We’ve written plenty about the bench press, and thought we were giving you some pretty sound advice for building up your pecs: back firmly on the bench and feet flat on the ground. But perhaps we, and most other weightlifting coaches, have it all wrong. 

A study published in PLOS ONE found that there were higher levels of muscle activation when people benched with their feet suspended, hips flexed, and knees bent at 90 degrees. 

Here’s a photo of the position from the study:

Bench press journal
© 2019 Muyor et al.

Photo: © 2019 Muyor et al.

Yup, you read that right. If you want the most bang for your buck on bench, at least according to science, lift those feet up. “The bench press exercise with active hip and knee flexion at 90° significantly increased activation … compared with the bench press exercise with the feet on the ground, with the same load in both positions,” the researchers wrote. “For this reason, to perform the bench press exercise with flexed hips could be recommended for training in sports where the upper limbs and hip flexor muscles are required.” 

Twenty men, with experience with weightlifting, benched 8 reps with 60 percent of their one-rep max in both positions. Researchers measured the muscle activation of the pectoralis major, anterior deltoid, triceps brachii, forearm, rectus abdominis, external oblique, and quadriceps during both exercises. All muscles had higher levels of activation when the feet were suspended and hips flexed, with the quads and obliques showing the highest levels of activation (not necessarily the muscles you have in mind when going for the bench). 

So does this mean you should change your benching routine right away? Well, that depends. As Justin Ochoa, owner of PACE Fitness Academy in Indianapolis, IN, points out on Stack.com, the subjects only lifted with 60 percent of their one-rep max. That’s not really the heaviest of loads for strength or hypertrophy purposes. 

We imagine that by removing your feet from the floor, therefore decreasing your stability, you’d have a much harder time lifting your training max, or indeed your one-rep max. 

Secondly, even though suspended feet might activate more muscles, it’s certainly less safe, especially if you’re lifting with a big load. If you really want to try this on your next bench day, we recommend having your most trusted spotter nearby.


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