Floor Press Exercise: Increase your Pressing Strength

Published on: July 19th, 2019
Updated on: November 28th, 2023
This article is in category: Exercises

Table of Contents

Learn Everything You Need to Know About The Floor Press with Our Extensive Guide

The floor press is a strict upper body exercise that works the chest, triceps, and upper back muscles. It is performed by laying on the floor and pressing the weight into the air. When performed strictly, the exercise eliminates using the legs, which can assist in the bench press. 

Gym goers seldom utilize the floor press in their programming. Instead, they flock to the bench. After all, a nicely wiped down bench is more friendly to their outfits than a dirty floor. However, by settling for the familiar, they miss the benefits of the bench press’ predecessor.  

It is hard to say when the floor press originated, but we know that it was utilized in the 1800s to train the chest. The world record was set in 1899 by George Hackenschmidt with a 362lb lift. More than likely, we can date the barbell floor press to 30 years before Hackenschmidt titanic effort. In the mid-1800s, the modern barbell started to take shape, and after all, what else are you going to do with it besides putting it on your chest and pressing it into the air? And I suppose if we look deep enough, we will find people have been pressing dumbbells or boulders off the ground for hundreds of years before Hackenschmidt or the barbell.

Other than the simplicity of the floor press bench, there are more reasons the sport’s forefathers used the exercise, and we can benefit from having the same understanding.

The Floor Press Benefits: Why Should You Floor Press

Other than the floor press requiring less equipment than the bench press, there are three primary benefits to incorporating the lift into your routine. The first is it is safer and more comfortable on the shoulders due to the decreased range of motion. Since it is safer on the shoulders than the bench press, it’s an excellent pressing alternative for injured athletes or advanced athletes with worn down shoulders. 

The second primary benefit is elbow lockout improvement for power sports such as Olympic lifting, powerlifting, American football, or grappling sports. The exercise accomplishes this by biasing the triceps (elbow extensors) throughout the lift. So, if you are suffering from soft elbows during snatches or jerks or unable to lockout a heavy bench, incorporate floor presses into your workouts to remedy the weak elbows. 

The floor press’s final significant benefit is developing the upper body muscle chain by eliminating the legs’ use. The elimination of leg drive concentrates the lift’s effort onto the chest, shoulders, and triceps, resulting in greater strength or larger muscle size (hypertrophy) depending on your programming. So if you want jacked arms and a bulging chest, throw floor presses into your workout. 

For a quick review, here is a list of the floor presses benefits:

  • Less Equipment needed (no need for a bench).
  • Easier on the Shoulders than a Bench Press
  • Safer than a Bench Press
  • Improved pressing and lockout strength
  • Isolates the chest, triceps, and shoulders

The Muscles Worked

As mentioned above, the floor press bench is an excellent exercise to develop the chest, lats, shoulders, and triceps. Below is a list of the muscles that contribute to the lift. 


The agonistic muscles are the prime movers of an exercise and will show the most development.

  • Pectoralis Major

Strong Synergists

A strong synergist will move and will respond to the exercise.

  • Latissimus Dorsi
  • Anterior Deltoid
  • Teres Major 
  • Subscapularis
  • Triceps

Weak Synergists or Strong Stabilizers 

A weak synergist or strong stabilizer will contribute to the lift and will receive slight development.

  • Middle Deltoid
  • Coracobrachialis


Stabilizers contract during the exercise but will seldom show development. 

  • Posterior Deltoid
  • Pectoralis Minor
  • Serratus Anterior
  • Supraspinatus
  • Infraspinatus
  • Teres Minor
  • Biceps
  • Forearm Flexors

How to Floor Press

Now that we understand why we should incorporate the floor press into our workouts let’s get into the details of how to perform the lift. This section will focus on the barbell floor press, but other instruments, such as the dumbbell or kettlebell, are provided for floor press variations.

The Set-up

With a Rack

  1. Place the barbell in the rack at an appropriate height (approximately 2ft).
  2. Lie on the floor and slide underneath the bar until it is in line with your eyes. 
  3. You can bend your knees or keep your legs straight, but maintain floor contact with your hips and lower back. Do not arch your back.
  4. Use a shoulder-width or slightly wider pronated grip (palms facing away from you) on the bar. 
  5. Lift the bar from the rack and center it upon your sternum, and if needed, utilize a spotter to assist.

