Bench press is a form of exercise that is mainly done for strengthening muscles of the upper body. It is a type of weight training exercise that aims at strengthening the following groups of muscles:
- Pectoralis major – Muscles of the chest that lies under the breast area
- Pectoralis minor – Muscles of the chest located below pectoralis major
- Anterior deltoids – Muscles of upper shoulder
- Serratus anterior – Muscles located at sides of the chest extending from the scapula
- Triceps – Large muscles situation behind the upper limbs.
Bench press is one of the most common forms of exercise that is done in weight lifting, body building and developing chest muscles. Bench press can be done in various forms. Before we understand whether bench press should be done with feet up or down, let us first see the steps of doing the exercise.
How is Bench Press Done?
As with any form of exercise, it is important to perform bench press the correct way. This will increase the effectiveness of the exercise and decrease the chance of injury. There are a number of variations in which bench press is done. However, the most conventional method is described below briefly in a stepwise manner (1):
- Step 1 – Lie flat with back on the bench. Ensure that the barbell is at eye level and feet are resting on the bench.
- Step 2 – Grip the barbell firmly on the inside of the weights. Make sure that the arms are wide apart, at a distance wider than the shoulder.
- Step 3 – Create a back arch and puffing the chest
- Step 4 – Contract the shoulders by pinching the shoulder blades together
- Step 5 – Now place the feet on the floor such that they are stable. Pull feet backward to create tightness and rigidity.
- Step 6 – Breathe in deeply and hold it
- Step 7 – Firmly lift the bar from the stand while maintaining the rigid foundation created by the shoulder and feet during initial setup. Hold the bar until well settled.
- Step 8 – Once a stability is attained bring the bar towards chest by slight flexing the elbows inwards
- Step 9 – Reverse the weight by lifting the bar into lock out. Ensure that the shoulders are still pinched and the rigid foundation is maintained
- Step 10 – Release breath and relax.
This is called as one rep or repetition. It is very important to maintain the rigid foundation and hold breath for maintaining safety. Bench press is repeated based on level of experience of the performer.
Should You Keep Your Feet Up Or Down During Bench Press?
The position of the feet during bench press plays a vital role. Bench press can be done by either keeping your feet up or down.(2) A study done in June 2019, published in PLOS One suggested that lifting feet up and holding legs at ninety-degree angle can help in strengthening the muscles better than by keeping feet down.(3) However, this doesn’t hold true for everyone and is associated with some risks discussed later.
The position of feet is determined by the following:
Purpose of the Exercise – Performers who are focused on strengthening overall performance capabilities such as powerlifting athletes should opt for feet down position. Performers whose main focus is strengthening upper body should opt for feet up position for more tightness and firmness during the exercise.
Experience Level – For beginners it is recommended to keep feet down for safety reason. Feet down provides better stability and reduces risk of injury. Experienced performers can opt for feet up option.
Risks Associated with Feet up Bench Press:
Increased Risk of Imbalance – Feet up position during bench press provide poor stability, unless you are well experienced. The body balances only on the back. This increases risk of hurting or injuring yourself while doing bench press from loss of balance.
Risk of Getting Stuck – Feet down position can increase the risk of getting stuck under the bar. This is because the legs are not available to provide the pushing force or the crutch support while lifting the bar. This can cause excessive straining in some cases.
It is advised to take help from a spotter while performing bench press with feet up in the beginning.
Benefits of Bench Press
- Upper Body Strengthening: Bench press is the most recommended exercise for upper body strengthening. This in turn helps is becoming stronger overall.
- Chest Expansion: Bench press targets muscles of the chest and shoulder which helps is increasing the overall breadth of the chest and width of the shoulder.
- Benefits of Bench Press in Increasing Bone Mass: Regular bench press also helps in making bones stronger by increasing the bone density.
- Increasing Testosterone as a benefit of Bench Press: Bench pressing increases body’s ability to produce testosterone.
- Increase Overall Functionality of the Body with Bench Press: Bench press improves overall performance capacity of the body. It helps in keeping the body active.
Bench press is a form of exercise that is done for strengthening upper body especially chest and shoulders. Bench press can be done with feet down or up. Bench press with feet down is generally recommended for beginners and for ones who want to improve overall performance capacity of the body. It is much safer than feet up position. Feet up position is recommended for experienced people and for people whose main focus is upper body strengthening. In either of the cases, it is advised to perform bench press under the supervision of an experienced instructor.
- Jose M. Muyor, et al. (2019, Jun) “Evaluation and comparison of electromyographic activity in bench press with feet on the ground and active hip flexion”. PLOS One. 14(6): e0218209.