Why You Should Bench With Your Feet Flat
No matter which federation my athlete’s competes in, currently every single on benches with their feet flat. Are the scenarios where I may have someone bench on their toes? Yes, but in my opinion, keeping the feet flat on bench press is optimal as it allows the most stability and control when it comes to utilizing leg drive. Leg drive is one of the hardest skills to learn in powerlifting, and took me almost 4 years to really master. What most people do when first trying to learn how to incorporate leg drive is they find going up on their toes easier as it creates a constant tension with the legs that they otherwise cannot create. So heels up isn’t necessarily better for them, but it does make it easier to “feel” that tension everyone is telling them they need. When you tuck your legs under you and push the hips into extension it automatically increases the tension in the quads without you even cueing it to. And when that same person brings the feet out to just under their knees and stays flat footed, they lose that automatic tensioning and can no longer incorporate the quads as desired. There are 3 big reasons though that I find being on your toes is inferior to flatted footed.
1.) It doesn’t take a genius to understand that the less overall foot contact we have with the floor, the less stability we have, and that goes for any movement in any sport in any scenario. As can be seen in the first video here, Matt prior to working with me benched in a heel up position, and I initially described to him my thoughts that his bench press looked like he was laying on a stability ball. He was losing his ability to transfer force into the bar due to his body being unstable. Could he have maybe improved this with a slightly wider stance and tucking his feet under a bit more? Yes, but I consider that a band aid fix, or the easy fix, rather than the optimal fix. Feet flat with a stable base and leg drive creates not only horizontal stability but also lateral stability, and that is where heels up is lacking. Lateral stability is going to be much harder to achieve when on your toes versus with your feet flat.
2.) Another big reason people gravitate towards a heel up bench setup is it makes it easier to arch. But what they many times don’t understand is they are arching at all the wrong spots. Look at the second video (here) of Brandi. On the top she is on her toes, and the highest point of her “arch” is her belly button, which serves no purpose on the bench press. We need our sternum to be the highest point, as that is where we touch the bar. Our goal is to achieve that arch through the mid-back, not the low-back, as can be seen with both Matt and Brandi once they transitioned to a feet down position. This allowed an elevated rib cage that creates the highest point of the body as their sternum.
3.) When we tuck are feet under us, especially when we are on our toes, it creates an upward drive with the hips. Instead what we should be after is a backwards drive into our upper traps/upper back. A big misconception is that the leg drive helps to propel the bar up, and that is incorrect. The bar goes up because we drive our upper backs down into the bench creating the opposite reaction. What leg drive does is aids in the stability and tension to help increase the efficiency of force transfer to the bar. We want to use leg drive not to drive our hips up, but to drive our upper back down into the bench. Creating that backwards drive folds our upper traps into the bench to drive the upper back down. With your heels up and feet tucked under, this movement will not occur optimally. Rather having our feet flat and in vicinity of 75-90 degrees knee flexion helps to create this backwards drive that creates the mid back arch, elevating the rib cage, and driving the upper back down into the bench.
Now all these is easier said than done. As mentioned, when allowed people tend to gravitate towards a heels up setup as its an easy fix for inefficient leg drive. But when learned properly, I will argue that feet flat is going to be the more optimal bench setup for most lifters. I like to think of the feet as the throttle control of our bench press, and when we tuck our feet under and are on our toes, there is no control. But when our feet are flat we have a much better connection with the floor and our body to control our leg drive to create the best position, tension, and stability possible.