Joel Dowey is an S&C coach sponsored by No Limits Performance Nutrition, and powerlifting competitor. He is based in Manchester
The floor press is an excellent bench press assistance exercise, and yet it’s often underused. It’s excellent for breaking through sticking points – usually midway through a regular bench press – or to allow the athlete to slowly get back to benching post shoulder injury. Still, I often find that lifters are reluctant to use it – maybe because their gym’s bench is more comfortable (and hygienic) than the floor, or maybe just because they’re uncomfortable with the movement.
If it’s the latter, at least, you can fix it. For the floor press, I find that doing it with dumbbells first, with a relatively light weight, gives the trainee both the confidence to perform the exercise, and better coordination when we transfer it to a barbell. It’s important to note, though, that this makes control more important as we don’t want the trainee to lose the dumbbells away from the body, which would never happen with a barbell (an even simpler regression is to use a resistance band wrapped around the trainees back – this negates any sort of balance issue from the DBs, but still loads the trainee in a semi-similar fashion).
The basic idea of the move is to be in total control of the eccentric movement, with explosive concentric movement to follow (assuming your shoulder is free of injury – if not, a controlled movement should be adhered to here too).
The main error that usually needs correcting is that trainees allow their elbows to touch the floor. This poses two problems. Firstly, if the trainee allow their elbows to touch the ground, even if under control, and the load is heavy enough then the elbow may suffer from contact impact damage, in the same way if patella hits the ground during lunges. And secondly, and only when pressing dumbbells, if the elbow touches the ground this may cause the weight to shift slightly outside of the elbow, meaning the trainee may lose balance of the weight and lose that rep, or future reps. This also takes tension and focus away from the pecs.
From a coach’s point of view, since this should be used as an explosive secondary exercise, or a rehab type exercise, there is no need to get heavy with it. In order to train it regularly, I’d tend to cycle it into a trainee’s programme with various others over a meso/macro-cycle.
I would not include on the same day as normal bench press but on a day three or four days away from it. If the trainee were to bench twice a week then I would keep it closer to the lighter bench day of the two. If the trainee were a powerlifter for example, I may keep this version in their programme until four weeks away from competition when we would solely focus on regular bench press, but until that point it would feature regularly.
Sets of three reps work well for floor press. Speed work should ideally be completed in one breath, so if you can do more than three reps in a single breath, the weight is probably too light. Start with around 50% of your bench 1RM to try the movement out, and slowly work towards 60% – or, if the exercise is being used as a rehab movement, then do slower reps, under complete control, with more reps in each set. A really standard 3 sets of 8 would work well. For strength and power, depending where you are in your mesocycle, I would recommend anywhere from 3 to 8 sets. Stick to around 90 seconds for rest periods – enough to recuperate but not the full recovery you’d use for all-out strength sessions.
Most trainees from beginner to advanced can add the floor press into their routine, but I would suggest that beginners wait until they are strong enough, starting to plateau in their basic training programme and need some different form of stimulus to carry on making progress. Anyone with a fresh shoulder injury should probably stay away from all pressing movements until their rehab work starts to show some improvement in their joint/muscle or whatever the problem was. There’s no real need to go heavy with it: it’s a no-ego move to add to your training, and experiment with, in order to improve. Give it a go in your next training cycle.