What is a Barbell Floor Press?
Barbell floor presses are a slightly unorthodox exercise you don’t see in the gym every day. But, despite its lack of popularity compared to the bench press, the floor press is an excellent compound exercise that develops your lockout strength and leads to muscle growth.
As its name suggests, you perform the floor press by lying on the floor and bringing the weight over your torso. One of the most notable floor press benefits is that you cannot use leg drive and must engage your chest, shoulders, and triceps more to complete each repetition.
Another benefit of floor presses is that it develops your triceps and lockout strength, translating to better performance on the regular bench press. Plus, the range of motion is limited because your triceps get in contact with the floor. As a result, you’re in a stronger position, and the risk of a shoulder injury is low.
We recommend including the floor press early in your training and picking a load based on your goals. People primarily interested in hypertrophy should do 8 to 15 reps per set. In contrast, those interested in developing their lockout strength can use heavier loads and do three to six reps per set.
Level of Exercise: Intermediate
How to do a Barbell Floor Press
- Set the barbell inside a squat rack or stand at a height where you can reach it from a lying position. As you lie on the floor, you should be able to grab the bar and unrack it without extending your arms completely.
- Lie on the floor with your forehead directly underneath the bar.
- Reach up and grab the bar with a double overhand grip. Envelop the bar with your thumbs for an extra secure grip. Use the same width you do for the regular bench press––having your hands slightly more than shoulder-width apart.
- Straighten your legs, bring your shoulders back to the floor, engage your abs, and squeeze your glutes.
- Take a breath and unrack the barbell by extending your arms.
- Bring the bar over your chest.
- Take another breath and lower the bar slowly until your triceps are in contact with the floor. Going down slowly is crucial because hitting the floor with your arms can lead to a wrist injury.
- Tap the floor with your arms and press the bar to the top, extending your elbows and doing a full range of motion.
- Take another breath and repeat.
- Once finished, bring the barbell back, position it over the safety pins, and rest it carefully.
What muscles does the barbell floor press activate?
The primary muscle group that works during a barbell floor press is the pectoralis major (chest), which covers the upper front side of the torso (1). Our pec muscles originate from several places, including the sternum, and narrow down to a point that inserts into the humerus (upper arm bone).
The fan-shaped muscle contributes to numerous arm motions and plays a vital role in pressing the bar up and controlling it on the way down. Our pecs don’t receive the same stretch from a floor press due to the limited range of motion, but the exercise develops your lockout strength and leads to muscle growth.
Our triceps are the second major muscle group involved in floor pressing. The triceps make up the rear of our upper arms, and their primary function is elbow extension (straightening of the arm) (2). Our triceps produce a lot of force to assist the chest muscles and become more active as we get to the top of each repetition. Therefore, training through a full range of motion is crucial for activating the triceps and chest muscles.
The deltoids (shoulders) are the third major muscle group in the barbell floor press. Our delts primarily engage to provide stability at the shoulder, and the anterior deltoid head assists the triceps and pectorals in moving the weight.
Aside from the active muscle groups, our entire midsection flexes isometrically to provide some torso support, allowing us to press off a stable base. Some of the involved muscles include the rectus abdominis and obliques. Similarly, our upper back musculature engages to keep our shoulder blades retracted and assist the midsection for torso support.
Barbell Floor Press Vs. Bench Press
The barbell floor press is identical to classic bench pressing in many ways. Both exercises feature similar movement patterns, come with comparable ranges of motion, and train the same muscle groups.
A significant difference is that you perform the floor press while lying on the floor with your entire body straight. In contrast, the bench press is about lying on a flat gym bench with your knees bent. The regular bench press allows you to use leg drive to move heavier loads, but you can only rely on upper body musculature during the floor press.
Another difference is that your range of motion is limited during the floor press than on the bench press. When doing a floor press, you can only move the bar down until your triceps reach the floor, limiting the amount you can stretch your pecs.
In contrast, you can move the barbell down slightly more during a bench press, causing a better chest stretch. Still, it’s important to note that lowering the bar too much can cause shoulder issues for some people, an issue that isn’t as likely during a floor press.
