When trying a max bench press, you should take advantage of every advantage available to lift the weight. This includes using your legs during the bench press, which powerlifters refer to as “leg drive.”
So, what is leg drive and how do you use it during the bench press? Leg drive is when you push the barbell off the chest while driving your feet into the floor.
Leg drive in the bench press will assist you keep your upper back in place and boost the torso’s stability and stiffness, allowing you to lift heavier weights.
We’ll show you how to use leg drive in the bench press in this article.
What Is Leg Drive and How Does It Work?
When exerting maximal force to the barbell, elite powerlifters use “leg drive,” a particular bench press technique. When trying a 1 rep max lift, for example.
Lifters can better place their torso on the bench by using the leg drive technique.
4 Reasons To Bench Press With Leg Drive
Once the technique is learned, there are four key reasons why using leg drive for bench press improves performance (learn more about improving your technique in my article on bench press cues).
1. A More Powerful Arch
A person arching their upper and lower back to generate separation between the bench and their back is known as a bench press arch.
If you’re unfamiliar with the bench press arch, I recommend reading my comprehensive guide, which will help you understand how leg drive facilitates the arched position.
The bench press arch is used by powerlifters for a variety of reasons, the most important of which is to limit the range of motion that the barbell must travel.
It will be simpler to maintain the arched position on the bench press if you use leg drive, especially as you cycle through numerous reps.
Your sternum will flatten and your shoulders will roll forward if you don’t maintain a strong leg drive through the floor. Because you’ll be moving through a wider range of motion than is required to execute the lift, your performance will suffer.
Leg drive is so important for keeping the bench press arch in place that you can’t do it without it. To put it another way, the arch is reliant on leg drive.
2. A More Appropriate Upper Trap Position
The main point of contact for your upper back while setting up the bench press should be your trap muscles. This is where you should sit on the bench with your body.
As a result, your goal should be to get as high on your upper traps as feasible. This position allows you to retract and depress your shoulder blades to their maximum extent while keeping your scapula on your rib cage.
As a result, when bench pressing, your shoulders can rely on the rib cage for additional support.
You can force your upper traps back and up into the bench press with the leg drive method, ensuring that you don’t lose this point of contact. If you lose this ‘high trap position,’ your shoulder stability will be weakened, and your performance will suffer.
3. Potentially Improved Lower Pec Muscle Recruitment
If you retain the ‘arched torso’ and ‘high trap position,’ the flat bench press resembles the decline bench press, which has certain advantages when attempting peak loads.
During a decline bench press, the larger musculature of the pectoralis major is loaded more, which better handles the forces in the bench press and relieves part of the stress on the anterior deltoids’ smaller musculature (front of shoulder). More information can be found in my post on the Benefits of Decline Bench Pressing.
It’s important to note, however, that leg drive alone does not result in increased upper-body muscle recruitment. Gardner et al. (2019) found no statistical difference in muscle activation of the pecs, shoulders, and triceps whether participants employed leg drive or not.
As a result, if you can adjust the angle of your torso by being in a bench press arch, you will be able to activate the lower pec musculature more effectively. In other words, it’s the leg drive that leads to the bench press arch, not the leg drive alone that helps you recruit the lower pec.
4. Making The Lift “Feel Easier”
Kristiansen et al. (2015) looked into how different muscles work together to complete a maximum bench press.
The leg drive technique was stated to help strengthen the stability and stiffness of the torso, allowing for “easier bench press” and “better strength expression,” as well as the other reasons listed above.
So, why does leg drive, and an arched torso in general, make bench pressing feel easier?
It was thought that by positioning the body in a more mechanically advantageous position, the demand on the central nervous system would be reduced overall. As a result, the lift requires less motor unit recruitment.
To put it another way, lifting a given weight will require less physical work if you use leg drive and keep your torso arched. As a result, you become a more efficient lifter, making the lift feel less difficult.
To make the move harder, some lifters bench press with their legs elevated or use the floor press.
