One of the best bench press accessories you can add to your powerlifting program is the “bench press with legs up”. It’s also called the “legs up bench press” or “feet up bench press”, and it’s effective because you are required to press the barbell through a greater range of motion compared with a powerlifting-style bench press.
So, how do you perform the bench press with legs up? The bench press with legs up is done with the legs off the ground. The legs are usually bent and the feet are placed flat on the bench press. When benching with your legs up, you will recruit major upper body muscle groups, such as the pectoralis major, triceps brachii, and anterior deltoid.
In this article, I’ll explain the step-by-step technique for performing the perfect feet up bench press, the benefits you’ll get by doing this exercise, the muscles worked, and much more.
Legs Up Bench Press Technique
The legs up bench press is performed like a standard bench press, but rather than the feet placed on the floor, the legs are bent and the feet are positioned flat on the bench.
Even though this might seem like a small difference, the impact of having the feet off the floor while bench pressing can change the emphasis of the movement drastically.
In particular, you will not be able to perform a bench press arch with your legs up, and therefore, the range of motion for the movement will be greater.
Furthermore, implementing the feet up bench press creates a more unstable environment for pressing. Therefore, smaller muscle groups in the back, shoulders, and core have to work a lot harder to keep the barbell in the correct movement pattern.
Important note: The feet up bench press is sometimes confused with the Larsen Press. The Larsen Press is when the feet are of the floor, but the legs are straight. Read my full guide to the Larsen Press.
Here are some technique tips for performing the perfect legs up bench press:
1. Your shoulder blades should be retracted and depressed
In all bench press variations, the shoulder blades need to be retracted and depressed.
This means that the shoulder blade needs to be pulled ‘back’ and ‘down’ onto the rib cage and remain in that position throughout the entirety of the movement.
The reason why this shoulder position is favored is that it allows the smaller muscles in your shoulder, like the rotator cuff, to stabilize on your rib cage. It also ensures the ball of your shoulder doesn’t move up in its socket, which can cause further issues such as shoulder impingement.
The reason why I’m mentioning your shoulder position with the legs up bench press is that the focus of this variation is often placed on what’s happening with your feet and legs and some people forget to set their shoulders prior to lifting the barbell off the rack.
The legs up bench press was rated as one of my top bench press progressions to take your lift from a beginner to advanced level.
2. Start with a grip 1-2 finger lengths inside normal
Bench pressing with your legs up creates an unstable enviornment for lifting.
This is why I suggest using a grip that is 1-2 finger lengths inside your normal grip because this way your triceps can contribute more to the movement.
In a wider grip, even before you take your feet off the ground, your shoulders will be working at maximum capacity. In a slightly narrower grip, you are able to shift some of the stability demands to the elbow and triceps.
3. Your feet should be placed on the bench rather than in the air
You might see some people performing the legs up bench press with their feet ‘up in the air’ versus laying flat on the bench. The reason why people place their feet in the air is that they want to work their core musculature to a greater extent.
However, I don’t advocate for this approach, and I’d rather see lifters place their feet on the bench versus in the air for three reasons:
First, it’s much harder to keep your shoulder blades retracted with your feet in the air. With your feet in the air, you will find yourself in a ‘mini crunch’ position, which naturally draws your shoulders up and forward. This is not an ideal position for optimal shoulder health.
Second, you may find that your lower back starts to ache because it’s arching under load. You can absolutely have your low back arching while bench pressing, but only when you have your legs on the floor acting as an anchor. Without that anchor, your low back is more susceptible to fatigue.
Third, I’m generally not a fan of working multiple strength goals at one time. The goal during bench press should be to increase the strength of the bench press. If you want to increase the strength of your core, you should find specific exercises that target these goals.
The feet up bench press is an excellent way to target the chest muscles if you can’t feel your pecs while bench pressing.
4. The touchpoint on your chest should remain the same
As your shoulders begin to fatigue because of the extra stability required for the legs up bench press, you may start to notice that your touchpoint begins to change.
What you want to prioritize is having the same touchpoint as your standard bench press, but also, making it consistent from rep to rep. Try not to have the bar touch in different spots as you go through your set.
You can watch for your touchpoint if you set up a camera directly to one side of the bench. Aim to touch the barbell at the same spot on your chest every rep.
Check out my complete guide on the bench press touchpoint, which will depend on your grip and arm length.
5. Drive the bar ‘up and back’ off the chest in a slightly diagonal trajectory
After you have touched the touch, you want to think about pressing up with a slight diagonal bar path.
This is defined as pressing ‘up and back’, not ‘straight up’. If you press the barbell straight up in a vertical line, you will find that the lift becomes increasingly difficult as you lock the weight out.
A more natural bar path will feel like you pressing the barbell slight back as you lock your arms.
This will look like the barbell being “over your shoulders” versus “over your sternum” when the arms are locked, even though your touchpoint is likely somewhere around your sternum.
6. Stop if your shoulder hurts
As you perform the legs up bench press, pay particular attention to your levels of muscular fatigue and your overall shoulder position.
If you’re bench pressing with your legs up for the first time, you will notice that your shoulders are fatiguing a lot quicker because of the extra stability demands required. This is not a bad thing, but you will certainly notice your muscles fatiguing a lot quicker, even under lighter loads than normal.
Therefore, just ensure that you are using ‘pain’ as your primary feedback mechanism. If you feel any pain whatsoever, stop and assess your technique.
Learn how to use Leg Drive In The Bench Press
Benefits Of Doing Legs Up Bench Press
You may be wondering how bench press with legs up help and why you should even implement this exercise variation into your training routine.