The floor press forces you to perform each repetition slowly and with excellent control. You cannot ‘bounce’ the weight off the bottom because that would put significant stress on your elbows and wrists. Instead, you must lower the barbell gradually, pause at the bottom, and press.
Both exercises offer unique benefits and work well, so long as you perform them correctly. The barbell bench press is more of a ‘main’ exercise, especially for people looking to compete in powerlifting down the road. But, the floor press is a fantastic variation you can perform to improve your bench press and change up your training to avoid stagnation.
Barbell Floor Press Variations and Modifications
1. Dumbbell Floor Press
The dumbbell floor press is one of the best floor press variations you can use to strengthen your chest, shoulders, and triceps. Like the bench press, using dumbbells for the floor press is an excellent way to train both sides of your body independently. Additionally, using dumbbells increases stability demands, leading to better core activation.
2. Single-Arm Kettlebell Floor Press
The single-leg kettlebell floor press is a good variation that shares similarities to a dumbbell bench press. Working one side at a time reduces the risk of muscle imbalances, strengthens your core, and improves your stability.
3. Bridge Floor Press
Bridge floor pressing is a slightly unusual variation and one you should perform with a lighter weight. Instead of lying flat on the floor, you must bend your knees and extend your hips, positioning yourself in a bridge position (similar to a glute bridge). Maintain the position as you press weights to emphasize your pectoralis major’s lower and middle regions.
Mistakes to Avoid
Doing Repetitions too Quickly
One of the most common errors with the floor press is performing each repetition too fast. Trainees often do that because they are used to faster repetitions on the regular bench press, so they carry the habit from one great exercise to the next. The problem is that doing reps too quickly causes the back of your upper arms to hit the floor with too much speed, leading to stress on your wrists, forearm bones, and elbows. Instead, you should control the weight well, especially on the way down, gradually place your upper arms on the floor, and pause before moving back up.
Shortening the Range of Motion
The second common error with the floor press is shortening the range of motion. A floor press has a small range of motion compared to other chest movements, and shortening it further isn’t ideal. As a result, trainees either lower the weight too little or fail to straighten their arms at the top. Neither is beneficial because a shorter range of motion prevents you from training your muscles as effectively as possible. Avoid the error by lowering the weight until your triceps are flat against the floor. Follow by pressing the weight until your arms are completely straight.
Not Positioning Yourself Correctly
The third common error people new to the floor press make is not setting themselves up correctly. In most cases, trainees set themselves too far from the bar, forcing themselves to overextend when racking and un-racking. Doing so is dangerous because you must unrack the barbell from a weaker position, increasing the risk of dropping it. In contrast, some people set themselves up too close to the bar, making the squat rack get in the way as you do repetitions. The ideal position for most people is to have the barbell directly over the forehead. You can unrack the barbell with relative ease and perform reps without hitting the rack or stand.
Similar Exercises to the Barbell Floor Press
Bench Press – Wide Grip (Barbell)
The wide-grip bench is one of the best press variations that strengthens your chest, shoulders, and triceps, similar to floor presses. Keeping your hands wider apart causes a more significant stretch on your pectorals, leading to a stronger growth stimulus (3). The full range of motion and movement pattern is similar to the floor press, making the two activities identical and interchangeable.
Push Up (Weighted)
Weighted push-ups are another great exercise that strengthens your chest, shoulders, and triceps. The exercise has a similar range of motion to the floor press and offers good overloading potential. However, a notable difference is that your shoulders are free to move during push-ups, leading to better activation and development of the serratus anterior––the boxer muscle (4).
Chest Press (Machine)
Machine chest presses are an effective assistance movement for the chest and triceps. Like the floor press, chest presses offer a fair amount of control, leading to good muscle activation. A notable benefit of the chest press is that you don’t have to worry about balance and all your effort goes into pressing the weight. You can also increase the resistance as you get stronger and use the chest press to overload your muscles for a long time.