The hardest part of the bench press is lifting the bar off your chest. A good momentum from the legs will help move it to the point where the strong extensor muscles take over. Learn to use your legs for the bench press and get ready to break old personal bests!
Q: I’m a powerlifter and I’m wondering if the effort from the legs helps lift more weight in the bench press. Some lifters deny the importance of legs, others call them the Holy Grail. Who is right?
Even if the effort from the legs is not the Holy Grail, its importance should never be underestimated. Remember three key rules about making a successful bench press, and your numbers in the main exercise of powerlifting will go up:
- Pay attention to the position of your feet.
- Use every gram of effort from your leg muscles.
- Raise the bar in a curve, not straight up.
In the world of strength sports, leg effort is considered to be something of a top-secret healing potion that only elite athletes should have access to. It’s time to put an end to this and bring the forbidden fruit into the public domain!
The importance of leg impulse for a confident bench press remains a hotly debated topic. Proponents of the trick argue that pushing from the lower body turns poodles into bull terriers, while opponents argue that this is as useless as a cup of decaffeinated coffee.
I would join the first camp. First of all, we must not forget that the bench press is a basic exercise in which the muscles of the whole body are involved. To lift the maximum weight, you need to remember that the body is a single system of legs (and arms). Of course, this does not mean that just a good momentum from the legs will turn a weakling into Jeremy “King of the Bench Press” Hurnstra. But even if the technique does not help you make a breakthrough in this exercise, it will allow you to perform it more efficiently and safely. If you don’t believe me, just try a bench press with your legs raised.
Watch the position of the feet
The ideal bench press technique starts from the starting position: find a suitable frame height, lock your upper back, rest your feet on the floor, and place your hands and wrists correctly.
Taking the starting position, many powerlifters completely forget about the position of the feet. Meanwhile, this detail is very important in terms of stability and the generation of maximum force from the lower body. The width of your feet is a matter of personal preference, but the general rule of thumb is that the closer you place your feet, the easier it is to make a mistake and pull your buttocks off the bench. Once that happens, you can send your bench press a goodbye kiss.
I recommend finding a position with your feet where your calves are nearly vertical during the bench press. If you are using a strong arch, you can pull your feet back a little and lift up on your toes. In this position, you exchange the maximum effort from the legs for the maximum deflection. If you are a seasoned powerlifter who can lift the bar in this style – and lift without risk – then go ahead.
If you can place your feet far back without lifting up on your toes, you will create maximum tension in your upper body. This will put you in a stable position so that you can generate the most force from your lower body. If, due to your short stature, you cannot take this position, you are still lucky: in powerlifting competitions, short athletes are allowed to substitute a platform under their feet or put pancakes. (But don’t even think about putting your feet close together in competition. This is a flagrant violation of any powerlifting federation’s rule of thumb, followed by immediate disqualification.)
Use every gram of effort from your legs
When you figure out the position of the feet, make sure that your pressure on the floor does not suddenly turn into a gluteal bridge. Try it once and your buttocks will come off the bench. Instead, try to direct the leg force to the sides (many guys do this with squats ), and while lifting the bar, try to push your toes further and forward. Imagine doing a leg extension on a machine with your feet fixed to the floor.
As you press your fingers into the floor, imagine that you are trying to push the floor with your feet. This technique will help to spread the hips slightly without increasing the extension in the lumbar spine.
Lift the barbell in a curve
In the bench press, the bar should not be lifted in a straight line, but in an arc that resembles the Latin letter J. The effort from the legs should correspond to this trajectory. Remember that you are generating a force that moves the bar slightly backward, rather than straight up, so that the trajectory is perfect. Don’t be afraid to move off the bench. The upper back is firmly fixed and squeezed into the bench so deep that you will definitely not move anywhere.
The strong impulse from the legs brings your body together and helps start the barbell movement from the chest from the bottom position. This is a huge advantage because the bench press has an upward force curve: the muscle effort required to move the weight decreases as you move in amplitude, making it easier to lift before full extension. Connecting the legs will help to move the barbell by the first ten centimeters, and when the projectile passes this point, the strongest extensor muscles will begin to lift it. The J curve allows your chest, shoulder and triceps muscles to work synergistically so you can lift the maximum weight.