It’s well known that the bench press is one of the best upper body exercises to build muscle and strength. Although the floor press is a lesser-known bench variation, it can also help lifters break through plateaus by enhancing their mid-range strength.
So, what are the differences between the floor press vs bench press? The bench press is one of the three powerlifting movements targeting the chest, front delts, and triceps. The floor press is done by laying on the floor and lowering the bar until the elbows touch the ground. The floor press hits less chest and more of the front delts and triceps compared with the bench press.
When incorporating the bench press and floor press into your program, there are a few key mistakes that most lifters make. These errors can result in reinforcing inefficient technique — wasting precious energy — or dramatically increase the risk of injury.
To ensure that you avoid these mistakes, pay special attention to the technique tips, common mistakes, and pros/cons of each of these movements below.
What’s The Difference Between a Floor Press and Bench Press?
There’s no question that the floor press and bench press target similar muscle groups. That said, they have a number of differing characteristics that you should understand in order to select the correct pressing exercise for your needs.
Personally, I think that the bench press is a better exercise choice than the floor press because it has a larger range of motion and greater specificity to powerlifting. That said, this assumes that the lifter has no current injuries, equipment shortages or a preference for the floor press.
Nonetheless, the floor press is an excellent variation when looking to strengthen the mid-range, when dealing with an injury, or when a bench is unavailable.
The 6 main differences between the bench press and floor press are:
- The floor press has less range of motion compared with the bench press
- The floor press doesn’t require a bench compared with the bench press
- The floor press has less shoulder mobility demands compared with the bench press
- The floor press targets the front delts and triceps more than the bench press
- The floor press can be used with heavier weights compared with the bench press
- The floor press is less ‘sport specific’ compared with the bench press
1. Range of Motion
The key difference in the floor press is the distinctly shorter range of motion.
Since the lifter is laying on the floor to perform this exercise, the movement’s descent ends when their elbows make contact against the floor.
Compared to the floor press, the bench press has a significantly larger range of motion.
It requires the lifter to touch the barbell to their chest in order to count it as a complete rep.
The floor press requires a barbell and power rack in order to perform it safely and efficiently.
The bench press demands a bench and bench press station or power rack as an alternative.
3. Mobility Demands
In the floor press, the shoulder mobility requirements on the athlete are fairly minimal.
In fact, lifters routinely find the floor press easier to perform when their shoulders are bugging them because this lift has a reduced range of motion.
Other reduced ranges of motion for the bench press are the boarded bench press.
On the other side, the bench press requires greater mobility in the upper body. This is especially true for the shoulder joint.
Lifters who struggle with their shoulder mobility will likely have a more difficult time achieving a full range of motion on the bench press.
This is because of the significant amount of shoulder extension required to bring the barbell from chest-level to a lockout position while keeping their elbows directly under the barbell.
4. Muscles Worked
The floor press predominantly targets the front delts and triceps. It also provides a minor amount of work to the pectorals.
The bench press primarily works the pectorals, but also hits the front delt and tricep muscle groups. When using the same load, the bench press targets these muscles harder than the floor press due to its larger range of motion.
In another article, I breakdown each muscle group used in the bench press and how activation changes based on grip, bench angle, and variation.
5. Weight Used
The floor press should permit heavier loads to be lifter than the bench press because of its shorter range of motion.
Practically speaking, this causes the working muscle groups to be placed in more mechanically advantageous positions — allowing the lifter to put more weight on the bar.
Take a look at my article on Is The Floor Press Harder?
In contrast, the bench press will usually demand lighter weights to be lifted.
The driving factor here is the increased range of motion observed in the bench press. When using the same load, the bench press will typically be more difficult than the floor press.
6. Sport Specificity
Regardless of the strength sport, the floor press has very limited transference.
This is largely due to the athlete performing the lift from a laying down position, and the constrained range of motion.
With the bench press, the lifter replicates nearly the exact exercise that is performed in a powerlifting meet.
