Bench Press Leg Drive- The Elusive Purple Unicorn

by: Josh Bryant  

Peter Edgette, blasting up 600

Bench press leg drive is discussed in strength circles like a secret cure-all potion that only the elite have access to and yet refuse to share it with the meager masses. 

Hang around any Twatwaffle Fitness, Inc. long enough, read muscle mags or just log onto Instagram and you will soon be enlightened to the fact that the fitness industry is void of any moderation.

Because bench press leg drive is  powerlifting’s elusive purple unicorn, extremism is amplified—one camp claims leg drive turns bench press poodles into pit bulls and the other claims it’s as potent as near beer.

The truth is, your body is one complete system and the bench press is a full body lift. But still, leg drive won’t turn a bench-pressing Pee-Wee Herman into Jeremy Hoornstra but it can help you lift more and do so safely!

Leg Drive

*Julius Maddox has eclipsed 700 in the bench press, in part, by optimizing leg drive

Great technique in the bench press starts with set-up, hence finding the proper rack height, keeping a tight upper back, setting feet and having proper hand and wrist position. While bench pressing, numerous lifters overlook their foot position, but the right foot position will insure stability and allow for maximal leg drive. Case and point, you can’t bench press as much weight with your feet in the air, just ask  any 90s bodybuilder.

Your stance width is a personal preference in the bench press. With that in mind, usually the closer the foot stance the easier it is to lift your butt off the bench; in a powerlifting meet, this is a rules infraction and nullifies the lift and then Richards Simmons is out bench pressing your big, fat goose egg!

Put your shins in a near vertical position with your feet flat on the ground to bench press, the exception being if you have an extreme arch then you can set your feet way back and go up on your toes; in this position, you are trading maximal leg drive for a big arch and for advanced lifters that can do more this way—keep on trucking. 

Once footing is established, you don’t just press your feet straight into the ground and do a hip thrust or your ass will shoot up in the air, you actually cue yourself to spread outward (like many folks do in the squat) and drive your toes into the front of your shoes as you press the barbell up. I do not like to over cue but this might best be understood by imagining doing a leg extension while your feet are flat and you continue to spread the floor, this will extend your hips without further extending your lumbar spine, which in turn, causes your butt to rise and results in no lift.

Remember, the bench press bar path is a j-curve, NOT A STRAIGHT LINE! Executing leg  drive in the described manner matches this bar path. Because you are initiating force backward and upward you are complementing the ideal bar path. Since your upper back is tight and dug into the bench, you won’t go backward.  

Strong leg drive kindles tightness in the bench press and propels the initial drive of the barbell  off the chest, this is huge because of the bench press’ ascending strength curve, meaning the muscle tension required decreases throughout the range of motion so it will typically feel easier as you get near the end of the range of motion.

Once the barbell is moved the first couple inches off the chest with the aid of leg drive, the bar will travel over the strongest pressing muscles in the j-curve fashion which allows the chest, shoulders and triceps to synergistically work together and you to press some heavy pig iron!  

Final Thoughts

The way to Carnegie hall is practice, practice and more practice! 

The formula to maximize leg drive in the bench press is the same.  Practice how you play, use pauses in training like a meet and use your leg drive to blast your bench press to a new level!

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