bench press. This can lead to a shoulder injury if you’re not careful. There are a lot more effective and safer chest exercises that you should use instead.

Triceps

The triceps are a very active muscle during this exercise due to the reduced range of motion. Specifically, they will be the most used when performing the lockout portion of the exercise. Due to the smaller range of motion, you’re basically using your triceps more often than when performing a basic bench press. After a few reps, you’ll definitely be feeling the burn there. 

Shoulders

As you push the barbell up, with your elbows leaving the ground, is the time that you’ll feel your shoulders doing most of the work. Specifically, you’ll feel the front of your shoulder, or the anterior delts, activate as your elbows begin to rise with the barbell. Again, this is due to the shorter range of motion of this exercise and the fact that a bench press already works your shoulders.

Why You Should Be Doing Floor Presses

1. Can Help Increase Your Maximum Bench Press

One of the big reasons this is such a popular accessory to the bench press for athletes like powerlifters is because it can potentially increase a bench press maximum. Specifically, the barbell floor press is great for improving the lockout stage of the bench press. Many people will have a successful liftoff during a bench press but won’t be able to finish it completely. This is where the floor press comes in.

Since the liftoff of the bench press is mostly up to your chest muscles, lockout strength comes mainly from the shoulders and the triceps. Therefore, the floor press is what you should do in order to train that top-half of the motion. By training this area of the bench press that is weaker than your chest, you’ll end up having an easier time benching heavier weights.

The lockout is not the only thing that this exercise can help with, though. If you find that it’s hard for you to get through the mid-point of the bench press, the barbell floor press is perfect for helping you improve. If you pause for a few seconds while at the bottom of the rep while your elbows are on the floor, you will be training to move the weight from a total stop.

2. Physical Therapy Applications

While this is ultimately up to which physical therapy doctor you talk to, many powerlifting athletes use this exercise to help them with shoulder injuries. Because the shoulder joint doesn’t have the full range of motion to go through, it doesn’t put as much stress on it and still works the shoulders well enough. It’s basically a safer variant of the bench press to these athletes.

That being said, not every shoulder injury is the same, and not every doctor is the same. If you are someone who’s had shoulder pain or is currently in physical therapy, make sure you consult a professional before you attempt the exercise. The last thing you want to do is delay your healing process.

3. Bigger Upper Body Challenge

When doing a traditional bench press, you’ll have some sort of arch to your back to support you during the lift. Additionally, you’ll be driving with your lower body to get that extra bit of power you need to get through a heavy session. The barbell floor press doesn’t use either of these techniques, though. But how is this a benefit?

Well, it will ultimately challenge your upper body more as it’ll have to do more work. Besides the shorter range of motion, this is another reason why you’ll need less weight while performing this exercise. Even with the lower weight, you’ll definitely feel it as you exert yourself. And again, this loops back to the earlier benefit of increasing your max bench as you’re working a portion of the exercise where you’re lacking strength.

4. Can Be Used To Focus On Triceps or Shoulders

While the barbell floor press already requires more work out of your shoulders and triceps than your chest, you can modify it further so it isolates your shoulders or triceps. This is done by changing the position of your elbows, relative to where the bar is. If you want to work out your triceps more, then you just tuck in your elbows a little bit. But, if you want to work your chest and shoulders more, you can keep your elbows parallel with the bar.

As we said earlier in the article, make sure that you don’t keep your elbows parallel when doing a normal bench press. While it’s safe to do with the floor press, keeping your elbows out can put a lot of stress on your shoulders while doing a bench press!

And the last thing you want is a bad shoulder injury.

5. Tricep and Shoulder Hypertrophy

Who doesn’t want big triceps? They make up most of your arm, making your biceps look that much more aesthetically pleasing. And who doesn’t want well-formed shoulders as well? The barbell floor press is an excellent tool if you’re looking to do some bodybuilding for these two areas.