Without a Rack

There are a few methods to set-up for the floor press without a rack.

With a Spotter

  1. Lie on the floor with your legs bent or straight and hips and lower back in contact with the floor.
  2. Have the spotter lift the barbell and place it into your hands.
  3. Use a shoulder-width or slightly wider pronated grip (palms facing away from you) on the bar.
  4. The bar should be in line with the center of your sternum.

Using Bumper Plates or Boxes without a Spotter

  1. Using standard 450mm diameter bumper plates, set the loaded barbell onto 45lb plates. The loaded bumpers’ center should align with the plate’s center on the ground or the low boxes. The stack should be high enough for you to lift the weight comfortably. In essence, we are creating a false rack by using the platform.
  2. Lie on the floor and slide underneath the bar until it is in line with your eyes. 
  3. Use a shoulder-width or slightly wider pronated grip (palms facing away from you) on the bar. 
  4. Lift the bar from the platform and center it on your sternum.

Lifting from the Ground without a Spotter

  1. Sit on the ground and roll the bar over your legs until it reaches your hips’ center.
  2. Take the bar with a shoulder-width or slightly wider pronated grip (palms facing away from you).
  3. Lie back, bend your knees with your feet flat on the floor.
  4. Drive the bar up using a glute bridge and shift the weight over your elbows. Your arms should be perpendicular to the ground, and the bar centered on your sternum.

Eccentric Movement: Lowering the Weight to the Ground

Conduct the floor press’s eccentric phase lowering the barbell from an extended position until your elbows gently touch the ground. The active muscles lengthen during this phase and act as a braking mechanism.

  1. Begin lowering the bar with a slight pull of the arms to your hips to engage the back and posterior shoulder muscles. 
  2. The elbows should be roughly at a 45º angle of your torso.
  3. Retain control of the weight through the full descent to prevent injury to your elbows, forearms, and wrists.
  4. Inhale during the lowering of the bar or at the pause.
  5. Once your elbows gently contact the ground, drive the bar up.
  6. You may want to incorporate a pause of a second or two while holding tension with the bar fully lowered to train stability and control. By doing so, you are creating an isometric contraction.

Concentric Movement: Pressing the Weight

The floor press’s concentric phase begins once your elbows contact the ground, and you start driving the weight from the fully flexed position. The active muscles shorten during their contraction to overcome the opposing load.

  1. When you start the lift, follow the same bar path as you used while lowering the weight.
  2. Do not allow your wrists to rollback and the bar to shift higher into your palms by keeping them locked.
  3. Continue to pull your elbows in to maintain a 45º angle to your torso and prevent your arms from flaring out and placing undue strain on your shoulders. 
  4. The most critical aspect of the phase is maintaining control to prevent injury as you lift the weight to a fully extended position. 

Lockout Your Elbows 

Fully extend your arms to achieve the lockout position, and if you take a slight pause before moving into your next rep, you generate another isometric contraction.

  1. Do not overpronate the elbows to prevent injury during the lockout position.
  2. Pause briefly to prepare for the next repetition.

Racking: Finishing the Set

When you have completed the prescribed number of repetitions, re-rack the bar and prepare for your next set. 

  1. If you used a rack, place the bar back into the hooks.

Racking without a Rack

  1. If you are utilizing a spotter, allow the spotter to take the weight and lower it to the ground behind you.
  2. If you used blocks, lower the bumpers back to the stack.
  3. If you are using standard 450mm diameter bumpers, you can drop the weight over your hips or legs. Ensure there is enough clearance if doing so. 

Hand Positions for the Barbell Floor Press

The barbell is rigid and limits the number of hand positions. The independent nature of dumbbells or kettlebells provides a broader range of grips. You can also use a specialty bar, like the Swiss bar, to achieve similar positions as dumbbells.

Following are descriptions of a few hand positions and why you may want to use them. 

Pronated (Standard Grip)

The pronated grip, or palms facing away from your face, is the standard grip used on a barbell. The grip elicits all the muscles utilized in the floor press.

