There are lots of different workouts and exercises you can do to get fit, lose weight, build muscle, and stay healthy, and each one has value. However, while cardio is often viewed as the most essential form of exercise, strength training maybe even more important.
That doesn’t mean you should give up your treadmill, elliptical, or group exercise workouts. After all, cardio is great for fat loss and building general fitness. However, lifting weights provides more bang for your buck than cardio, and the benefits include:
Increased functional strength
Increased muscular endurance
Increased insulin sensitivity
Better mobility and flexibility
Yes, despite being a start/stop anaerobic activity, lifting weights can also increase your cardiovascular fitness. However, the reverse is not true; cardio won’t make you stronger.
You can make your strength workouts even more cardio-centric by doing things like circuit training and complexes, both of which are every bit as good for your heart and lungs as “real” cardio.
There are lots of different ways to strength train, including freeweights, resistance machines, resistance bands, and bodyweight exercises. Each one works because, in all honestly, your body cannot differentiate between types of strength training workout. It doesn’t know if you are using a $20,000 chest press machine or doing push-ups in your garage.
That said, some exercises are better than others, and the best choice usually depends on your training goal. This means that, sometimes, you may need to compare and contrast two similar exercises to determine which one is right for you.
In this article, we’re going to take an in-depth look at the barbell bench press and one of the exercises you can do instead – the floor press. This will help you determine the winner of this floor press vs. bench press match-up.
Floor Press vs. Bench Press
What is the Bench Press?
The bench press is one of the most popular and widely performed strength training exercises. In fact, many exercisers jokingly call Monday National Bench Press Day. The bench press works the chest, shoulders, and triceps, which are your upper body “pushing” muscles.
As the name suggests, the bench press is performed on an exercise bench using a barbell. To do the bench press:
- Lie on the bench with your eyes beneath the barbell. Reach up and hold it using an overhand, slightly wider than shoulder-width grip. Plant your feet firmly on the floor and arch your lower back slightly.
- Unrack the bar and hold it over your chest.
- Bend your arms and lower the bar down to lightly touch your sternum. Don’t bounce it off your chest!
- Press the weight back up and then repeat.
Barbell bench presses can be done on a flat, inclined, or declined bench. The different angles work different parts of your chest. Flat bench presses are a general chest exercise, incline bench presses emphasize your upper chest, and decline bench presses work your lower chest. Bench presses can also be done using a shoulder-width grip, which increases triceps activation.
What is the Floor Press?
The floor press predates the bench press by many years. Prior to the early 1900s, most pressing was ether done standing or laying on the floor. In exercise terms, the bench press is a relatively new exercise that only really caught on in the 1930s.
Floor presses work the same chest, shoulders, and triceps as the bench press. But, instead of lying on a bench to do it, you must lie on the floor instead. To do the floor press:
- Lie on the floor with your legs straight or bent as preferred. Position yourself under your barbell so that it’s about level with your chest. You may need to rest it on blocks to achieve the ideal height.
- Hold the bar with an overhand, slightly wider than shoulder-width grip.
- Press the bar up to arms’ length, and then bend your arms. Descend until your upper arms lightly touch the floor. Push the weight up again and repeat.
There is no way to change the angle of this exercise, so the floor press is best thought of as a general chest workout. However, you can still do it with a narrower grip to emphasize your triceps.
Floor vs. Bench – Which is Best?
Bench and floor presses are very similar. They involve the same muscles, and even the movement is almost the same. However, they are different enough that they have slightly different effects and benefits. Choose the one that best matches your goals.
For Overall Maximum Strength
You can use both the bench press and the floor press to build maximum strength. The factor that is most important is how you program these exercises.
To build maximum strength, you need to lift heavy weights for low reps – typically 1-5 reps per set with 85% or more of your one-repetition maximum.
That said, because bench presses involve a slightly larger range of motion, they are potentially the best exercise for general upper body strength. Bench presses are also one of the exercises in powerlifting competitions, so if you want to compare your upper body strength to other exercisers, the bench press is the standard test.
Winner: Bench press (only just!)
For Hypertrophy (Chest/Pecs)
When you do floor presses, your range of motion is limited because you won’t be able to lower the bar past where your upper arms touch the floor. This means you won’t get much of a chest stretch.
In contrast, when you do bench presses, you can lower the bar all the way down to your chest, which is a significantly larger range of motion.
While overload, muscle tension, and training to failure are the most critical factors for hypertrophy, range of motion matters too.
Assuming you perform both exercises using the same intensity and volume, bench presses are better for chest hypertrophy because they take your pecs through a bigger range of motion.
Winner: Bench press
For Hypertrophy (Triceps)
The triceps are the muscles on the back of your upper arms. Their primary job is extending your elbows.
The bench press and the floor press can provide your triceps with a good workout, and you can make both these exercises more triceps-centric by using a shoulder-width or narrower grip.
There isn’t a lot to choose between bench presses and floor presses for triceps hypertrophy, as both exercises affect these muscles in much the same way.
Winner: It’s a draw!
For Shoulder Safety/Health
While both exercises can be performed safely, accidents still happen. Because of this, bench presses should be done in a power rack or with spotters close by who can help out if you are unable to complete a rep.
Getting pinned under a heavy weight can cause serious and even life-threatening injuries.
In contrast, you should find it easier to dump the bar during floor presses. Providing you are using large-diameter plates, the bar should stop a few inches above your chest.
Because of this, floor presses may be somewhat safer than bench presses, especially if you work out on your own.
Regarding shoulder health, a lot of exercisers gravitate toward floor presses because bench presses cause shoulder pain. The larger range of motion of bench presses is a double-edged sword. While it can be useful for strength and hypertrophy, it can also cause shoulder joint wear and tear.
Because floor presses involve a shorter range of motion, they have the potential to be more shoulder joint-friendly. If regular bench presses hurt your shoulders, floor presses may be the solution.
Winner: Floor presses
In the battle of the bench presses vs. floor presses, there is no clear winner. Both exercises have notable advantages and drawbacks. The determining factor is the exerciser, their training goals, and any history of injuries.
If you train in a gym, have healthy shoulders, and want to build muscle and strength, then bench press is an excellent option. You can do it using a flat, incline, or decline bench to target different parts of your chest and with a barbell or dumbbells if you want to add some extra variety to your workouts.
However, if you lift heavy weights or train to failure, you should always have spotters on hand in case you are unable to complete a rep.
Floor presses are ideal for home exercisers as you don’t need a bench to do them. While not as good for chest hypertrophy as bench presses, they are easier on your shoulders and safer if you cannot complete a rep. The floor press can also help you get stronger.
While you can choose between these two exercises, you don’t have to if you don’t want to. You can do both of them in the same workout or alternate between them from one week to the next. Powerlifters often use floor presses as an accessory exercise to increase their bench press performance.
The most effective way to determine which one is best is to try them both. Bench press for a month, and then do floor presses for a month. Assess your progress and see which one gave you the best results. That’s how you settle the battle of floor press vs. bench press!