So your chest isn’t growing and you want to try something new. But you KNOW that the bench press is the best exercise to overload and create more growth! So what do you do? Double plate press like a moron… or read this article to get some advice that could help you bust through your muscle-building plateau.
Today we are going to discuss the PROS and CONS of benching with your feet in the air and determine FINALLY whether or not this is the best way to pack on more muscle because some new research has recently surfaced that may change your chest day forever!
The Anatomy Of The Chest
So, I think that before we jump into the new research that has recently surfaced we should first quickly recap the basic mechanics and anatomy of the chest.
Guys, the chest, or pecs, are a pretty straightforward muscle group. They includes the large Pectoralis Major and the smaller, yet still important, Pectoralis Minor. Now the pectoralis minor is not visible because it lies beneath the pec major and mainly functions to move the scapula both forward and downward. So what we mostly focus on when training is the pec major and its not uncommon for people to misidentify the clavicular head for the pec minor and the sternocostal head for the pec major. But now you know this ENTIRE area is in fact the pec major and your chest is mainly responsible for arm adduction, or bringing your hands closer together, as well as arm flexion which is what happens when you press or throw something away from.
This is why most chest exercises involve at least one of these two functions; chest presses, dips, pushups, they’re all based on humerous flexion whereas cable flys or dumbbell flys work the chest through arm adduction.
So… what do your feet and their relative position in space have to do with chest activation? Well, first of all, benching with your feet up is not the same as benching with your feet down. When your feet are down, you’re able PLANT your feet on the ground and arch your lower back to create more “driving force” into the barbell during each rep. But when your feet are up your back will be FLAT on the bench which actually creates more tension in your abs for stability. This is because your ABS main function is to flex or straighten your spine. So, the key difference between the two variations so far seems to only be the activation of the abdominal muscles during the lift right? So how does this create more chest activation?
Well let’s take a look at the recent study to find out. So it looks like this study took 20 men with some prior benching experience and monitored them while they performed sets of 8 reps with 60% of their 1RM bench press with their feet on the ground, and then with their feet in the air.
Then, to make a determination of what was going on inside the pecs, they measured the EMG amplitudes of the primary movers (or pecs, triceps and delts) to determine the degree of activation of each muscle group. What they found was that benching with the feet up led to higher EMG readings in not only the primary movers but also the forearms, rectus femoris and core muscles!
Why You Cannot Read Too Much Into Studies
But does this mean MORE GROWTH and that we should all be benching with our legs in the air? Well, no. Guys, you have to understand that when you set out to prove something like this, it’s very easy to design a study around the outcome you wish to prove.
That’s just the nature of research and it’s highly subjective. Some other key takeaways here are that I immediately noticed that the SAME WEIGHT was used for both variations. To me this is not a fair comparison as you will be able to lift considerably heavier weights with your feet on the ground due to better overall stability of the torso and if you‘re able to lift heavier loads, you’ll be engaging MORE muscle fibers.
If the study was to be done again, I would suggest a much fairer approach where you would have to compare chest activation with 60% of your 1RM with feet on ground and 60% of your 1RM with your feet in the air. However, the author does mention that they didn’t do that due to safety concerns which to me just sounds like an excuse to avoid a non-desired outcome.
Also, even if the readings were 100% accurate and fair, these are only short-term results. When we view the long-term results, we’ll probably be surprised to see that benching with your feet on the ground leads to more hypertrophy in the long run. Why? Because of the heavier load you can handle.
So What, if any, Conclusions Can We Draw From The Study?
Well, the main thing I took away was that given the same weight, the activation of the primary movers in the chest press was HIGHER according to the EMG Readings so maybe this means that benching with your feet up can become a terrific accessory lift for you. That’s because when benching with leg drive from your feet planted on the ground, your chest is getting an assist from your lower body to help get the bar moving. But with your feet up, your chest is REQUIRED to generate ALL the force necessary to get the bar moving off your chest and away from your body. Also, even though you will still be packing you shoulders with your feet in the air, the arch in your back will be drastically smaller which for some of you could result in a larger range of motion and more range of motion means more Time-Under-Tension for your chest and triceps (TUT).
Maybe not optimal for a POWERLIFTER, but the majority of you here are looking to build a bigger chest, not increase your 1RM.
Another thing to think about is daily chest activation. In my Nuclei Overload video we discussed the benefits of daily training to spark more growth in a given muscle focusing more on volume versus heavy weights. So maybe if you were to try the nuclei overload training on chest and perform 100 reps a day for 30 days. Having your feet up for more chest activation could be beneficial. Definitely something to think about!
Experimenting is what makes fitness FUN guys. Try EVERYTHING and be in control of your own fitness journey. Always start out with the fundamentals, master them, and then start to explore other options. If any of you have tried this technique for a long period of time, be sure to comment below and let us know about your results. But speaking of “fundamentals”. If you are new to training and are in need of a program to keep you on track, check out GUARANTEED GAINS. It’s a 100% free program that you can download by clicking THIS LINK. It’s 4 routines and each workout should only take about 60 – 90 minutes max to complete. No complicated exercises to try to impress you. Just a straight forward upper and lower split designed to get you in and out of the gym and most importantly, DELIVER RESULTS!
Written by Scott Herman