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We've written a lot about bench press thinking that we'll give you some good advice on building your chest muscles: tight on the bench and feet flat on the floor. But maybe we and most other weightlifting trainers did it all wrong.
In a study published in PLOS ONE, muscle activation was found to be higher in people with drooping feet, flexed hips, and knees bent 90 degrees.
Here is a photo of the position from the study:
Photo: © 2019 Muyor et al.
Yes, you read that correctly. If, according to scientific findings, you want the best for your money in the bank, then lift those feet up. "Bench press with active hip and knee flexion 90 ° increased the activation significantly … compared to bench press with feet on the floor and equal load in both positions," the researchers wrote. "For this reason, performing the bench press exercise with flexed hips may be recommended for training in sports that require the upper limbs and hip flexor muscles."
Twenty men experienced in weightlifting put eight reps on the bench, with 60 percent of their maximum reps in both positions. The researchers measured the muscle activation of pectoralis major, anterior deltoid, triceps, forearm, rectus abdominis, external oblique muscle, and quadriceps during both exercises. All muscles had higher activation levels when their feet were hung up and their hips bent, with the quads and obliques showing the highest activation levels (not necessarily the muscles you think of when walking on the bench).
Does this mean that you should change your bank routine immediately? Well, that depends. As Justin Ochoa, owner of the PACE Fitness Academy in Indianapolis, IN, runs on Stack.com, the subjects have only 60 percent of their max. This is not really the heaviest load for strength or hypertrophy purposes.
We imagine that it will be much harder for you to increase your workout maximum or your one-shot maximum if you lift your feet off the ground and thereby reduce your stability.
Secondly, it is certainly less safe, even if floating feet activate more muscle, especially when lifting with a big load. If you really want to try this on your next bank day, we recommend having your most trusted spotter nearby.