Well, here are some concrete benfits that you’ll get from legs up bench press:
Benefit #1: It will increase the shoulder and upper back stability
As I’ve previously mentioned, the muscles surrounding your shoulder, back, and rib cage will need to work a lot harder to overcome the stability demands of the movement with your legs up.
This is because your legs use the floor to prevent any minor torso movements side-to-side, in addition to stabilizing your bench press arch, which helps position your upper back and traps on the bench press effectively.
With the feet up, the stability demands now need to come from elsewhere causing the shoulders and upper back to pick up the slack work a lot harder.
Benefit #2: It will increase the range of motion and muscle activation
One of the main principles of a powerlifting-style bench press is to try and reduce the range of motion as much as possible. This is why powerlifters usually implement a wide grip, in addition to a bench press arch.
The idea is that if you can reduce the range of motion by 2-3 inches using these technique principles, then that’s 2-3 inches less distance that you have to move the weight. Less distance equals less work, and therefore, more weight being used.
Without the legs on the floor, however, the arch won’t be as effective. As such, you will be moving the barbell a greater distance than normal.
While you won’t be lifting more weight using this variation, you will be taking your muscles through a greater range of motion, which can be highly effective for increasing muscle activation and size.
This was shown in a study by Muyor et al. (2019), demonstrating that when comparing the muscle activation of the standard bench press versus legs up bench press the legs up variation had greater muscular activation when using the same training load.
Benefit #3: You can get a high training effect without lifting as heavy
With the feet up bench press, you’ll be lifting less load compared with a regular bench press for the same sets and reps.
This can be beneficial because you can still achieve a meaningful amount of relative intenesity (i.e. how hard the movement feels) without having the risks associated with constant heavy loading.
This is a benefit for people who bench press more than once per week.
By implementing a legs up bench press on a second or third bench day, it will allow you to have a challenging workout without as much weight as you would normally need when doing a regular bench press.
Benefit #4: You will have a high ‘transfer effect’ to your regular bench press
After you have implementing the legs up bench press for a period of time (4-6 weeks), you will find that your regular bench press will feel stronger.
This is because the legs up bench press will help you build muscle, which will lead to greater levels of force production under heavier loads.
In addition, your stabilizing muscle groups will also see an increase in strength and efficiency, which will lead to a more refined movement pattern overall.
Muscles Worked In The legs Up Bench Press
The muscled worked in the legs up bench press are the same as the regular bench press:
- Front & Side Delt
However, as noted in the study by Muyor et al. 2019) each of these muscle groups is activating more in the feet up bench press with the pecs being activating the most.
Furthermore, one of the primary differences in the muscles worked in the legs up bench press compared with the regular bench press is the emphasis on the stabilizing muscle groups:
- Serratus Anterior (the muscles that wrap around the rib cage)
- Lower Traps (the muscles at the bottom of your shoulder blade)
- Rotator Cuff (four muscles that surround the back of the shoulder)
Read my full guide on muscles used in the bench press.
How To Program Legs Up Bench Press
If you are bench pressing more than once per week, then the best way to implement feet up bench press is on one of the additional bench press workouts throughout the week. The first day would be regular bench press, and the second day would be feet up bench press.
You should program the feet up bench press for two reasons:
1. You want to increase the level of muscular activation for your pecs because your goal is to build muscle.
If your pecs are weak, you will notice that you struggle with getting the weight off your chest under heavy weight. You may have no problem driving through the mid-range or lock-out, but you are more likely to fail right on your chest or just above it.
Building your pec muscles through feet up bench press will allow you to generate more force under heavier load. You can think of this like upgrading the size of your engine. With a bigger engine, the more strength you have.
2. You’ve noticed an overall weakness with your stabilizing muscle groups and you want to increase the loading demand.
If your stabilizing muscle groups are weak, you will notice (1) your touchpoint becomes inconsistent, (2) it’s easier for you to lose your retracted shoulder position, and (3) you have a hard time decelerating the barbell as it approaches your chest.
You can increase the demands of your stabilizing muscle groups using the feet up bench press, which will create a stronger overall bench press by having a more efficient movement pattern.
An exercise that has similar benefits to the legs up bench press is the Z Press (click to check out my complete exercise guide)
Frequently Asked Questions
Should You Use Legs When You Bench Press?
If you’re performing a regular barbell bench press, you’ll want to use your legs. This is called “leg drive”, which is a specialized powerlifting technique. leg drive in the bench press will help you maintain your upper back position and increase the stability and stiffness of the torso, which allows for greater levels of strength.
Why Do People Put Their Feet Up While Benching?
People will bench press with their feet up for multiple reasons, but primarily it’s to make the lift harder. As a result, you can use a lighter weight than normal but still have an incredibly challenging workout. The feet up bench press also increases the range of motion of the movement and therefore increases the muscular activation of the pecs.
Where Should Your Feet Be On Bench Press?
A good starting point should be where you place your feet on the floor and your shins are vertical. From there, you can place your feet slightly closer to your shoulders or slightly more in front of you. This will change the angle of your shins more or less, but it can all be considered an optimal range based on how long your legs are and your level of mobility/flexibility. Always ensure your feet are flat on the floor (not on your toes).
Bench pressing with your legs up can be an effective variation if you want to increases the range of motion of the movement, challenge your stabilizing muscle groups to a larger extent, and increase the muscular activation of your pecs.
I wouldn’t do the legs up bench press exclusively, but only on a second or third bench press workout if I’m benching multiple times per week. Your priority should still be on the barbell flat bench press, as it will create better strength adaptations.
Muyor, J., Rodriguez-Ridao, D., Martin-Fuentes, I., Anterquera-Vique, J. 2019. Evaluation and comparison of electromyographic activity in bench press with feet on the ground and active hip flexion. PLUS One. https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0218209