Floor Press vs. Bench Press for Strength: Benefits & Differences

The floor press is one of the most classic bench press variations, and might even pre-date the bench press itself. It is commonly used as an accessory movement by equipped bench pressers for training the lockout, where the bench shirt does not help as much.

In this article, we’ll take a look at how to perform the floor press and the standard bench press, and discuss some of the benefits of each exercise.

How to Perform the Barbell Floor Press

  1. Lie down on the floor with your eyes under the racked bar.
  2. Grip the bar slightly wider than shoulder-width apart.
  3. Inhale, pull your shoulder blades down and together, and unrack the bar.
  4. Lower the bar slowly until your upper arms hit the floor.
  5. Reverse the motion and push the bar up to straight arms again.

Common Mistakes in the Floor Press

  • Failing to create a good setup. The best way to get into the starting position is if you can unrack the bar from a power rack that you can reach from the floor. Set the rack height so that you only have to extend your arms slightly to unrack the bar. If you cannot find a rack that goes low enough, other options would be to place the bar on blocks, have a spotter hand it to you, or heave it up from the floor using your abdomen.
  • Hitting the floor too hard. Don’t jam your elbows hard into the floor. Rather, touch lightly before you reverse the movement. If you want to initiate the press from a truly dead stop, first gently touch your elbows down on the floor, and then relax (slightly) in your pecs and shoulders before you press the weight back up again.
  • Expecting to be stronger in the floor press right away. Because of the shorter range of motion, your floor press strength will probably come to exceed your bench press strength – but not right away. Expect that you will need some practice before you put up bigger weights than in the bench press style that you’ve practised hundreds or even thousands of times.

How to Perform the Barbell Bench Press

  1. Lie on the bench, pull your shoulder blades together and down, and slightly arch your back.
  2. Grip the bar slightly wider than shoulder-width apart.
  3. Inhale, hold your breath, and unrack the bar.
  4. Lower the bar with control, until it touches your chest somewhere close to your sternum.
  5. Push the bar up to the starting position while exhaling.

Common Mistakes in the Bench Press

  • Not going all the way down. By not touching the bar to your chest when you’re bench pressing, you’re robbing yourself of several of the benefits from the long range of motion. In addition, you remove an obvious yardstick for measuring your strength. If you reverse the motion in mid-air, how do you know if you’ve actually gotten stronger or just reversed the movement earlier than last time? Go all the way down, buddy.
  • Bouncing the bar against your chest. While you should touch the bar to your chest, you shouldn’t bounce it. Once again, you’re making it harder to discern wether you got stronger or simply bounced the barbell harder on your chest. But more importantly: you greatly increase your risk of injury to your chest.
  • Lifting your butt off the bench. When you’re bench pressing, your head, upper back, and glutes should touch the bench at all times. This gives you stability, and, in the case of lifting your butt, once again is a way of cheating yourself to putting up greater numbers.

Differences Between the Floor Press vs. Bench Press

Both the floor press and the bench press targets similar muscle groups: your chest muscles, front deltoids, and triceps.

Bench press muscles worked
Muscles worked in the floor press and the bench press

The main difference between the floor press and the regular bench press is that the floor press is performed, as the name implies, while lying on the floor.

This has two direct consequences:

  1. Your range of motion will be limited by your upper arms stopping against the floor.
  2. You will not be able to use any leg drive, and do little if any arching of your lower back.

How does this affect the training effect of each exercise?

Let’s see.

Floor Press Benefits

  • Move heavy weights. Because of the shorter range of motion, you can typically use heavier loads in the floor press than in the traditional bench press. At least after you’ve had some practice. This allows you to overload the lockout (the top portion) of the bench press with heavier weights than you would normally use.
  • Easy on your shoulders. Also, because of the reduced range of motion, the floor press generally puts less stress on your shoulder joint, given the same amount of weight. It can therefore be a great exercise for maintaining your strength and muscle while rehabilitating shoulder injuries. Similarly, if you’re suffering from pain or a tear in your pectoral muscles, floor presses can allow you to keep your training up until you have restored full range of motion again.

