It’s the worst when you get to the gym ready to smash out a workout, and all of the benches are taken in the free weights section.
You wanted to do some great chest exercises using the dumbbells, but now you’re going to have to rethink your workout. However, this does not have to be the case.
The floor press is a chest dumbbell press variation that, as the name suggests, involves lying on the floor.
The floor press mimics the traditional dumbbell press performed on a bench. It uses the same muscle groups and targets the chest, upper back, and arms nicely.
In this article, I am going to run through what this exercise is, how to perform it, its benefits and drawbacks, and common mistakes I’ve seen many people make when doing the floor press.
What Is the Floor Press?
The floor press is very similar to the traditional dumbbell chest press that is performed using a bench. In fact, to the untrained gym goer, they probably look exactly the same.
The obvious difference is that you’re doing it on the floor. You can do this exercise either on a mat somewhere in the corner of the gym, or in a squat rack if you don’t have a partner to help you.
Rather than using the full range of motion as you would with a bench press, your elbows stop when you hit the floor, which pushes the focus from the chest to the triceps.
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Muscles Used in the Floor Press
The chest press is a compound exercise. It uses multiple muscle groups, in particular the horizontal pressing muscles, which are the pectoralis major and pectoralis minor.
These muscles are a requirement for horizontal adduction, and help to stabilize the bar as you press it up.
Although the pecs are the primary movers in the floor press, the triceps are also extremely important.
They are most active during the lockout part of the rep. With the shortened range of motion used in this chest press variation, the emphasis is pushed towards the triceps more so than a traditional bench press.
The deltoids, in particular the anterior delts, are also worked in the floor press. They are most active during the portion of the rep where you’re pushing your elbows up off the floor.
For those of you with longer limbs, you’ll probably find that you need to use your delts a lot more than someone with shorter limbs.
How to Perform the Floor Press
If you’ve been doing the dumbbell chest press on a bench for years, you’re going to find it pretty easy to transition over to the floor press.
Both movements are similar and the general principles are the same. You are pushing the weights away from you primarily using your chest.
Here is a simple step-by-step guide to performing the floor press correctly.
- Lie flat on the floor, either on a mat or under a squat rack with the pins loaded about a third up the rack. You can extend your legs straight out or bent them at the knees
- Grip a set of dumbbells or the barbell with an overhand grip shoulder-width apart. If you’re using a heavy weight, you might need somebody to help you get into the proper starting position
- Start with your arms fully extended above you and slowly lower the weight until your elbows reach the floor
- Press the weight back up to the start position using a powerful, explosive movement
Tips for Performing the Floor Press
- Slow down the concentric (first) part of the rep to avoid banging your elbows on the floor
- Focus on powerfully pressing the weight up off the floor during the eccentric (second) part of the rep to improve strength and power
- Keep your elbows tucked in to keep the tension in your chest and to avoid placing excess stress on the shoulder and elbows joints
10 Benefits of the Floor Press
1. It Increases Strength
The floor press can target specific upper body muscles to increase hypertrophy and strength. Using a moderate to heavy weight stimulates hypertrophy in your chest and triceps.
2. It Emphasises the Triceps
The triceps are most engaged during the lockout phase of the rep in any bench or floor press movement.
Because the floor press emphasizes the second half of the rep, it pushes the force into the triceps, helping to build strength and grow the three heads of the muscle.
3. It Requires Minimal Equipment
If you get to the gym and every bench is taken, or if you work out at home, and have minimal equipment, the floor press is the next best option.
4. It Improves Lockout Strength
For those of you who find the lockout portion of the bench press or overhead press the most difficult, as many lifters do, practicing the floor press can help.
It targets this weak area by focusing on the top half of the rep, including the lockout at the end. This can lead to an overall increase in strength and muscle growth in the chest and triceps.
5. It’s Great for Beginners
In my experience, many newbies to the gym are reluctant to head straight into a bench press. For this reason, I often started them off with the floor press before slowly progressing onto heavier pressing exercises.
The press teaches you the correct form to adopt when pushing a heavy weight away from you. This is without compromising the safety of your shoulder joints.
6. It’s Beneficial for Previous Injuries
If you’ve had a previous shoulder injury, it can make it difficult to safely perform any pressing exercise. The floor press reduces the range of motion that the joint has to go through. In particular, it removes the external rotation of the shoulder joint, which is required for the traditional bench press.
The shortened range of motion in the floor press can therefore reduce the likelihood of you experiencing pain or aches if you’ve had a previous shoulder injury.
7. It’s Great for the Mid to Top Range of the Rep
The floor press is a great variation to help those of you who struggle with the top half of any pressing movement. It can help you push past the mid-range sticking points.
This is especially the case if you choose to pause for a couple of seconds in each rep. You will be practicing moving from a dead stop into the eccentric part of the movement.
8. It Can Enhance Eccentric Strength
Because of the partial reps performed, your eccentric strength and control are improved in the press.
The ability to bounce the weights like you can in a traditional bench press is non-existent. So, this is forcing you to engage your muscles to properly control the weight up.
9. You Can Use Higher Weights
Due to the shorter range of motion, the floor press enables you to lift a heavier weight than the other pressing variations. The muscles are placed in a more advantageous position, and therefore it’s easier to lift a heavier load.
10. It Isolates the Upper Body
The floor press removes the use of the legs, which isolates the upper body and helps to overload them further. The fact that people can use their legs to drive themselves into the floor when doing the bench press can sometimes cause issues.
Practicing the floor press removes the lower body from the exercise. So, you can really focus on what your upper body is doing.
Drawbacks to the Floor Press
1. It Has a Reduced Range of Motion
The floor prevents you from bringing your elbows back behind your body like you can with a bench press.
