New Bench Press Study Finds Surprising Results


Justin Ochoa STACK

You know that weird dude at the gym you always laugh at for bench pressing with his feet up? He might be onto something…

Hear me out.

A new study published in the journal PLOS ONE compared the levels of electromyographic activation during a Bench Press in two different postures:

  • Posture 1: Feet on the ground (conventional)
  • Posture 2: Feet off the ground with active hip flexion and 90° of knee flexion

Before we even get into the data, a sentence from the results section: “During the bench press with the feet suspended and hips flexed, we observed higher activation of all evaluated muscles.”

Wait, what?

It’s true. Just look at the numbers from the study:

Yep, that just happened.

But don’t go around telling everyone they’re benching wrong just yet, as there’s a massive grain of salt you need to take with this info. To find it, let’s look a little closer at the procedures and see how you can best use this info to your advantage.

The Study

Twenty physically active young men volunteered for this study. Each participant had four years of experience in strength training and had performed the traditional Bench Press before.

Their first session consisted of finding their one-rep max on the Bench Press and developing familiarity with the two different exercise positions. Participants were coached on their technique until researchers were able to “approve” each of their lifts. Here’s an example of the two positions:

Next was the testing session. Subjects performed 8 reps with 60% of their one-rep max in both positions. All subjects used a 2-0-2-0 tempo. Each subject had ample rest between exercises. To rule out fatigue, half of the subjects went with the conventional position first while the other half used the feet up posture first.

As I alluded to earlier, the feet-up bench showed a dominant display of activation in literally every muscle group analyzed, including pectoralis major, triceps brachii, external oblique, and rectus femoris.

The Takeaways

As always, you cannot take everything in a study at face value.

Sure, the numbers tell us what they told us, but we have to consider application, the study’s design, and so many other factors.

There are so many unknowns, such as:

  • Had any subject previously benched with their feet up?
  • How did the subjects sleep, eat and recover before, during or after the testing?
  • How did the subjects sleep and eat before their 1RM was tested?
  • Was this study performed in a familiar or new place for the subjects?

But for me, the biggest question comes from the fact that participants only used 60% of their one-rep maximum. For context, if your bench max is 250, that’s a mere 150 pounds.

60 percent of your one-rep max is pretty low loading if you’re looking to build strength or hypertrophy. I don’t know that many advanced athletes will get stronger working with 60% of their 1RM for 8 reps, no matter which posture they choose. It would have been cool to see this study utilize higher loads, and it’s fair to assume an athlete may have difficultly lifting heavier loads from the feet-up position, as it’s inherently less stable.

However, the fact that they did utilize 60% means this research could naturally relate to Speed Bench work. Speed Bench work is a type of bench press training where we’re specifically focusing on moving the bar fast.

Most of the time, we work with 30-60% 1RM at .85-1.50 m/s in our speed bench work, for sets of 3-6 reps. We could potentially cash in on the feet-up position here as many athletes are in hip flexion while using upper body in their sport. Benching for speed/power in this setup may have some carry over if programmed correctly.

However, until further studies are published using heavier loads, I still believe the conventional Bench Press is going to be the better choice the majority of the time. We simply know that it’s effective with the type of loads needed to build significant amounts of strength and hypertrophy, while for this feet-up posture, we do not.

But there may be some creative ways to utilize this info when it comes to feet-up bench.

I actually haven’t Bench Pressed with my feet on the ground for over 3 years. But I don’t keep them in the air—I put my feet on the bench.

Since back surgery, I do not have the range of motion to effectively get into a conventional bench position. Elevating my feet onto the bench or plates stacked on the ground helps me get into a better position for my back.

I would recommend this to anyone who deals with back pain because it reduces the amount of back arch needed. It reduces your loading capabilities, but if you’re not a powerlifter, who cares?

I’ll take benching without pain over a few extra pounds on the bar any day of the week.

With that being said, this feet-up method could have some carryover into that same conversation. With the amount of core activation shown in the study, and a much safer back position, this could be a nice method for athletes with low back issues to still get in some bench press.

As I mentioned, I believe the conventional Bench Press set-up should still be your go-to execution for the lift.

There may be some unique instances where the feet-up bench can be useful given what we know about it today, and if you’re interested in exploring it, I encourage you to give it a try.

But for the vast majority of athletes, keep those feet planted on the ground so you can move more weight, and worry about hitting those other areas (such as the rectus femoris) with other movements directly.

Photo Credit: Study


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