Bench Press Benefits

  • Probably greater muscle growth. The main benefit of the classic bench press is that you work through a greater range of motion. A recent systematic review and meta-analysis of 16 studies showed that training through a full range of motion resulted in superior strength gains in both the upper and the lower body. Additionally, full range of motion training resulted in greater muscle growth in the lower body, compared to reduced range of motion training.1 Full ROM training didn’t lead to superior muscle growth in the upper body according to the analysis, but I personally suspect this might change as more studies are performed.
  • Full range strength gains. Another benefit of working in a full range of motion is that you increase your strength in that same, full range. Typically, when training in a decreased range of motion, you mostly increase your strength in the angles you have been training in. At least that has been the case for the squat, and you can check out our article on squat depth for several examples of this.

A new bench press study, published last month, challenges the applicability of this concept for the bench press. Participants got to train either full ROM bench presses, top 1/3 ROM, or top 2/3 ROM for ten weeks. Surprisingly (at least to me), the full ROM-group increased their strength the most not only in full bench presses, but in the 1/3 and 2/3 range bench press as well.2 So while the floor press might be a good choice of exercise for specifically targeting your lockout, you probably should still keep full-range chest training as the foundation of your training.

Floor Press vs. Bench Press: Conclusion & Recommendation

If you’re only going to do one chest exercise, the bench press is probably the best choice. This is because of its longer range of motion, which will likely lead to superior muscle growth and strength gains in a wider range.

If you bench press several times per week, however, the floor press might fit the bill as a good assistance lift. When you’ve gotten used to floor pressing, you will likely be able to use slightly heavier weights than you use in the normal bench press. Getting the opportunity to feel this weight in your hand and work with them through a partial range of motion might help you break mental plateaus in the full bench press because the weight doesn’t seem like an insurmountable challenge anymore.

And of course, the equipped bench presser looking to improve his or her lockout strength will probably find the floor press useful. Although, if you have a training partner to help you, the board press might be a little easier to set up.

The standard barbell bench press is a better choice for developing all-around upper body strength and muscle mass, but the floor press can be an effective exercise when you need to target a specific need or work around an injury or other limitation.

How to Include the Floor Press in Your Training Program

So how do you combine the floor press into your training routine?

Well, you could do it any number of ways, but I suggest that you:

  1. Still keep training the standard bench press in at least one workout per week.
  2. Make one of your pressing workouts hard, and the other one medium/light.

Point two means that you will have to choose if the bench press or the floor press is going to be the exercise you push the hardest.

  • If you choose to push your regular bench press the hardest, the floor press will rather take the role of an assistance exercise, where you generally stay further away from failure in each set.
  • If, on the other hand, you prioritize the floor press, then you should aim to improve on your last performance every workout by increasing the weight or reps you do. In this case, your regular bench press workouts will be easier, and you should stay further away from failure in these.

Both strategies are viable options, and you can probably make nice progress with either one.

Because you’re probably not very proficient in the floor press yet, and will therefore make quick gains in the beginning, it can probably be a lot of fun to push this lift for something like 6–8 weeks while you mostly focus on maintaining your regular bench press strength. Then, when you can no longer increase your training weight in the floor press from workout to workout anymore, you can substitute it for some other bench press variation for another 6–8 weeks, or focus on the regular bench press for a while.

Sample Training Week

  • Workout 1 (Monday): Floor Press: 3 sets x 5 reps – increase weight by 2.5 kg (5 lb) every week
  • Workout 2 (Thursday): Bench Press: 5 sets x 10 reps at 60–70% of 1RM

And of course, use our workout log StrengthLog to keep track of what you lifted last time and your PRs at different numbers of reps in every exercise.

More reading:

References

  1. Scand J Med Sci Sports. 2021 Oct;31(10):1866-1881. Effects of range of motion on resistance training adaptations: A systematic review and meta-analysis.
  2. J Strength Cond Res. 2022 Jan 1;36(1):10-15. Bench Press at Full Range of Motion Produces Greater Neuromuscular Adaptations Than Partial Executions After Prolonged Resistance Training.
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Daniel Richter

Daniel has a decade of experience in powerlifting, is a certified personal trainer, and has a Master of Science degree in engineering. Besides competing in powerlifting himself, he coaches both beginners and lifters at the international level. Daniel lives in Lund, Sweden with his wife and three kids. On StrengthLog, Daniel geeks out about all things related to his lifelong passion of muscle and strength.