The barbell floor press is an odd-looking movement to most casual gym goers because it’s basically a bench press without the bench. Instead of being performed on a bench, the floor press is performed lying on your back, on the floor with a rack set about a foot and a half from the floor.
The barbell floor press helps build brute pressing strength because it eliminates the lower body from the lift, thus doing away with strong leg drive and extreme arching. It’s also valuable as another partial rep bench movement because most lifters’ elbows will settle on the floor before the bar reaches their torso.
Step-by-step instructions for the barbell floor press exercise
Setting up a floor press actually feels kind of strange, especially if you’ve been working hard to learn proper bench form. At first you won’t know what to do with your feet. You may find yourself kicking and jockeying to find a comfortable position. Performing this exercise with your feet completely straight is ok, however, we suggest placing your heels on the ground with the knees at approximately a 90-degree angle. Your upper body should be set just like it would be for any other bench press, with your shoulder blades squeezed together as if you are trying to grip the floor with them. Using an overhand grip just outside shoulder width, position the barbell above the upper chest. The arms should be locked, and the wrists should be straight.
If you’re getting a handoff from a training partner, make sure the partner knows what he or she is doing when handing off to you. The bar will be much lower for her or him than with a traditional bench press. The first instinct may be to pull the bar too high, which can screw up your set-up.
Lower the bar in exactly the same path you would use for a traditional raw bench press, including trying to push your chest and belly up to the bar. Control your speed on the way down so that your triceps settle on the floor instead of plopping down to it. Hitting the floor too hard can injure your elbows and wrists or cause you to dump the bar. Never bounce your elbows off the floor. Instead, allow your upper arms to settle just enough to lose momentum before pressing the weight back up.
From the bottom position of the floor press, drive your head back and press the bar from the bottom just as you would for a standard bench press.
Additional tips (Performance pointers)
- Don’t let your elbows flare out as you press up the barbell. They should stay at approximately a 45-degree angle to the body. Think of making an arrow with the arms and the body, not a T.
- Don’t let the barbell drift away from you as you press it up. This deviation creates an inefficient bar path and makes the movement more difficult.
- Think of pulling your chest up to the bar rather than simply bringing it down toward you. This approach helps create tension throughout the upper body.
Floor press variations
The floor press can be performed with dumbbells for repetition work, as well as with a barbell for heavy/max effort training. If you’re careful with the lowering phase, you can even use the floor press for speed work. The fat bar works
particularly well on the floor press because the greater surface area reduces the stress on your wrists.
The pros and cons of doing floor press
- Helps build brute pressing strength (due to the shortened range of motion, you can load this movement up with more weight than you could typically press);
- Eliminates the lower body from the lift (removes the arch & leg drive from the movement which challenges your upper body to a greater extent);
- Improves lockout strength because the elbows are restricted on going beyond 90-degree flexion;
- Might be a good variation for post shoulder injury (although the shoulder muscles are quite active during the floor press, the shoulder joint doesn’t have a large range of motion to go through since the the bar will stop several inches above your chest when your upper arms touch the floor);
- Narrow floor presses are great for developing triceps size;
- Shorter range of motion when compared to traditional bench press;
- You can’t get a good stretch in your pecs at the bottom of each rep – range of motion is important for building muscle size;
- It targets the front delts and triceps more than your chest muscles;
- Floor press is less “sport specific” compared with the bench press;
- It is very questionable whether you will be able to lift more weight due to the shortened range of motion. Floor press removes the driving force you can generate by pressing your feet into the ground, meaning that the floor press becomes a torso-dominant lift, versus the benefit of additional power generation one can achieve in the bench press;
- Primary muscles: pectorals
- Secondary muscles: anterior deltoids, triceps
Therefore, barbell floor press exercise develops the same muscles as the barbell bench press—the pecs, triceps and anterior shoulder. However, the focus shifts primarily to the triceps and shoulders. It takes a lot of the back and chest out of the movement, because you stop when your arms are on the ground.
There are many other pressing exercises to target your middle chest area. Each exercise works the middle pecs and supporting muscles slightly differently. Remember, specificity requires that you choose exercises that reflect your needs and goals. Visit our middle chest exercise database to find those exercises.
- Flat bench barbell press
- Smith-machine bench press
- Seated machine chest press
- Push-ups between two Chairs – Deep push-ups
- Machine bench press
- Flat bench dumbbell press
Closing thoughts about the barbell floor press
The floor press is a variation of the barbell bench press, but is performed on the floor. Although it has its advantages in the right situation (depends on what your goals are), the floor press can never substitute traditional bench press. However, both exercises can fit into a strength training program and get you results. Most people use the floor press as an accessory exercise to improve their performance for bench pressing. The main reason for this is that floor presses emphasize the common bench press sticking point, where the bar is a few inches off the chest. However, for building bigger pecs, the bench press is arguably the best choice.