This is because of how you don’t need to go very heavy with this exercise to really drive muscle growth. The restricted range of motion is enough to really stimulate both the triceps and the shoulders, causing an increase in hypertrophy.

6. Increased Control Over Heavy Weight

There are some people out there who tend to “bounce” the weight off of their chest when performing a bench press. While there’s nothing inherently wrong with this weightlifting strategy, you won’t be very stable if you just try to control the weight on the way down. And, of course, bouncing the super heavy weight off of your chest probably isn’t the best idea, especially without a spotter.

That’s where the barbell floor press comes in handy. You see, with this exercise you don’t have the opportunity to “bounce” the weight off of your chest. If you try to use this technique, you’ll end up smashing your elbows against the floor. So this exercise essentially forces you to control the weight, rather than letting it fall or bounce on you. Ultimately, this will help in improving form and strengthening stabilizer muscles.

How To Do A Proper Barbell Floor Press

Now, we’ll get into the steps on how to excuse this exercise with perfect form. Be mindful that you should have some sort of way to suspend the barbell. Some people will use boxes or even chairs to hold the barbell up but the best way is to use a squat or power rack. 

  1. With your rack or other method set up, it’s time to get under the barbell and get yourself into a starting position. Start by getting under the weight. When you look up, your eyes should be a little bit in front of the barbell. This way, when you take the barbell off, you won’t hit the rack or whatever you’re using during your reps. 
  1. Now, you’ll need to make sure that you’re using the proper grip and that your legs are in the right position. Setting up your legs is easy. You can either bend them or lay them flat out all the way. Personally, we recommend bending your legs as it does add some stability to your upper body while you’re performing the exercise. Your grip should be an overhand grip while floor pressing. 
  1. Now it’s time to take the bar off of the rack. Make sure that your wrists are straight and that you have a firm grip on the barbell. Then, move it into position just over the top of the middle of your chest. Now you’re ready to start lowering the barbell. 
  1. As you lower the barbell, ensure that you have your elbows slightly tucked. Gently control the weight and let it down until your feel your elbows touch the floor. It’s okay to have a slight arch in your back to help you support the weight and have your chest do more work. With your elbows on the floor, pause for two seconds. Do not relax your grip! 
  1. Now it’s time to drive the barbell upward and really feel your muscles work. Drive the barbell as hard as you can upward, but remember to control the weight. Don’t go too fast or use up all of your energy!
  1. Now, repeat the previous two steps until you’ve hit your desired rep range. If you’re going for hypertrophy, a good number to shoot for is between 8 and 12 reps. Once you’re done, rerack the weight and rest before you move onto your next set. 

Variations of the Barbell Floor Press

There are actually a few different floor press variations. These variations can assist lifters in isolating the triceps or shoulders and can be great alternatives for people who have limited equipment. 

Close Grip Floor Press

This variation of the barbell floor press is perfect for someone who’s looking to get a good tricep workout in. With a shoulder-width grip on the barbell, you’ll actually be using your triceps twice as much as compared to a standard-grip floor press. Your chest and shoulders might help a little bit during this exercise but overall the only muscles used are your triceps. 

Dumbbell Floor Press

 male does dumbbell floor presses on a mat at his lawn outdoors

Now, this is an excellent alternative for those of you who don’t have access to a squat rack or a power rack, barbell, or other means to set up the barbell. It’s the same exercise, but you’ll use dumbbells, or even a kettlebell, instead of a barbell. This variation is nice because it’s easier to get set up as you don’t need a rack. On top of that, you don’t need a lot of expensive equipment, making it perfect for home gym users. 

Final Thoughts

The barbell floor press is a very valuable exercise for a variety of reasons. To some, the biggest draw is that it’ll help with chest press strength training while promoting muscle growth in your triceps and shoulders.

For others, it could be that it’s a safe alternative to the normal bench press.

Whatever your reasoning is, the barbell floor press and its variations are an exercise that you should make a part of your routine is to supplement the bench press.


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