Whenever I need to get a particular lift going in the right direction, I almost always go back and look for some old-school advice. I enjoyed the mindset of that era where the emphasis was on small variations and tremendous work ethic. I love getting in the trenches, grinding out reps and pushing my body to the extreme, so that’s where I was at when I inspected where my bench press was.
It certainly wasn’t in an awful place, but it needed a bit of an overhaul and I was ready to jumpstart it. So, in the quest to take my bench press to new levels, I simply looked back. I also didn’t have to look far for the solution.
I grew up watching my stepdad, Randy Thompson, pounding away at the weights in our basement. At 5 foot 8, 185 pounds, he would unrack 300-plus pounds with no spotter and go to work on his bench press.
The catch? He did it all with his feet in the air and he looked as smooth as can be. If there’s an equivalent to watching someone glide through the air for a dunk, watching Randy cruise through 300-pound bench presses with his feet in the air was it for me.
The amazing thing was that Randy would work 16-hour days underground as a coal miner, come home and immediately head to the basement where he would routinely hit these numbers on the bench press.
Thinking back on that, I figured this method— keeping the legs up and bent at a 90-degree angle— had some merit. If you have ever seen anyone in the gym benching in this manner, you can usually bet it’s a strong and stacked older lifter.
So I began to experiment and quickly found that benching this way had tremendous value. The reason I became such a fan of lifting this way to increase my strength is, quite simply, you can’t cheat the system because there is literally no leverage. You don’t incorporate leg drive and you don’t get that extra boost you can usually rely on when your feet are firmly planted on the ground. To make up for it, you simply have to get stronger.
This way of benching is beneficial in a number of ways, and the carryover to your regular bench press can be immense.
With your feet up, it makes you learn how to grind weight out while also teaching you to really incorporate your lats, shoulders and triceps into the lift. With that comes an ability to push yourself when it comes to handling heavier weight, an important aspect if you ever want to bench big numbers. And let’s be honest— we all want that.
I have adapted this feet-up type of lifting again on the bench press as I also started to take a wider grip in my training. I had been utilizing a closer grip in my training, but switching to this approach has revived my bench press.
I am back to benching 300 with my feet up, repping out 225 with ease. At the same time, my chest is growing again and the size gains have been impressive. Getting stronger and getting bigger was good enough for me, but it also had a major impact when I got back in my bench shirt and put my feet back on the ground.
My weights have gone up steadily there, too, and my competition bench feels flat-out awesome. I’m able to push through weights and grind out some serious improvements and I owe it all to the feet-up bench press.
If you need a new movement for your bench try this out it awesome variation. After all, you can’t go wrong with old school.
FEET-UP BENCH PRESS THREE-WEEK WAVE
Go up in weight on each set
(Repeat this wave after three weeks and increase the weight)
Week 1 Reps: 30/12/10/8/6/4
Week 2 Reps: 30 reps, 8/6/4/2/1
Week 3 Reps: 6 sets of 5 reps