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Proper Form - Foot Positioning on the Bench

Proper form in the gym can mean the difference between growth and injury. Small changes in body positioning, hand and foot placement are crucial. Unfortunately it's not always obvious what's right and wrong.

Some of the most popular exercises take place lying flat on a bench. They include the barbell or dumbbell chest press, lying tricep extension and flye. They're staples used in strength training programs around the world, and at least one third of the people doing them are at risk of injury because of poor form.

Here it is in a nutshell. If you're engaged in a standard resistance training program, the proper form for a flat bench barbell chest press is: Keep your feet planted flat on the floor, your shoulder blades pressed together and a natural arch in your lower back. If that's the only thing you remember about this article, it will be enough.

There are three points of contact. Your feet, your butt and your shoulders. Don't take your feet off the floor because you don't want to lose stability. Don't lift your butt off the bench, you're working your chest not your quads. Keep your shoulder blades pressed together (scapular retraction) and pushed down (depression) to help you keep a natural arch in your back.

But where exactly do the feet go?

Start with the bench. When you lie down on it your heels should be positioned 90 degrees under your knees. Your knees shouldn't be lower than your hips.

For short people, or if you're using a tall bench, your knees might be lower than your hips. This can cause your pelvis to tilt and create an unnatural arch in the lower back. Improper spinal alignment puts pressure on your discs and can cause your hip flexors to pull excessively on your lower back.

Bench Press - Feet on Platform

Bench Press - Feet on Platform

Ideally you want a bench that you can adjust up or down. If that's not an option, place something like a Reebok step or weight plates at the end of the bench to plant your feet on. Whatever you use, make sure it won't slip when you're lifting. Only as a last resort should you place your feet on the bench to elevate your knees.

What are the disadvantages of putting your feet on the bench?

There are two potential problems.

  1. You may relax too much. To avoid injury your back should have a natural arch in it. When you put your feet on the bench, your back tends to relax and the arch disappears, potentially causing injury.

  2. It makes it more difficult to balance. Placing your feet on the bench provides less stability, especially when compared to planting them firmly on the floor.

Having said all that, there are times when it can be beneficial to put your feet on the bench. You can't lift as much weight because you're less stable, but it increases the number of muscles called upon during a lift, particularly muscles in the core. It also introduces variety into a workout and can help shock your muscles into more growth.

Bench Press - Feet on Bench

Bench Press - Feet on Bench

To finish up your positioning, make sure your feet are close to the bench to help you maintain the arch in your back.

Powerlifters follow a different set of rules.

Powerlifters are primarily concerned with how much weight they can lift. For them, the feet should be placed flat on the floor and underneath the lifter as far as possible. They should also spread their legs wide to give them a sold base and help with the explosive start needed at the beginning of a lift. Ideally, powerlifters want to be able to drive hard from the legs without their butt coming up off the bench.

Some powerlifters will go so far as to tuck their feet under the bench to increase the arch in the back. This will increase the mechanical advantage, but it's not allowed in many powerlifting events and can cause serious injuries to the lower back. Proceed with extreme caution.

Bench Press - Powerlifter Position

Bench Press - Powerlifter Position

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8/13/2006