The only missing component is that in a powerlifting meet, the lifter is required to briefly pause the bar on their chest.
If you want to learn more about rules, check out my guide on bench press rules for competition.
The floor press is a barbell-based bench press variation that works the front delts, triceps, and some of the pecs.
How To Do A Floor Press
Here’s how to perform a floor press:
1. Locate a power rack and ensure the safety arms are removed
2. Set the hook height low enough so that the barbell can be unracked safely while laying on the floor
3. Lay down with your back against the floor
4. Orient your body, so that your eyes are directly under the barbell
5. Grab the bar with your regular bench press grip
6. When ready, unrack the bar upwards by locking your elbows
7. Move the bar 2-3 inches towards your toes
8. Once it’s motionless, begin bending your elbows to lower the barbell
9. Continue lowering the bar until your elbows make light contact against the floor
10. Explosively push the barbell up and slightly back over your face
11. Pause slightly at the lockout position between reps to ensure a consistent bar path
Technique Tips For a Floor Press
Here are some floor press tips to help you with your technique:
- Use a strength or hypertrophy-building rep range. Considering its utility in improving upper-range bench press weakness, the floor press can be used to strengthen your bench press. If this is your goal, multiple sub-maximal sets of 3-6 reps will help you achieve that goal. However, it can also act as a great hypertrophy based exercise by sticking to sets of 8-15 reps.
- Use your regular bench press grip. Unless you’re deliberately performing close-grip or wide-grip work in the floor press, start to your regular bench press grip width. Alternate grips can certainly have their place, but using a grip that you’re familiar with at first will speed up your learning process on this exercise.
Read more about whether a wide grip bench press is good for increasing strength.
Common Mistakes When Doing a Floor Press
The most common faults in the floor press are:
- Smashing your elbows against the floor. Novice lifters will often jam their elbows against the ground when performing the floor press. Not only can this result in misgrooved reps, it is a safety concern for your elbows due to the force that is being transferred into them from the load in your hands.
- Setting the j-hooks too high. Like in the bench press, j-hooks that are set too high will result in an inefficient unracking of the bar. Instead of simply straightening your elbows to clear the hooks, you’ll have to push your shoulders forward. This will eliminate your upper back tightness and make it difficult to recreate the tight shoulder blade position that is beneficial in the floor press.
Muscles Used: Floor Press
The muscles used in the floor press are the:
- Front delts
- Pec major
- Pec minor
The floor press predominantly trains the muscles responsible for conducting shoulder flexion, elbow extension, and arm adduction (your arm travelling towards your midline).
Specifically, shoulder flexion is handled in the floor press by the front delts. This is the only shoulder muscle out of the three (front, middle, and rear) that is significantly recruited during the floor press.
Your triceps are in charge of extending your elbows, which occurs in order to push the barbell up to the lockout position.
Finally, arm adduction is done by the pectoralis major and minor.
It’s worth mentioning that compared to the same load being used in the bench press, the floor press recruits less muscle. This is because of the reduced range of motion in the floor press, compared to the bench press (which brings the bar down to the chest).
Benefits of The Floor Press
Some of the benefits of the floor press are:
- It improves your mid-range bench press strength. If you have a sticking point in the middle of your bench press (or slightly higher than that), the floor press can help. By deliberately targeting this zone, it allows you to build strength while working on your technique. You should notice faster rep speeds in your bench press (leading to less failed reps) within a few weeks of implementing the floor press.
- It builds your front delts and triceps. Many novice lifters have developed lower bodies, but lagging upper body musculature. Since the floor press emphasizes the use of the front delts and triceps, this exercise can be an effective way to increase the size of your shoulders and arms.
- It can be useful for rehab. When dealing with an upper-body injury (especially a pec injury that is sensitive to the bottom half of the bench press), the floor press can be an excellent workaround. The floor itself completely stops the bottom half of the bench press from being performed, giving you peace of mind as your injury recovers.
