Written by Coach Ben of Big Benchas
Adequate foot placement and the ability to create leg drive in the bench press is something I see plaguing lifters with difficulty. It is one of the hardest technical aspects involving the bench press. Even when you have leg drive down, you run into issues of your feet not touching the floor or the bench is too low! I’m sure many of you know what I mean!
I’m going to address those issues and break a complex technique down into an easy to understand process. After reading this article you will know how to modify the bench you’re pressing on and how to create leg drive in any scenario!
First I want to fix the issues of your feet not touching the floor, the pad being too big, or the bench being too low. Once these issues are resolved, we can then apply leg drive in an effective manner.
Feet Won’t Touch The Floor
This is an issue I see fairly often! What do you do when your feet won’t touch the floor and what is the best solution for this? You can fix this in one of a few ways. The first would be raising the floor. This would include placing blocks, plates, or other objects on the floor. You need to be careful with what you select however if you bench flat-footed you need to keep in mind that you want a good non-slip surface. Sometimes blocks can be too slippery and cause you to lose footing.
The best solution I have found is wooden blocks with a non-slip surface glued to the top. You can use plates or DC blocks but you may want to put a yoga mat or a non-slip material over the top for traction. I have also folded up yoga mats to place on the floor as well for additional height and traction. If done correctly they will hold and not unravel or slip.
The next solution comes from changing your footwear. Depending on the height at which you’re at a deficit, obviously boots will give you the height and traction you’re looking for. On the bright side, nothing looks more badass than a kick-ass pair of benching boots! You can also wear a pair of weightlifting shoes for the additional height they provide in the heel.
Bench Is Too Low
This is a common issue for taller lifters and those who train out of a commercial gym. Commercial gym benches are a lower height than competition benches and the rack height is fixed in two places. It makes it extremely difficult to bench effectively. However, there is hope!
A great trick is to utilize yoga mats! A 1” thick yoga mat will not only add height to the bench, but will add traction and cushion to a hard slippery surface. You can continue stacking these to get the desired height you need either for your feet or your rack height.
One of the athletes I coach put together an effective, easily transportable pad he places on his commercial gym bench. It is made of a thick yoga mat, the slingshot benchmark on the head for traction, and non-slip furniture strips on the bottom to hold it sturdy to the bench. It is cost-effective and completely transforms the experience!
Traction, as I mentioned previously, is a critical element in regards to effective benching. You need to be able to create leg drive without fear of slipping. Unfortunately many don’t create adequate leg drive because of this! It is a prerequisite for good leg drive.
Traction on the bench can be addressed by what we just talked about, using a mat, and a product like the benchmark. Traction for the feet, however, is the main priority after that. If you’re using blocks to prop your feet up you’ll want to make sure they are covered with a non-slip surface and or the blocks aren’t moving when you push against them. Most gym floors are adequate but an easy solution for a home gym or private space is using a rug underneath the bench. If you travel to a commercial gym you might want to think about saving pieces of a thin yoga mat to place down for your feet.
Tips For Leg Drive
Now that we put ourselves in a position to create good leg drive, let’s talk about the components necessary to execute!
Foot position is really a matter of personal preference. I will go into a little more detail on why a little later. The drive direction has more to do with keeping your hips on the bench than does where you actually place your feet. What I tell my athletes is to find a position you feel stable with and can push back hard from!
It is important to note that I do traditionally teach a wider foot position for the sake of additional stability. Think of your bench stance as a tripod. A tripod is more stable when the base is larger. Placing your feet wider will increase your stability, no doubt about it. Do you need that extra stability? Well, that depends on the athlete. An equipped bencher will need it more.
Angling your toes the right way can change how you perform your leg drive. If you keep your feet pointed straight forward, you will likely create a leg extension type leg drive which will weigh heavily on the quads. There is nothing wrong with this, however, I like to teach my athletes that the bench is just a squat lying down.
Flaring your toes out slightly allows you to open up your hips more and get more out of the immense power of your hips! Think about a squat. Most have some sort of toe flare in their squat to aid in opening up their hips on the descent down. Squatting with your toes straight forward makes it a bit harder to open up and use your hips if you’re lacking some mobility.
Hip tension is key for connecting the strength of your leg drive into the press of the bar. Think of your body as an entire kinetic chain. Strength starts from the ground up and in order for that force to transfer effectively, everything needs to be tight. If your hips aren’t connected in this process, you can push as much as you want but you won’t get that transfer into the bar that you’re looking for.
How do we create hip tension? Drive your knees outward! Pretend there is a band around your legs and you want to spread that band hard. If you practiced this on a bench and brought intensity to it you would feel your hips shaking! This is hip tension!
This is a hugely important concept when talking leg drive! The glutes are the biggest muscle in your body and carry with it tremendous power and strength! This is what we want to bench with! It’s not enough to just create that hip tension, where most fail is they simply aren’t squeezing their butt!
Blaine Sumner had a great cue. Pretend the lower half of the bench was missing. You should still be able to bench exactly the same. Let that sink in for a second. This entails that your hips are touching the bench by rule, but are never bearing weight on the pad. Pretend there is a scale under your hips. Your hips should always touch the scale but the scale should always read zero!
Drive direction is you putting it all together! Why most struggle with their hips popping off the bench is because they are creating leg drive like a glute bridge! We don’t want this. We want to push off the bench, literally like we are trying to forcefully slide our bodies off the pad! The role of the traction as we talked about earlier is to keep us in place. The reason many are lacking the practice with this concept is because they are lacking traction!
If there was a wall in front of your feet, how you create leg drive would be as if you were pushing off that wall, not the floor. This is the secret to creating good leg drive. If you get everything down that was previously mentioned, this is the final component. It doesn’t matter if you’re tall, or where you place your feet, you can keep your hips down by executing leg drive in this fashion. You will also increase the strength of your bench press dramatically!
"Nick Benerakis is a powerlifting coach and owner of Big Benchas. His best competition bench to date is 820 pounds multi-ply. His website www.bigbenchas.com and his YouTube channel Big Benchas is dedicated to providing all the content you need to take your bench to the next level! Follow on IG @bigbenchas.
For additional help or coaching please email at email@example.com"