The age-old debate: floor press vs bench press…
I’m sure you’ve been losing sleep over this one!
Lucky for you, if you have been, we have all of the info about these two that you probably never knew you needed!
I’m sure you know that working in the “traditional” bench press station allows you the opportunity to press a lot of weight…more than in just about any other “pressing” movement.
On the other hand, the floor press can be a godsend for those with shoulder issues. This underrated workout sibling lets you use a neutral grip and offers a reduced range of motion, sparing your shoulders from excess extension while still working your pecs and triceps.
Now that we’ve whet your pallet, let’s examine the many more differences, benefits, and uses for both the floor press and bench press!
Table of Contents
Floor Press tldr
The much less popular of the two, even if you’ve been hanging around the gym for a bit, it’s possible that you’ve never seen someone perform a floor press.
This is a shame as well as being a tad confusing.
This uncommon variation of the bench press can help reduce the overall range of motion and greatly emphasizes incorporating the triceps. Some of the great old school lifters knew this and actually popularized the floor press as a way to develop upper-body strength and power before benches were widely available.
Ultimately, it’s just a horizontal pressing exercise that involves lying on the floor and pressing a barbell (or dumbbells) from the chest to the lockout position.
All this time, you could have been repping these out in your basement!
Bench Press tldr
The standard bench press is (also) a horizontal pressing exercise that involves lying on a bench and pressing a barbell from your chest to the lockout position. It’s one of the “big three” powerlifting movements and is the go-to exercise for building working the chest, triceps and, to an extent, the shoulders.
Interestingly enough, the barbell bench press evolved from the floor press and the bridge press. The addition of a weight bench to these movements increased the range of motion and allowed for more weight to be pushed than its predecessors.
(and it also is the sole reason why anyone goes to the gym on Monday)
Floor Press vs Bench Press: Main Differences
As you might expect, there are a few differences between the bench press and floor press. Let’s look at what differentiates these two movements.
Floor Press vs Bench Press: Range of Motion
The first glaring difference is the range of motion. Straight up, the bench press offers a greater range of motion than the floor press. With a bench to elevate your torso, your elbows can travel further behind your body, and, in most cases, you can lift more weight. In contrast, the floor press motion stops once your upper arms touch the floor, limiting overall ROM.
Floor Press vs Bench Press: Muscle Activation
When you perform the floor press, you mainly target the triceps and front delts. The bench press, however, involves your pecs to a much greater degree.
I mean, think about how often you see those barrel-chested dudes at the gym benching as opposed to floor pressing…makes sense.
Floor Press vs Bench Press: Joint Stress
Another difference between a floor press and bench press involves joints (…like, in the body). Regarding joint stress, the floor press’ shorter range of motion puts less strain on the shoulders.
See…shorter ROM can be kinda cool sometimes!
Floor Press vs Bench Press: Equipment Requirements
As you might expect, the bench press requires a bench, barbell, and plates. The floor press: only requires a barbell…it doesn’t require a bench! So, if you don’t have a bench, by default, you’ll probably find the floor press to be the “better” movement since it is one of the best exercises that doesn’t require one.
Floor Press and Bench Press: Main Similarities
Despite the differences outlined above, the floor press and the bench press are two similar lifts, each requiring the lifter to press the bar or press the weight from a prone, “laid out” position.
First off, the movement pattern for the floor press is pretty similar to the bench press. In both exercises, you lie on your back and use your arms to push the barbell up and then lower it back down.
(you probably already knew that)
Additionally, both exercises are excellent for building upper body strength (many lifters perform the floor place to improve their bench press or because they’re chasing better bench press performance), as well as that ever-so-important pushing power. Although the floor press doesn’t generally allow for as much weight to be pushed, you’ll definitely increase your bench press by working these into your training.
Floor Press Benefits and Downsides
At this point, we’ve established that the floor press is a pretty legit lift. Now, let’s look at some more of its benefits.
The floor press is a great bench press variation that requires minimal equipment. So, if you don’t have access to a bench the floor press is a great (and the only!) option.
As we’ve alluded to before, the floor press has a reduced range of motion, which, in turn lessens the potential for shoulder stress (when compared to the bench press, at least). So if you’re prone to shoulder issues, perform the floor press as a rehab lift or as your “main” chest press movement.
Sick of skullcrushers and dumbbell kickbacks, but need to work your triceps? Thankfully, the floor press targets those specific muscles more than your traditional bench press will.
If you’re like a lot (most) gym goers, you’ve probably completed about 273,491 sets of bench in your life…and possibly zero sets of floor press. If you fit this profile, do yourself a favor and add some floor pressing to your life!
With the good comes the bad…floor pressing included.
Range of Motion
I know we covered this already, but it’s a double-edged sword. While the shorter range of motion is safer on your shoulders, it also means less activation for your chest and lats.
As accessible as the floor press is, it still does require a barbell, plates, and an adequate amount of floor space to perform. Most garage gym lifters will have access to these items, but if you don’t, look into the dumbbell floor press variation.
Bench Press Benefits and Downsides
The bench press is a great exercise (it is the darling exercise of gym bros worldwide, afterall), but let’s discuss the pros AND cons of this popular lift.
Long range of motion
The bench press’ range of motion is significant. This means your chest, triceps, and shoulders all get to move in an extended manner.
Suitable for different experience levels
Novice lifters to the most seasoned powerlifters can incorporate the bench press into their routine. You don’t have to be an experienced lifter to benefit from this exercise.
