By: Doug Daniels
Every lifter is in search of the best assistance exercises to help keep those gains coming on the 3 powerlifts. I've found that a great assistance move for the bench is the 'feet off the floor’ variation. Very simply described, this variation is just like the regular bench except that your back is flat with your feet off the ground and above the bench with the ankles crossed.
This variation accomplishes several things. It isolates the upper body by taking away any assistance your legs can provide. In the regular bench, the legs provide extra stability and pushing power to the lift. With this style, your upper body must stabilize and lift the entire weight of the bar. So obviously, you will not be able to use as much weight as you do in the regular bench. This forces your upper body to develop the stabilizing muscles used in the lift to a higher degree. Control of the weight in any lift is half the battle.
Next, this style does not stress the spine like the competitive bench does. Many lifters arch, as they should, to get maximum leverage and reduce the distance the bar must be pressed. Over a period of time, this can really add up on the spine and lumbar discs. Giving your back a break from arching can mean a longer lifting career with less pain and injuries. Also, if you're suffering from a back problem, this variation may enable you to get some productive bench work in the meantime. Check with a health professional first.
This variation also injects some variety into your routine. This is a great move to use as a substitute for the bench in your off season up to about 6 weeks prior a meet. Some lifters who need more or less time to adjust back to competitive style may have to adjust this time frame to fit their needs. It can also be used along with regular benches as a down set or finisher. I don't advise going below 3 reps with this move because of the decreased stability. Use about 30% less weight at first to break into the feel of this variation. The balance will be different and going too hard too fast may cause an injury. Have your spotter be alert and have him inform you if you are pushing crooked or out of the groove. If you bench with your butt off the bench so high you can drive a VW Bug under it, you will notice a big difference in the weight you can use safely. Keeping your back flat and your feet off the floor allows for maximum strictness. Don't swing your legs to gain extra leverage or you'll defeat the purpose of the move. This will also give you a better indication of your true benching power, especially if you cheat a lot.
This bench variation allows the same variations that the regular bench does like close grips, wide grips, benches to the neck, etc., so extra variety is available here too. Of course, don't go hog wild and do every type of variation you can think of. Remember, quality, not quantity. Give the ‘feet off the floor’ bench presses a try in the off season.
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