Supinated (Reverse Grip)

A supinated grip, or better known as the reverse grip, is achieved by turning your palms towards your face. A supinated grip increases upper pec activation by 30% over a traditional pronated grip for the bench press. We can assume similar results in the floor press. The hold will also emphasize the use of the triceps compared to the standard grip. So if soft elbows are an issue for you in other lifts, the reverse grip floor press will be a beneficial accessory exercise.

Swiss Bar (Neutral Grip)

The Swiss bar is also known as the multi-grip bar. With its array of grip options, you can perform the floor press with a slightly angled hand position or an entirely neutral grip. A neutral grip reduces the amount of strain placed on the shoulders. It is beneficial for lifters with shoulder injuries or discomfort.

Narrow Grip

As the name implies, you take a narrower than usual grip on the bar by placing your hands together or a few inches apart. The more narrow grip forces your arms to stay closer to your torso, causing greater activation of the upper pectorals. 

How to Program a Floor Press Workout

You have many options when it comes to programming a floor press workout. It can be programmed as your main pressing exercise or as an accessory lift. You can also use the floor press to increase hypertrophy, build muscle endurance, and improve your raw strength. What you want to achieve with the floor press is what will dictate how you program it into your workout. 

The Floor Press as Your Main Pressing Lift

Program the floor press as your main pressing exercise if you are rehabbing a shoulder injury, suffering from shoulder pain, or developing a stinking point in other primary lifts such as the snatch. As the main pressing lift, program heavier weights across a few sets of lower rep counts. 

Using the Floor Press as an Accessory Lift

The floor press is a great accessory exercise to help build hypertrophy or support development in other primary lifts. Increase the number of reps compared to using the floor press as the main lift.  

Creating Hypertrophy with the Floor Press

Accomplish hypertrophy by adding volume, time under tension, and increasing muscle fatigue. 

A typical program to create hypertrophy will consist of 3 – 6 sets of 8 – 15 repetitions at 50 – 75% of your one-rep max. Adding pauses at the top of the press (isometric hold) and slowing your rep speed down will increase the total time under tension. Be ready to feel your chest and triceps burn! 

Increasing Your Muscle Endurance

Muscle endurance is the ability of a muscle group to produce several repeated contractions. In other words, the greater your muscle endurance, the more work you can perform. 

To improve muscle endurance, be prepared for a little bit of suffering. The training will increase your heart rate and produce lactic acid (the burn) in the muscles. 

The best muscle endurance training programs incorporate massive amounts of reps at lighter weights produced across shorter rest intervals between sets. Every minute on the minute (EMOM) training is one of the best methods to deliver results. 

A floor press session to build muscle endurance may look similar to a 10 min EMOM with ten reps at 50% of 1 rm. As your endurance increases over the weeks, add an extra repetition to each minute. 

Building Raw Pressing Strength

Increasing your pressing strength with the floor press is no different than building raw power with any other lift–increasing volume over time. The best method to increase total volume is to lift heavier weights for fewer reps over a more significant number of sets in a fully or near fully recovered state. In other words, you have to take long periods of rest between sets.

Your program will depend on your level of experience with the floor press. If you are a beginner, you should start with a 3 x 5 program, such as Mark Rippetoe’s Starting Strength. Once plateau, you can incorporate five work sets at five reps or introduce the Texas Method. Wendler’s 5/3/1 is another excellent method to produce strength. 

Floor Press vs. Bench Press: Must I Choose? 

Many like to approach this as an either-or question. Should I bench press, or should I floor press? The answer is yes. You should incorporate both because the floor press bench compliments your bench press, and the only reason you should choose one over the other is if you have a limiting factor such as old painful shoulders. If that is the case, then select the floor press. Otherwise, the floor press is a great accessory exercise for improving your elbow lockout on the bench press by strengthening your triceps. 

Variations of the Barbell Floor Press

Even though the floor press is a great exercise done strictly, there are advantages to adding some variation to the lift. Using bands or chains and incorporating hip drive may help you reach your goals

Improve Elbow Strength by Using Resistance Bands or Chains

If you focus on improving soft elbows, resistance bands or chains are a great way to add tension to the lift’s top. The increasing pressure as you press will force the triceps to engage, improving your lockout strength. When you use a band, run it from the bar’s sleeves under your back beneath the armpits. Wrap chains around or over the ends of the bar.

