In the last article we discussed 5 aspects of staying tight that can help slingshot your bench press numbers without modifying your training program or adding pretty toys to your workouts.
In this article we will address the last of those 5 aspects and you’ll leave here with 3 technical adjustments to help!
Leg drive gets its own article because it is a huge component of the bench press that can make or break a maximal attempt in competition or the completion of a training set as fatigue sets in throughout more and more reps.
Additionally, in my physical therapy practice with barbell athletes, lack of leg drive is a common cause of shoulder injuries and pec strains while benching.
While the bench press is primarily an upper body lift, the legs ARE involved in the movement and should not be forgotten.
Before we get into understanding how to properly engage leg drive, we can demonstrate how key our legs are in the bench press by performing a few reps with our feet up in the air and our feet down pushing into the ground using the same load. Try it…which way makes the same load easier to move?
If your answer is, “feet up bench feels harder”, you’re right.
So what is leg drive and how do we maximize it? Leg drive is the act of pushing your feet into the ground to transfer force from the muscles in your legs to help move the load in your hands. Essentially, our lower body assists our upper body in moving the load, if done correctly.
What are the two most important things we’re looking for when analyzing the correctness and effectiveness of our leg drive?
1) Horizontal motion of the trunk, hips and legs
2) Vertical motion of the hips and bum
Engaging Maximal Horizontal Force:
If you’re engaging leg drive properly we should see very little movement of your body in any direction while executing the lift. As soon as the barbell begins its descent until it has finished the ascent and returned to its starting position with locked elbows over your shoulders, motion between your feet and your shoulders should be minimal. The way we make this happen is by engaging our leg drive **BEFORE** beginning the descent and **KEEPING** it engaged throughout the entire rep.
1) Engage leg drive before the bar starts to move
2) Engage leg drive a little bit more as your press the bar back up
To make sure you’re engaging leg drive correctly and effectively, here are my favorite drills:
The Bench Slide: Lay on the bench as if you’re setting up for a set. Set your feet in the spot you usually put them. Don’t take the bar out of the rack but DO put your arms up in the air. Using your legs only push yourself in the direction of your head so your body slides on the bench and your head is off the back edge of the bench. THIS is the direction your leg drive should be pushing you.
The Shoulder Block: If you have a training partner, ask them to stand where they would as if they were spotting you. Then ask them to block your shoulders with their hands while keeping their forearms parallel (in line) with the bench. Have them moderately press into your shoulders while you push yourself into their hands using your legs only.
How do these drills translates to good leg drive? When you’ve taken the loaded bar out of the rack and set your shoulders down and back, puffed your chest up, and are stable and ready to go, this horizontal force pushes into your stable shoulders and into your arms to move the bar.
So this covers the horizontal motion I mentioned previously. You now know how to properly engage leg drive and this should be done BEFORE each rep and then a little more as you press the bar back up. When executed correctly there should be minimal horizontal motion of your body during each rep.
Minimizing Energy Leaks in the Vertical Direction:
Another thing we see quite often in improperly performed bench presses is bridging of the hips or “air humping,” which is not cute at all. The problem with this vertical motion of the hips is two-fold.
1) Vertical motion of the hips up is energy lost in the vertical direction that never makes it to our upper body to help move the bar and
2) air humping can lead to your butt popping off the bench and red lights a meet. So the better thing to do is to figure out how to keep your ass down on the bench so as much energy from your legs as possible is displaced towards your shoulders and you get at least two white lights from the side judges in a meet (for keeping your ass down at least).
Fixing the bench bridge isn’t as clear-cut as The Bench Slide or The Shoulder Block because there is less external feedback since we don’t necessarily want someone pressing down on our nether region. This fix relies more of your mind than anything else. For each rep you have to actively and consciously think about feeling your bum on the bench. In some instances you’ll need to over-correct by creating the opposite vertical action of pushing your butt down into the bench. Once this becomes second nature you won’t have to think about it so much.
There you have it! 3 easy tools to help improve your leg drive so you can bench more and keep your shoulders healthy!
As discussed in Part 1 on this Bench Series you may experience a brief dip in performance while you correct these technical errors.
Document where your bench press is now before implementing these changes. Take a video from the side as well. Save it in a safe place.
In 8-12 weeks do the same thing: take a video from the side and document where your bench press is then.
Share it with us on Instagram (@rorimegan or @prorehabstrength) or email it to me (firstname.lastname@example.org) and we’ll show the world that technique can, in fact, improve your lifts rather than the program or lack of toys being the issue!\