This reduces the range of motion that you can achieve in the floor press, thereby limiting the muscle growth and strength gains that can be stimulated with the exercise.
2. There Is Less Chest Activation
Although the floor press is great to target the triceps and anterior deltoids, it has limited ability to activate the pectoralis muscles for this reason.
If you’re looking to grow your chest, you’re better off sticking with the traditional bench press and overhead press.
3. It Has Limited Application to Sports
The limited range of motion, and the fact that the movement is performed lying down on the floor, means that this exercise has limited transference into sports.
This is unlike the bench press and overhead press which can be more easily translated into sports-specific movements to increase performance.
4. There Is a Risk of Elbow Injury
A common mistake, which I discuss down below, with the floor press is banging your elbow on the floor. Especially if you’re used to performing the bench press where you can achieve the full range of motion, it’s easy to forget that the floor is there!
This increases the risk of injuring your elbow, in particular when you’re lifting heavy weights.
Common Mistakes with the Floor Press
1. Flaring the Elbows
I mentioned this just above in the tips section because it’s a common mistake people make with any kind of pressing movement.
It’s usually a sign of the weight being too heavy, so you bring the shoulders in to assist.
Flaring the elbows out to the sides might make the exercise feel easier. But, it actually places a bunch of stress on the joints.
The weight gets transferred through the elbow and shoulder joints as opposed to through the muscles. This puts you at a higher risk of injury. Make sure you keep your elbows tucked into your sides as much as possible.
2. Shortening the Range of Motion
The floor press already has a limited range of motion. Many people shorten the range even further by not bringing their arms right down to the floor in fear that they’re going to bang their elbows.
The floor press requires a balance between getting a good range of movement but also staying safe.
To avoid banging your elbows, slow the reps down and focus on controlling the weights.
3. Bouncing the Weight
As you start to press the weight up off the floor, your body should remain stable. There should be movement limitations in the upper body apart from in the chest and arms, and the legs shouldn’t be moving at all.
Bouncing the weight up removes the tension from your chest by bringing in additional muscles to help.
4. Using a Weight That Is Too Light
Many of my past clients have mistakenly thought that the floor press requires them to use a lighter weight.
They were worried that a heavier weight would somehow push their arms down to the floor and that they’d bang their elbows! But the opposite is true. You can actually use a heavier weight than usual with the floor press because the range of motion is shorter.
When to Use the Floor Press?
Powerlifters, bodybuilders, and athletes can add the floor press in at the end of their workout. It’s a great accessory movement to boost chest and tricep gains after a few sets of bench press. It’s also beneficial for those who struggle most with the lockout part of the rep.
If your main goal is to grow your chest and triceps, this exercise will help a lot. If you’re currently working around a shoulder or elbow injury, and find it difficult to properly bench press, the floor press makes a great temporary replacement to your traditional bench press.
To be honest, if you don’t have any specific goal or you don’t perform in powerlifting competitions or sports, you could even use the floor press permanently as a replacement for the bench press.
If one of my clients absolutely hated benching or didn’t feel ready to tackle it yet, I would get them to do floor presses until they were ready.
If they decided they didn’t want to attempt the bench press, that was fine! The floor press still provides the muscle-stimulating benefits of the bench press. This is even with the shorter range of motion, just to a lesser extent.
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Who Should Perform the Floor Press?
Pretty much anybody can benefit from using the floor press.
If you are an average gym-goer with a general goal to build a bit of strength and muscle, the floor press can be great to overload the chest and triceps. You can add it as part of a full-body routine or an upper-body workout.
Powerlifters, bodybuilders, and athletes would benefit from adding the floor press into their routine to enhance their upper body strength and control. I wouldn’t recommend completely replacing the bench press with the floor press due to the shortened range of motion limiting the gains you can make with the exercise. However, it can be used to enhance your core lifts as an accessory movement.
If you’ve suffered from a shoulder joint injury, you should perform the floor press as an alternative to your bench press until the injury has recovered. The floor press limits the movement around the shoulders, reducing your risk of experiencing pain or injuring the joints further.
Frequently Asked Questions
The floor press can be programmed in a similar fashion to the bench press. If you usually perform five sets of five reps (5 x 5) when benching, do the same for the floor press. However, feel free to switch it up a bit too. Maybe try one set of five reps, then slowly increase the number of reps up to 12 throughout your sets.
This is up to you. Some people prefer to have their legs fully extended out in front of them, and others like the have them bent at the knees. Either way is fine, as long as you’re not using your legs to help you press the dumbbells up. If you find yourself trying to engage your lower body during the exercise, keeping your legs straight is the best option to completely remove them from the exercise.
I used to get asked this all the time! My answer was always to slow the reps down. If you control the dumbbells as you being them towards the floor, you will be able to sense where your elbows are relative to the floor. The more you practice the movement, the better you will become at knowing when to stop.
The floor press is a great variation to help you practice the mid to top range of the rep. If your triceps are the limiting factor in your bench press, this exercise will build strength in the triceps to help you progress. It can be an amazing exercise to increase your training volume whilst minimizing fatigue in the upper body muscles.
The shortened range of movement encourages you to use lighter weights and focus on using proper form and technique. I believe that most people would benefit from adding the floor press into their routine, whatever their goal or current capabilities.
 Trebs AA., Brandenburg JP., and Pitney WA. An electromyography analysis of 3 muscles surrounding the shoulder joint during the performance of a chest press exercise at several angles. An electromyography analysis of 3 muscles surrounding the shoulder joint during the performance of a chest press exercise at several angles.
 Lauver JD., Cayot TE., and Scheuermann BW. Influence of bench angle on upper extremity muscular activation during bench press exercise. Eur J Sport Sci. 2016;16(3):309-16. doi: 10.1080/17461391.2015.1022605. Epub 2015 Mar 23.