- It’s a great bench-free pressing variation. Whether you’re lifting in a commercial gym or at home, a bench or bench press station isn’t always available. The floor press is a great variation that allows you to train most of the skills and strength of the bench press, without needing an actual bench or having to touch the bar to your chest.
Check out my other article on the best tricep exercises to increase bench press strength. If you find yourself failing the bench press in the lockout, then this is a resource you’ll want to read.
Cons of The Floor Press
Some of the cons of the floor press are:
- Your elbows might ache a little. Compared to the bench press, the floor press has your elbows make actual contact against the floor. This contact — along with the added force from the weight of the bar — sometimes results in achiness in the elbow joints. To avoid this, try to touch the floor as lightly as you can at the bottom of each rep.
- You’ll probably need to lighten the load. Many lifters have a sticking point around the halfway part of their ascent in the bench press. Considering that the lowest point of the floor press replicates this weak range in the bench press, it’s likely that you’ll need to use lighter weights despite its reduced range of motion.
Our resident physiotherapist, Jim Wittstrom, wrote an excellent article on what to do if you get elbow pain in the bench press. Check it out if you’re experiencing this ailment.
The bench press is a barbell-based exercise that is commonly used to build the pecs, front delts, and triceps.
How To Do A Bench Press
Here’s how to perform a bench press:
1. Locate a power rack with flat bench, or a flat bench press station
2. If using a power rack, set the bench in the middle of the rack’s usable footprint
3. Ensure the hooks are placed so the bar can be unracked without pushing your shoulders forward
4. Once the bar is correctly positioned, lay down on the bench
5. Set your eyes directly underneath and in-line with the bar
6. Place your hands on the barbell, using your standard grip
7. Tighten your upper back by squeezing your shoulder blades together
8. When ready, extend your elbows to unrack the barbell
9. Bring the bar a couple inches away from the hooks and let it settle
10. Once it’s still, start your descent by bending at your elbows
11. Lower the bar under control until it gently touches your chest near your sternum
12. After making contact, forcefully push the bar away from you
13. Continue pushing until the bar is back to the lockout position
14. Pause for a second before starting another rep
Technique Tips For a Floor Press
Here are some bench press tips to help you with your technique:
- Use the entire strength-hypertrophy rep range. Strength improvements are most sensitive to heavier intensities (>85%), due to these loads being more specific to a 1 rep maximum. However, hypertrophy has been shown to be responsive to a huge rep range — all the way up to sets of 30 reps. While you don’t necessarily have to go that high on the rep range (especially if time is limited for you), consider using sets of 1-15 reps.
- Use a controlled-explosive tempo. Unless otherwise programmed, performing a controlled descent (1-2 seconds down) and explosive ascent (as fast as possible up) is a great tempo to use as a default. This controlled-explosive mix for the bench press tends to give the best technique, hypertrophy, and strength gains.
Want to learn more about tempo? Check out my article on the best bench press tempo that you should be using.
Common Mistakes When Doing a Bench Press
The most common faults in the bench press are:
- Bouncing too hard off your chest. Inexperienced athletes will sometimes bounce the bar off their chest too excessively. This is an attempt to generate additional momentum to assist the ascending phase of the lift, but often results in misgrooved reps. To remedy this, think about doing a “soft touch” on your chest. You might also have to deliberately reduce the weight if you can’t seem to use this cue effectively.
- Using an inefficient bar path. Novice and intermediate lifters — whether they’ve stalled out on the bench press or not — often have inefficient bar paths. Typically, they struggle on the ascent by pushing the bar up and back towards their face simultaneously. Instead, these lifters should be encouraged to push slightly back off their chest first and then lock out their elbows to complete the lift.
Muscles Used: Bench Press
The muscles used in the bench press are the:
- Pec major
- Pec minor
- Front delts
The primary muscles responsible for moving your arm towards your body (arm adduction), locking out your elbows (elbow extension) and bringing your arms back from in line with your sides to the lockout position.
