We all know the bench press is a great lift to build the upper body. But what if I told you the secret to building an even better bench and upper body was using your legs in the bench?
I know it sounds backwards to use your lower body in an upper body exercise, but if you think about any exercise, no muscle is worked in complete isolation. There are synergistic muscles that assist with the movement and antagonistic that resist against it. The body wants to use more than one single muscle to move, so let it.
To think of any lift as a one single muscle is just incorrect. Allow the lower body to feed the upper body some power.
If you want a bigger bench, learn how to fully engage all the muscles with the use of a solid leg drive.
Learning how to utilize the glute and legs’ force to create a stronger lift is a challenge as well as an opportunity. There’s a very big difference between an optimally loaded bench press and one that is not loaded at all.
The glutes are POWERFUL muscles. They are capable of contributing to a strong bench without you even realizing it.
Just kidding. Mixing in a leg-less bench every now and then has its benefits. Benching without the feet on the ground is actually called a Larson’s press and its use is to build the pec muscles.
This can be a great option for bodybuilders looking for pure mass, but those looking to become a more well-rounded lifter or move more weight should be engaging their legs and glutes in their bench press.
Leg drive is crucial for powerlifters, though. Powerlifters want to hit the biggest numbers possible in competition and utilizing legs and feet is a key to doing so.
Keep in mind, leg drive for powerlifters looks different- so don’t feel that you need to have a big arch in your back just to get some leg drive into your bench press. You can find it without doing so.
Step-by-step instructions for leg drive throughout your lift:
1.Set your feet & engage your legs early
When you are getting set up on the bench, your initial foot position is very important. Too far forward and your legs won’t be loaded properly and can chance your heels slipping or feet kicking up if you begin to struggle. Too far back and your mobility may not allow for max power exertion.
Set your feet and get them locked into the ground prior to lift-off .
Your shins should at least be vertical, if not angled forward slightly with your feet behind your knees.
Heels up or down, feet far apart or wide. Your specific foot positioning will vary lifter to lifter. Personally, I’m a “bug-squisher” and I like to bench on the balls of my feet. So I twist my feet into the ground to gain traction prior to beginning my lift.
Some lifters find more power with their heels on the ground and a wider stance, though. (Side note, for those who compete or are looking to, heels down or up will depend on the rules of your chosen federation. Otherwise your foot placement will be according to your preference).
Don’t wait until you get to the bottom of your bench to engage your legs. Leveraging them early on will put you into a better position for when you reach your sticking point.
2. Descend while maintaining tightness
As you lower the bar to your chest, it’s important that you don’t lose your tightness throughout the whole body. Keep your legs tight, lats locked, and core braced.
At this point, you don’t have to do much else with your lower body other than keep everything tight and locked into place.
3. Drive feet into the ground out of the hole
As you press, this is your opportunity to flex your legs and glutes while pushing your feet into the ground to help power up the bar.
It’s important that you push your body in and up towards the bar.
4. Sync leg drive with press
Timing is important, here. The moment you prepare to press the bar back off your chest, your lower body should contract as one unit.
Engage your glutes and drive your feet through the ground at the same time you press the bar off your chest. If the timing is off, you’ll lose the force generated.
5. Keep butt and feet in contact through the entirety of the lift
Well, allowing your butt to come off the bench is a total cheater lift, so this is just a reminder about benching rules.
But more importantly, if you get pinned under the bar, how do you expect to get the weight back up if your legs are flailing around like the blow-up guys at car dealerships? You’ll fold just like they do if you do this.
Sometimes, when a lifter gets pinned under a bench press, you’ll find that they want to lift points of contact off the bench- whether it be head, butt, or feet- when in reality, they will get more force production from maintaining all points of contact.
Now that you understand leg drive, why it’s important, and how to do it– practice it so you can hit some big numbers.
Share this with someone who needs a better bench press (hint- everyone) and then tag me in your PR bench attempts on Instagram (@alyscrima/ @ironfirestrengthandfitness).
Yours in health-