The bench press targets a lot of muscles. To be more specific, the bench press is excellent for building muscle mass in the pectorals, anterior deltoids, and triceps.
As with the floor press, there are some glaring downsides with the bench press:
Tight Pecs can Really Hinder You
If your upper body-mobility is lacking, the range of motion of the bench press could be challenging and possibly limit the weight you can lift.
Proper Technique is Paramount
Without the correct technique, bench pressing can be unsafe. Before loading on the weight, make sure that you’ve developed a good understanding of the necessary form.
Less Attention to the Triceps
Compared to the floor press, the bench press doesn’t emphasize the triceps as much and mainly targets the chest.
Muscles Used in The Floor Press and The Bench Press
Yeah, you want to target the chest…but consider the other muscles the floor press benefits and the bench press hits. Let’s take a quick look at all of the muscles involved.
The pectoralis major (pecs) takes the center stage for both lifts while the triceps brachii (triceps) get a lot of attention, too (especially in the floor press). The anterior deltoid, your front shoulder muscles, also get in on the action.
Additionally, the latissimus dorsi (the large muscles of the back), trapezius (the muscles connecting the neck, shoulders, and back), rhomboids (the small muscles between the shoulder blades), and serratus anterior (the muscles beside the ribs) are all getting worked.
Common Mistakes When Performing a Floor Press
Before you get out there and get floor pressin’, let’s talk about some common mistakes people make during this exercise:
First, too many people just lay out without really thinking about what they need to do. Make sure you’re paying attention to your setup. Lie down with your back flat, feet grounded, and knees bent. Keep your shoulder blades retracted and your core engaged. This will not only prevent injury but also help you get more out of the exercise.
Related to the first mistake, many lifters don’t really think about what they’re doing during the exercise either. When performing a floor press, consciously think about engaging your chest and triceps throughout the movement. This will help optimize muscle activation and reduce the risk of injury.
Finally, don’t rush your sets. Performing the exercise too quickly can not only compromise your form, but can also limit muscle engagement. Slow down and concentrate on your technique
Common Mistakes When Performing a Bench Press
Like the floor press, the bench press presents a lot of opportunity for…chaos. I’ve definitely “messed” around and found out while benching (with a torn pec muscle to prove it!) so…don’t be like me; avoid these mistakes in order to avoid injury and maximize all of the bench press benefits:
Too many people do random stuff with their feet when they bench.
This isn’t good.
You need a stable base from which to perform your press. So, dig those heels into the ground, and push through them while lifting. Every, time.
Do you let your wrists bend backwards as you lower the bar? If so, you’re asking for a wrist injury. Keep your wrists straight and aligned with your forearms to avoid unnecessary stress.
While yuge back arches may have been the way to go for powerlifters of the distant (and recent) past, they’re not for the vast majority of lifters. Ensure your lower back maintains contact with the bench to prevent a serious spinal injury.
Bouncing the bar off your chest can feel cool and looks awesome when you see defensive tackles bench 225 for reps at the NFL Combine.
But one “wrong” bounce can lead to a pretty gnarly clavicle injury.
Control the movement and don’t let the weight drop too fast onto you.
Frequently Asked Questions
I feel like we’ve hit most of the high points with these lifts, but we’ll stick around for a little longer to address the stragglers’ questions:
The bench press definitely wins the popularity contest. It's cemented its place as a beloved, classic upper body movement targeting the chest, shoulders, and triceps. The floor press, however, doesn't lag behind. It, too, works your chest and triceps (even better than the bench press does!) but places a little extra emphasis on the lockout phase. So…pick your own muscle-building champion based on your own goals and preferences.
The floor press restricts your range of motion, which can make it less "technically" challenging than the bench press. On the other hand, it puts more emphasis on your triceps and mid-range strength, which can be useful for those who want to overcome sticking points.
The fact that most lifters have a lot more practice with bench pressing can make it seem “easier”, although the heavier weights that can be moved while benching…aren’t easy to move.
Yeah, these are legit alternatives to their barbell brethren. Both dumbbell floor press and dumbbell bench press have their own advantages.
The dumbbell floor press can help those with mobility and stability concerns as it provides more freedom in wrist position and added stability from the floor. The dumbbell bench press can also provide a greater range of motion than a regular bench press does. It really comes down to the goals and the equipment you have access to.
Bench Press vs Floor Press: Post-game Interviews of the Upper Body Beasts
Floor press: “I have the utmost respect for the bench press. It has solidified itself as one of the greats in the lifting world and I respect its status as one of the “big three” lifts…even if I was actually around first. It is a tough adversary, but competes with a lot of heart and respect. My hat goes off to the bench press…great game!
Bench press: “The floor press is such a pretentious, stupid little lift. I mean, you’re too lazy to find some hard, elevated surface to work on for a few minutes? And all of this nonsense about helping with ‘sticking points’…like, why don’t you just load more weight…with me…and just…get strong enough to push through them? I hate the floor press; they have no place in your Monday workout!
Well…yeah…that was awkward…
Regardless of who your personal “champion” is, don’t be afraid to add the floor press into your training regimen…or to bench press even more (within reason!)
If you’re interested in another one of our “popular lift vs. not-so-popular variation” articles, check out what went down between rack pulls and deadlift. These guys take the whole “sticking point” thing to the next level!