Both the pec major and minor are responsible for bringing your arms in closer towards your midline, which is what happens during the ascending phase of the lift.
The action of elbow extension is handled by the triceps muscle group, which is a considerable part of the exercise.
Lastly, the front delts also contribute during the bench press in order to bring your upper arms up to the lockout position (just like when you raise your arms up in front of you while standing).
Recall that the bench press has a considerably longer range of motion compared to the floor press. This important feature makes the bench press significantly harder compared to the floor press when the same load is used.
If you're looking for more bench press comparisons check out my article on Bench Press vs Overhead Press: Differences, Pros, Cons.
Benefits of The Bench Press
Some of the benefits of the bench press are:
- It’s highly specific to powerlifting. The paused bench press is one of the three lifts that is tested in the sport of powerlifting. While you don’t necessarily have to always pause your bench presses outside of competition season, the non-paused bench press is still a highly specific variation to this competition exercise.
- It adds muscle to your upper frame. Strength trainees will sometimes lack upper body muscle mass. The large amount of muscles that are recruited in the bench press make this exercise effective for creating a solid training stimulus. Applied over time, this stimulus will outperform isolation exercises that work the same muscle groups separately.
- It’s an excellent free-weight alternative to the machine, dumbbell or bodyweight pushing exercises. Whether you perform a chest press, dumbbell bench press or push-up, the barbell bench press is an excellent alternative to these movements. Since it works similar muscle groups using a large range of motion and a different implement, it provides a new stimulus that can spur on more strength and muscle gains.
Cons of The Bench Press
Some of the cons of the bench press are:
- Your joints and muscles can get overworked. There is nothing inherently damaging to your body with the bench press. However, some lifters eagerly perform this exercise with reps, load or technique that outstrides their tissue capabilities. This can result in aches and pains, which can be long-lasting in some cases.
- You need a reasonable amount of equipment. While the bench press is a fantastic exercise, it does require a number of equipment pieces: bench, rack, barbell, and enough weights for your strength level. Compared to a floor press or push-up, the bench press might not be a good choice of exercise at all for some lifters who are limited by finances or physical training space.
Floor Press vs Bench Press: Frequently Asked Questions
I’ve received a number of frequently asked questions over the years, comparing the floor press vs the bench press. Here are the most common:
What Is The Main Difference Between The Floor Press And Bench Press?
The main difference between these exercises is their range of motion. In the floor press, the distance that the bar can descend is limited by the lifter’s elbows making contact against the floor.
I Don’t Have Access To A Bench Press Set-Up, Is The Floor Press Actually Worth Doing?
Yes, certainly. Although the range of motion is reduced, you’ll maintain a number of helpful bench-press-specific adaptations by continuing to do the floor press in the meantime.
When comparing the floor press and bench press, here’s how to know which one is the right exercise for you.
If you want to build the most muscle mass or if you’re a powerlifter, choose the bench press.
If you’re low on equipment (you don’t have a bench), you have an upper body pressing injury or you want to improve your mid-range strength, pick the floor press instead.
If your goal is strength and size then implement the barbell row; however, if your goal is to improve power output, then the pendlay row will be your best bet.
Other Upper Body Exercise Comparisons:
- Close vs Wide Grip Lat Pulldown: Which Is Better?
- Dips vs Push Ups: Pros, Cons, Which Is Better?
- Dumbbell Bench Press vs Barbell Bench Press
- Barbell Shrugs vs Dumbbell Shrugs: Differences, Pros, Cons
About The Author
Kent Nilson is an online strength coach, residing in Calgary (AB). When he’s not training, coaching, or volunteering on the platform at powerlifting meets, you’ll likely find Kent drinking coffee or enjoying his next Eggs Benedict. Connect with him on Facebook or Instagram.