Who doesn’t want a bigger bench? It’s that age-old gauge of strength, and as powerlifters we’re always looking for new ways to hit a new bench press PR.
Recently, the Larsen Press has become a very popular bench press variation and has yielded great results for many lifters. But unlike some other forms of bench press variations like a Board Press, Slingshot Bench, or Floor Press, the Larsen Press has some different reasons why it is a beneficial variation to add to your training.
The 6 reasons you should do Larsen Press is because it:
- Is a self-limiting variation
- Limits your arch
- Increases the demands of stability
- Promotes a strong chest position
- Simplifies the bench press
- Can be a workaround for equipment issues
Many of you are probably already familiar with what a Larsen Press is. But for those who don’t, let’s take a closer look at how to perform this variation before then diving into the details of why you should be Larsen Pressing.
What Is A Larsen Press?
The Larsen Press is a variation of a Feet Up Bench Press, with the legs hanging straight to the sides of the bench while hovering above the floor.
The main difference between a Larsen Press and a Feet Up Bench Press (where you place your feet on the bench), is the added need for stability and oblique control.
Feet Up Benching also tends to make it hard to elevate your ribcage, which if decreasing range of motion is the primary goal, that may be a bonus. But for more closely mimicking the Competition Bench Press position (for powerlifters), Larsen Press tends to do a better job of this.
The number 1 bench press cue for the Larsen Press I find myself giving athletes is to make sure to set up like it is your regular Competition Bench Press, then lift your legs up.
What you do during your initial setup before and while unracking the bar is extremely important and helps to solidify your position on the bench. We still need that for a Larsen Press, so it is best to go through your normal setup and then bring the legs up once you have settled after unracking.
If you want to learn more about how to set up your position prior to unracking the barbell read this article on the Bench Press Arch.
6 Reasons To Larsen Press
Here are the reasons why I would program the larsen press for any of my athletes.
1. Larsen Press is Self-Limiting
One of the primary reasons many people program variations such as the Larsen Press is because it is self-limiting. Let me explain…
Whether it is the squat, bench press, or deadlift, always doing the competition specific movements over and over can take its toll.
Programming a variation of these lifts can help to reduce absolute load while still allowing higher relative intensities. What this means is that the load on the bar is lighter than it normally would be, but the effort to execute the movement is still high.
Another ‘self-limiting’ exercise would be something like a ‘tempo bench press’, where you bring the bar down at a count of 5-seconds. By using a tempo you aren't able to lift as much. However, it still feels like you’re trying very hard.
The Larsen Press is a great variation to do if you’re further away from competition when less specificity is needed and higher volumes are being used. Allowing the weight to be self limited during these higher volume phases can help a lifter better manage these higher workloads with a lower risk of injury.
For the Larsen Press, I have found on average that it self limits by about 8% of what you could do on your Competition Bench Press. So if your Competition Bench Press max is 300lbs., on average your Larsen Press max would be around 275lbs. As someone becomes more experienced with Larsen Pressing and adapts to the movement this can very well change, but for most lifters this should be a good starting point.
An exercise that has similar benefits to the legs up bench press is the Z Press (click to check out my complete exercise guide)
2. Larsen Press Limits Your Arch
Leg Drive is one of the primary tools we utilized to elevate our ribcage and create a high arch position.
As we take away leg drive, it becomes harder to maintain the same position and in return creates a demand for added range of motion. As mentioned before, if the primary goal is reduced range of motion, Feet Up Bench Press tends to accomplish this to a greater extent. But Larsen Pressing no doubt accomplishes this task as well, with the other added benefits we will discuss.
For high arch bench pressers, it is important to train greater ranges of motion for hypertrophy. If we are constantly limiting range of motion, we are unable to satisfy some of the training adaptations we need to achieve a big bench press. You will find many high arch benchers program Larsen Presses regularly for this reason, as it places a greater demand on the pectoral muscles in particular.
Read this complete guide on using leg drive for bench press.
3. Larsen Press Increases Stability Demands
Lateral stability is often under appreciated in the bench press.
We think of the bench press as a vertical movement, and fail to realize that how we stabilize side to side can play a big role in our ability to transmit force efficiently.
When we take away our legs ability to stabilize through the floor during a Larsen Press, the demand for lateral stability greatly increases and places much more of the burden on the obliques. The obiliques are an often neglected stabilizing muscle within the bench press, as they not only stabilize lateral movement, but also help to stabilize the ribcage and increase serratus activation.
If you have ever seen someone where one side of the bar tilts down, you’ll often see the opposite side of the rib cage flared. This is due to poor oblique control and what I call a “floating rib cage”.
Even though we are extending our backs in the bench press and lengthening the abdominals, it doesn’t mean we should completely let off tension from them. That slight stability helps to control the side to side rib cage position, which then in return helps to stabilize the shoulder position through better control with the serratus.
With the Larsen Press this is more naturally forced, because if we do not stabilize through the obliques you will end up feeling like you are bench pressing on a stability ball. The Larsen Press is a good tool to force the need for this control, allowing a lifter to learn how to stabilize through to obliques, and then transfer that control to their Competition Bench Press.
Side note: Another great exercise for working the stabilizing muscle groups is the Cambered Bar Bench Press.
4. Larsen Press Promotes A Strong Chest Position
If leg drive is one of our primary tools to elevate our rib cage, when we take that away we place that burden more so on the back extensors to hold that position.
