Bench Press with Legs Up: What’s the Deal?

Dear Davey,

I’ve seen a lot of guys at the gym bending their knees or raising their legs in some way while they bench press. What’s that about? What are the benefits?

From,
Mitch

Hey Mitch,

Like anyone who has spent some time in a free weight room, you’ve seen individuals perform the bench press (or similar chest exercises) with their feet up on the bench or in the air. It’s fairly common.

However, I’d advise against it.

I’ve talked to a number of people that perform the bench press with their legs elevated and they usually do it because they believe they’re challenging their muscles more and/or they have lower back pain and it makes the exercise more comfortable. Unfortunately, lifting your legs makes the exercise unsafe. Consider the lack of balance and risk of injury when pressing heavier weights. And when it comes to challenging your muscles, there are better ways to train for gains.

To bench press properly, you should create a wide base by spreading your feet apart. Your knees should be above your feet and most of your weight should be driving into your heels. While the bench press is a chest exercise, much of the weight is supported by your legs – and by pushing through your legs and into your heels, you can help drive the weight up. Doing this will enable you to move more weight (vs. a legs elevated position), so I’d make the argument that the traditional bench press position is both safer and more effective.

If you are looking for alternatives and variety, consider drop sets, incline or decline benches, negative sets, grip variations or adjusting your rest time.

Love,
Davey

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Comments

  1. I see this all the time…barbells, dumbbells, or even just plain plates…never understood why you’d want to do it…now I have even more info against it. Thanks Davey!

  2. thanks for the info davey! i always wondered about this myself, i’ve tried it before, but it never actually felt anymore comfortable or challenging. maybe i’ve done it wrong, but than again, i’m not gonna try it again.

    thanks for the info! ๐Ÿ˜‰

  3. I do it. Either have my legs up or at least have my feed on the bench. I tend to arch my back and having my feed on the bench helps my back be straight and prevent that injury. I am no expert but it works for me.

    • Actually, you’ll want to maintain a natural curve in your lower back when benching. If it’s unnatural to do so, you can always add in a small piece of foam.

  4. Actually Davey raising your legs while pressing engages your core to an even greater level. By creating this imbalance your body, via your core, will automatically attempt to adapt to maintain proper balance for the excercise. The bench press is dangerous for anyone lifting heavy weights if they do not know what they are doing or if they don’t have a responsible spotter but there is nothing wrong with raising your legs as long as you are comfortable with the weight and want to engage your core more.

    • It’s not safe. I can engage my back more in a deadlift if I round it out, but it’s not safe. Simple as that. Why are you trying to engage your core more during a bench press? There’s plenty of core exercises to do that, focus on the bench pressing. Let’s say something happens and you can’t rerack. Your elbow goes out or something. With a stable foundation you can lower the weight to your chest and wait for help. If you’re feet are up in the air on on the bench, your elbow going out means the weight tilts and you lose control. You really have no idea how the scenario will end up, it can crush you neck, you can do some crazy instinctive move to try and save yourself and get a hernia, you can kill yourself. Do some cable crunches for your abs, do bench for the chest and the triceps.

    • There’s risk in any exercise, I bench while doing leg raises and flutter kicks. It will recruit more stabilizing muscles to balance the weight ad well. You mention that you can move mire weight, yes with leg drive and such however if your goal isn’t about moving the most weight but more about conditioning, balance and coordination then this might be a good challenging exercise exercise to try. Most people in the gym shy away from stuff like this because they can’t put as much weight on the bar. People can only become better overall if they work on the things they aren’t as good at. What it comes down to is what each person’s individual goals are and how it relates to their sport.

  5. nothing_happend says:

    Well said Brian, makes no sense to me any longer to lift my legs up hence this can lead to unbreakable chain of failures within just few seconds. And this will be the final conclusion about benefits coming from legs lifted up.

  6. Anything is dangerous without form. For me, legs raised with a flat back and good control is safe as for me. Why would anyone talk anyone out of this practice naming it dangerous…..maybe your core can’t compensate the balance and you need to lift less to gain form….

  7. I find having feet flat on floor during bench press gives me ‘cramp like’ pain.so I find having them raise slightly and resting them on blocks around 6-8 inches above the floor helps.Maybe this is because I’m not very tall-I’m only 5′-7″! Anyhow I find this works.

  8. Lifting your legs while benching, forces you to control the weight more with core and back muscles. Of course, you don’t perform this action when lifting heavy. This is a great way to hit your abs while benching.. Everybody isn’t made for this!!!

    • Well let’s see… 1. Engaging your core while doing bench press is hardly conducive to an effective ab workout, and 2. If you want an ab workout, do an actual ab workout.

      I dunno, it’s whatever floats your boat I guess. Lifting your feet in the air and lifting heavy weights is pretty dangerous; with small weights it’s not so dangerous, but it doesn’t really produce any real benefit. Then again, it’s your body, do whatever you want. If it’s bad for you or doesn’t do anything, eventually you will learn.

  9. leg_raiser says:

    I’ve been lifting my legs off the bench for years. I only do this in my adaptation stage to engage my core more than a regular bench. Once in hypertrophy I”ve created a super stable core that my bench in heavy and solid. This said, at that weight, this is when I plant my feet.

    The only time this is dangerous is when one is simply lifting old school . i.e. 8 -10 reps of heavy weight etc… usually these guys have a crap core, big pecs but weak back. Oh, and ripped doesn’t mean strong either.

    Sorry Davey, your methods are dated and generic if this is your advice.

    • I agree, I do it all the time due to back pain.

    • I think Davey’s advise is actually solid. You have essentially said that you raise your legs to stabilise your core, so that you can have a heavy, solid bench. But that seems backwards to me. Do core-focused exercise to generate long-term stability in your core; not some quick-fix when you’re on the bench. Do bench press for the muscles it is intended to target. Don’t mash them up. Easy peasy.

  10. Randy Weeks says:

    I started lifting with legs up due to lower back pain . Many older people I know do this. I agree it could be dangerous but for some of us it works. I can still lift almost as much for repetition and it definately does work the core. Also you are forced to stabilize the bar with your upper body.

  11. I put my legs up on the bench. Not in the air as some but on the end of the bench. There is a much more natural arch in your back when you lay flat on the ground. For those concerned about safety you can just use dumbells. Really though if you’ve benched with feet up for long enough you should be able to do so VERY safely.

Trackbacks

  1. […] feet off of ground. As I’ve mentioned before, elevating your feet while bench pressing is dangerous. If you’re looking to add extra challenge or variety to your workout, try drop sets, incline […]