How to Use Leg Drive Properly
When pressing your legs into the floor during a bench press, there are a few things to keep in mind.
Find a comfortable position for your feet.
Leg drive begins with the placement of your feet on the floor, which varies from person to person.
For best leg drive, a variety of foot locations can be used. You’ll want a foot location that’s not only comfortable for your hips, but also takes into account the angle of your shin.
Many lifters begin with a foot positioning that places their shins vertically. From there, you can either move your feet closer to your shoulders or move them further in front of you. This will slightly alter the angle of your shins, but it will still be within an acceptable range.
Keep in mind that if you pull your feet too far back or forward, your legs will end up in ‘no-land.’ man’s It will be difficult to drive fully through the floor, maintain your arch, and keep your shoulder position if your feet are in ‘no-mans’ land.
You can play about with the breadth of your legs (how far apart they are) and the angle of your feet here. I’m not worried about your leg width or foot angle as long as you’re comfortable and your shin angle is within a healthy range.
The following element I’ll discuss will also affect what is deemed an ideal shin angle range.
Drive “Down and away from you,”
You want to drive your feet into the floor while also driving them away from you. When powerlifters use leg drive, this is one of the most common bench press faults I encounter.
Imagine yourself sitting in a wheeled office chair, pushing the chair backward with your feet. When you’re benching, you want to feel the same way.
Because you’re driving your feet away, your body will naturally push back and up into the bench press. Maintaining a firm arch is possible when you ‘drive away’ with your feet.
You can only drive ‘down’ but not ‘away’ if you put your feet too far back toward your shoulders. You will only be able to drive ‘away,’ not ‘down,’ if you put your feet too far in front of you.
Maintain a flat foot position.
If you maintain your feet flat on the floor, you’ll be able to displace force into the floor using the entire surface of your foot.
In other words, with your feet flat on the floor, you may drive harder into the earth.
Some lifters bench press with their heels raised. For numerous reasons, being in this position is not mechanically advantageous:
- In this position, it will be more difficult to contract your glutes, which will help you stabilize your lower back in the bench press arch.
- Your calf muscles are under a lot of muscular tension, and they may cramp under a high load.
- It will be more difficult to give the impression of ‘driving away’ with your feet (as described above)
Grasp the outside of your heel and press down.
The outer half of your heel should be the major pressure point on the floor.
When you press into the heel, you’ll notice that you can drive a little harder into your feet.
If you drive via your toes or any other area of your foot, your feet will progressively elevate through the bench press, or worse, slide forward on the ground.
You’ll lose your leg drive and, as a result, your bench press arch if your feet lift or slide during the bench press.
Never disengage leg drive Throughout reps or between
Don’t stop until your feet are planted and you’re driving into your legs.
People rising up or moving their feet around during or between repetitions is a common mistake. You lose your tightness and are thrown out of position as a result of this.
Not to mention that you’ve messed up your tempo and are wasting vital energy trying to get back into position. If you notice yourself doing this, figure out why, and then stop!
It could simply be a subconscious desire to move your lower body while your upper body moves the weight. This can be fixed simply by becoming conscious of what you’re doing.
It can also occur as a result of a poor setup position prior to liftoff, leading you to alter your position mid-flight, as it did with me. The remedy is to make changes to your setup.
Squeeze your glutes as hard as you can!
Which main muscle group joins the upper and lower bodies?
Of course, the glutes!
What would happen if you didn’t contract your glutes when benching?
To begin with, there would be less total leg drive force because your glutes are directly involved. What’s more, there would be a gap between your upper and lower bodies…
…Tension caused by pushing into the floor would not be effectively transferred to your upper body. Your back arch would be less profound and feeble, resulting in less upper back tension and a less secure benching base.
The moral of the story is to flex your butt muscles as much as possible throughout your bench press set. If you must, imagine trying to crack a walnut between your cheeks.
Using leg drive during the bench press can be a good way to boost your maximum strength.
As the loading needs increase, you’ll discover that using leg drive is more beneficial. As you gain strength, mastering this technique will become more crucial.
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