So during the Larsen Press, the back extensor muscles have to hold that isometric contraction to maintain an elevated rib cage position. And probably even more so than on your Competition Bench Press, if you lose that position on a Larsen Press, you get punished for it.
The cue this really reinforces is to “reach the chest to the bar”. During a Larsen Press this cue is vital to maintain good stability and a strong shelf to pause on. As we engrain this pattern through the Larsen Press, it makes it more natural to maintain that same position as we return to the Competition Bench Press.
5. Larsen Press Simplifies The Bench Press
The Competition Bench Press is a full body movement. And to learn how to use the entire body to maximize bench press strength is a skill that takes many lifters years to learn. While the Larsen Press isn’t easy by any means, it does simplify the bench press by placing the emphasis on the pressing musculature.
Just like on the Competition Bench Press, we must worry about shoulder retraction/depression, rib cage elevation, grip, elbow position, and bar path.
But all of these are upper body specific. We do not have to worry about how all of this interconnects with our legs. We can put more focus on the cueing of these upper body positions and simplify the emphasis to our primary movers in the pectorals, shoulders, and triceps.
In particular, it makes it a bit easier to reset at the top of each rep. On high rep sets of Competition Bench Press, you’ll routinely see lifters start to gradually lose position. On the Larsen Press though it is a bit easier to reset each rep since leg drive is taken out of the equation.
This makes it a great variation to use with higher rep sets to not only reduce load and self limit, but to also reduce form breakdown.
6. Larsen Press Can Be A Work-Around For Equipment Issues
We’ve all bench pressed suspect commercial gym benches where the bench height is really low. Don’t down play how bench height can play a big role in our bench press setup and strength.
The International Powerlifting Federation rules state that a legal competition bench must be between 42cm and 45cm (16.5 to 17.7 inches) from the floor to the top of the bench pad.
If you are lucky enough to use a competition legal bench, this point doesn’t apply as much to you. But for the many that don’t, Larsen Press can be a great tool to avoid benches that create issues due to height.
It is very common for commercial gym benches to be much lower than 42cm/16.5 inches, and makes it hard to achieve a proper setup. Since your feet are hovering above the floor on a Larsen Press, the bench height no longer becomes a factor. While this is a work around fix rather than a true fix, it can help lifters avoid these issues during times that equipment is a negative contributor in their training.
A particular example would be a lifter who has to drive some distance to go to a powerlifting gym, so they can only make it there on the weekends. In this case, maybe that lifter programs Larsen Press during their weekday bench sessions to avoid the issues with their commercial gym equipment. And then on the weekend programs Competition Bench Press when they have access to a regulation bench.
3 Reason Not To Larsen Press
While the Larsen Press is a fantastic bench press variation, there are downsides as well. If all you ever do is Larsen Press, you are missing out on 3 vital components that contribute to your powerlifting success that can only come from Competition Bench Pressing.
1. Specificity Is King
The reason powerlifters are the strongest in the world at the squat, bench press, and deadlift is because they are constantly squatting, benching, and deadlifting.
Bodybuilders may be bigger, but the primary reason powerlifters are stronger at these 3 movements is because of specificity.
In a perfect world, we could Competition Squat, Bench Press, and Deadlift all the time without any issue. But for those who do that, they typically find it hard to sustain training long term without accruing some added aches and pains, which is why we had in variations to self limit or help improvement movement.
But, we can’t do that all the time. As we get closer to competition, to achieve our best results on the platform we most likely want to increase specificity. So while the Larsen Press is a great tool, it doesn’t mean we use it all the time. But rather we strategically use it within our training during phases that require lower specificity or the need to self limit absolute intensity.
2. Leg Drive Is A Skill
Leg drive is one of the hardest skills to learn in all of powerlifting.
It took me almost 9 years of bench pressing before I felt like I could truly say I had mastered leg drive. And just like with specificity for strength, we also need specificity for movement. So if we want to master leg drive, we need to practice it.
If all we do is Larsen Press, we miss out on vital practice time where we could be learning, utilizing, and improving our ability to leg drive in the bench press.
A good substitute for the larsen press is the floor press? Check out my comparison of the floor press vs bench press to learn more.
3. Beginners Should First Learn To Bench Press
For a beginner, one of the primary goals is to improve their technique on the Competition Bench Press, Squat, and Deadlift. And to do so, they need to do those movements.
While variations can be used with beginners, I’d typically recommend we put the majority of our focus on skill acquisition before utilizing other variations as tools within training.
The best way for a beginner to learn how to Competition Bench Press is to do the Competition Bench Press.
Once they have a better understanding of that, moving into utilizing a variation can be a good tool to start varying their training based on the above benefits I mentioned with the Larsen Press.
The Larsen Press has become a widely used variation within powerlifting for good reason. It is a great movement to be able to achieve a variety of training effects that are needed to create a well rounded powerlifting program. And I’m sure there are a few powerlifters out there who continue to struggle with mastering the skill of leg drive that almost wish Larsen Press was the bench press of choice in competition!
Even though the Larsen Press is not new, its rise in popularity has been fairly recent. So if you’ve been wondering what all the hype was around Larsen Pressing and if you should be implementing it within your training, hopefully this article gave you a better idea of how it could benefit you.
About The Author
Steve Denovi has 10+ years of experience working with clientele from all walks of life and currently specializes in working with powerlifters and their pursuit of strength. He has his MBA in Marketing but found himself after college following his passion within the fitness industry. Steve now coaches athletes all across the USA and takes a special interest in helping to mentor new coaches and providing content to help educate the strength community.