15.) Image of banded floor press   

The Bridged Floor Press: Using Hip Drive

Press into the floor and raise your hips as you begin to press. You can repeat the motion with each repetition to work the glutes and hamstrings, or you can hold the glute bridge through the entirety of the set. The increased angle forces a more extended range of motion for the pectoral muscles, which will result in a more muscular chest.

Alternatives to the Barbell for the Floor Press

Floor Press with Dumbbells

You perform the dumbbell floor press as you would complete the exercise with a barbell. However, unlike using a barbell, the dumbbell floor press does not start from a rack, so the movement can be a little more challenging to assume a stable position at the start.

The best way to stabilize yourself under the dumbbells is to begin in a seated position, then move the dumbbells onto the top of your thighs. Once the weight is secured, you lift your knees slightly and roll onto your back while lowering your elbows. This motion spots the dumbbells into a safe and stable position for you to begin your lift.

Benefits of the Dumbbell Floor Press vs. Barbell 

A benefit of the dumbbell floor press over the barbell press is different grip positions to isolate and target specific and often neglected muscles. An example is a neutral grip dumbbell floor press that engages stabilizer muscles in your chest, shoulders, and arms. Using a barbell ignores these muscles while it targets larger ones. You can move from a fully pronated grip (facing away from you) to a fully supinated grip (facing you) with dumbbells. A barbell is limited to a fully pronated or supinated grip, which places more significant strain on the shoulders.

Another benefit of dumbbells is they are independent of each other, which allows you to squeeze them together at the top of the movement. Pulling the dumbbells together will enable you to move your chest and shoulders through a deeper range of motion, engaging more muscles than you can with a static hand position on a barbell. This movement will strengthen smaller muscles and create more significant hypertrophy if muscle size is your goal.

Also, dumbbells remove the ability to utilize your dominant side to control the majority of the lift. Each arm is working independently of each other, so your weaker arm will be forced to work as hard as your dominant side, removing imbalances that may form with barbell work.

Finally, and perhaps the most significant benefit of the dumbbell floor press vs. the barbell floor press is the reduced equipment cost and space requirements. A new barbell can cost several hundreds of dollars, and a decent amount of plates will cost several hundred to thousands of dollars more, whereas a set of dumbbells may set you back a few hundred dollars. If you only use a single set of dumbbells, you can be well under a hundred dollars. Also, you do not need to use a rack with dumbbells, and they take up a lot less floor space.

Dumbbell vs. Barbell Weight Ratio:

A commonly used ratio for the dumbbell floor press to the barbell floor press is 0.8. For example, you would use 2 x 40lb dumbbells if you normally floor press a 100lb barb

You figure the dumbbell weight by multiplying your barbell weight (100lbs) by a .8 factor and dividing by 2 (1 dumbbell for each arm). E.G. (100 x .8)/2 = 40lb.

Barbell WeightDumbbell Per ArmBarbell WeightDumbbell Per Arm
Barbell to Dumbbell Weight Conversions For Floor Press

Floor Press with Kettlebells

Like dumbbells, you perform the kettlebell floor press in the same manner, but getting into the starting position is slightly different. You begin by sitting on the floor and placing the kettlebells at each one of your sides. Lay down between the bells, Rotate towards one kettlebell and pull it to your shoulder in a front-rack position. Then switch to the opposite side and do the same. Once you have the kettlebells secure, turn onto your back, and begin the exercise.   

Unlike dumbbells, kettlebells hang down your forearms from your hands. So, you must take caution to prevent crashing the bells against your arms, resulting in a potential injury. The key is to stay under control throughout the entirety of the movement. 

Benefits of the Kettlebell Floor Press

The kettlebell floor press offers the same benefits as the dumbbell floor press. In comparison to using a barbell, kettlebells provide multiple grip positions. Like dumbbells, you can move from a fully pronated grip (facing away from you) to a fully supinated grip (facing you) to isolate and target underused muscle groups. A neutral grip will remove a significant amount of strain from the shoulders compared to the fully pronated or supinated barbell grip.

Kettlebells also work independently of each other, allowing you to pull them together at the top of the movement. Squeezing at the top of the action takes your chest and shoulder muscles through a deeper range than can be accomplished with a barbell. This movement will strengthen smaller muscles and create more significant hypertrophy if muscle size is your goal. Even though it may sound badass, do not bang the kettlebells together. Doing so can lead to injuries as well as cause extra wear and tear on the equipment. 

