I don’t like using the terms never, everyone or always when discussing topics related to fitness.
Because, generally, it’s arcane and short-sighted. What works or doesn’t work for one person should not be applied to everyone else 100 percent of the time.
But I’m going to break my rule just this once: You should never benchpress with your feet up.
When asked why trainees (especially at the beginner and intermediate levels) should never Bench Press with their feet in the air, the cynical strength coach in me wants to answer, “Because I said so. Now stop it!”
But I do have a few legitimate reasons.
Bench Pressing with a Flat Back Is Safer?
Many personal trainers and misinformed coaches advocate performing the bench press with your feet in the air, because doing so “flattens” the lumbar (lower) spine and is thus deemed safer. For some, bench pressing with an arched back is worse than wearing white socks with dress pants or clubbing a baby seal.
Here’s the kicker: The lumbar spine has a natural curve to it. It’s supposed to arch!
Where things get lost in translation is when personal trainers and coaches equate “arch your back” with a cue to elite powerlifters.
Powerlifters are only concerned with two things—all-you-can-eat pizza buffets and putting their bodies in the best biomechanical position to lift as much weight as possible. Using an (extreme) arch does so by reducing the distance the bar must travel.
Most people, and especially athletes, are not competitive powerlifters, so they shouldn’t get into the habit of taking things out of context and assuming that benching with an arched lower back is bad or unsafe. It’s not.
NOTE: Of course, in some circumstances, even a slight arch will bother a few people. If that’s the case, by all means, adjust as needed.
A Good Bench Press Requires Stability (and Tension)
I’m going to put this as gently as possible. I’m a strength coach and someone who’s interested in helping people get stronger, and you’d be hard-pressed to convince me that bench pressing with your feet up in the air is a worthwhile endeavour.
It looks silly. It just does.
It comes down to physics. One of the keys to lifting big weight is tension. You not only need to be able to produce it, but maintain it. If your feet are in the air, you’re less stable, which means you’re less likely to produce any significant tension, which results in reduced force production.
In other words, it’s going to be really, really hard to build an impressive Bench Press if you’re unable to produce a lot of force.
I get it. For some trainees, it’s not about building an impressive Bench Press number, but rather, a pair of pecs that can deflect bullets. It’s been stated that bench pressing with the feet in the air isolates the pectoral muscles more, leading to greater muscle growth.
It’s also been stated that Bigfoot exists. It’s BS.
If you want a big chest, progressive overload (lifting more weight over time) should always take precedence. That’s going to be hard to do if you’re spending an inordinate amount of time following protocols that prevent you from doing it.