Another benefit of kettlebells working independently of each other is your weaker side will need to do as much work as your dominant side. Since your non-dominant arm will be working as hard as your dominant arm, you will remove imbalances that may form with the barbell. 

Kettlebell to Barbell Weight Ratio:

You will use the same ratios as the dumbbell floor press, 0.8. For example, you would use 2 x 35lb kettlebells, if you usually floor press a 90lb barbell.

You figure the weight by multiplying your barbell weight (90lbs) by a .8 factor and dividing by 2 (1 kettlebell for each arm). E.G. (90 x .8)/2 = 35lb. I rounded down to the nearest denomination of kettlebell weight. 

For more ratios, use the table provided in the dumbbell vs barbell section.

The Single-Arm Floor Press

The name says it all– you perform the single-arm floor press with, you got it, one arm. The unilateral nature of the single-arm floor press offers unique benefits over their bilateral counterparts. By using a single-arm for a floor press at moderate to heavy loads, it will require you to engage higher amounts of secondary stabilizers throughout the body to manage the offset load. The exercise becomes a workout for the core as much as it is a chest workout, so if your goal is to increase the size of your chest, you may want to forgo the single-arm floor press. But if you intend to become a better athlete, the single-arm floor press is a better option.

You can perform the exercise using a dumbbell or a kettlebell.

Setting Up The One-Arm Floor Press with a Dumbbell

The set-up for the single-arm floor press with a dumbbell is similar to performing the exercise with two dumbbells. Place the dumbbell on your thigh while sitting on the ground. Use both hands to control the dumbbell as you lay back. Once you are in position on your back, stabilize the weight into one hand, and begin the exercise. When you move to the other side, either start entirely over or switch hands in the bottom position. To reduce the risk of the weight falling on you, do not attempt to exchange hands at the top of the lift. When you finished, use both hands to guide the dumbbell to the floor.

Setting Up The One-Arm Floor Press with a Kettlebell

To set-up for a single-arm floor press with a kettlebell, place the kettlebell on the floor and then lay down, aligning your shoulder next to the bell. Twist towards the weight, and take ahold of the handle with the hand you will use for the lift. Place the palm of your opposite hand over your knuckles and rotate slowly to your back, positioning the kettlebell. Like the dumbbell, switch sides in the bottom position or start from the floor. Do not exchange the weight at the top of the lift. Return the kettlebell to the ground after completion, in the same manner as you placed it into the lifting position. Use both hands to control the weight as you rotate towards the floor.

The Landmine Floor Press

It becomes unsafe to add weight to a single-arm dumbbell or kettlebell floor press at a certain point. When doing so, the arm becomes unstable, and setting the load into a starting position becomes difficult without a spotter. The landmine floor press eliminates these issues and allows you to lift heavier weights than you can with a dumbbell or kettlebell while maintaining the same range of motion.

Progressions for the Floor Press: What to do if You Can’t Floor Press

The best progression for the floor press is to reduce the weight until you can perform the lift. If an empty barbell is too heavy, switch to lighter dumbbells, kettlebells, or single-armed presses. Following is a list of exercises that will hit a sticking point that you cannot overcome. 

  • Dips

Dips work similar muscles as the floor press and focus on the chest, shoulders, and triceps. Incorporating various dip progressions will help you strengthen your floor press. 

  • Push-ups

Similar to dips, push-ups also work the chest, shoulders, and triceps using body weight.

  • Concentric (lifting from a set of pins)

Starting the lift higher in the pressing motion will help strengthen the lockout position. 

  • Eccentric (lowering from a set of pins or a spotter)

Eccentric exercises are a great alternative when your strength isn’t developed enough to perform the concentric motion. Have a spotter lift the weight to the top of the press, then slowly lower. This movement will develop the muscle groups that are required to complete the floor press. 

  • Isometric Holds

Like eccentric movement, isometric holds will help develop the stabilizers needed to perform the floor press. Have a spotter lift the weight to the top of the pressing movement for you, and then hold it for a few seconds before lowering your elbows to the floor. Once your elbows gently touch the ground, pause for a few more seconds.


That concludes our guide on the floor press. Hopefully, we have highlighted the value of incorporating the floor press into your training and have answered any questions you may have.

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