Exercise Tutorial: How to do the Floor Press

Hackenschmidt Floor PressThe floor press is the original horizontal barbell press. Before the days of gyms and health clubs, exercise equipment was hard to come by.

Many of the exercises we consider staples weren’t even invented yet. The bench we know and love din’t exist. So, old time strong men did many exercises from the floor.

I love the bench press.

But, my shoulders don’t.

After a hard bench press workout my shoulders and rotator cuff muscles get upset with me and show their displeasure with days of pain. I’m not alone. Countless others find it equally murderous.

While the floor press and bench are related, the floor press is a true upper body exercise.

Table Of Contents

  • Why Choose The Floor Press
  • How to Do the Floor Press
  • Programing the Floor Press
    • Floor Press as A Main Lift
    • Floor Press as an Accessory Exercise
  • What Muscles Does the Floor Press Work
  • Floor Press Variations
  • Floor Press Alternatives
  • Wrap Up

Why Choose the Floor Press

The floor press requires powerful extension of the elbows, placing considerable mechanical tension on the triceps. Overloading the triceps with big weights is key to developing massive arms while keeping excessive joint stress at bay, which is something that can’t be said for skull crushers.

Easier on the Shoulders: You’d be hard pressed to find a big bencher without some degree of shoulder dysfunction. Most athletes flare the elbows in pressing movements, fixing the humerus into internal rotation. To accommodate this position the scapula rotates up and out, forcing scapular stabilizers to work overtime while rubbing on the supraspinatus ligament. The floor press reduces the range of motion of the shoulder and subsequent injury risk while still training a massive press. The floor press reduces the range of motion of the shoulder and subsequent injury risk while still training a massive press.

All Upper Body

A good bench press is a full body exercise. However, the floor press eliminates the leg making it a pure upper-body push.

How to do The Floor Press

The typical floor press is done with a barbell like in the video below.

  1. Lie on your back so your eyes are directly beneath the bar. Too far forward and it’s impossible to unrack. Too far back and you’ll hit the supports.
  2. Shoulder width grip. Take a more narrow grip than on the typical bench press. Go about shoulder width. Play with the distance and find what’s comfortable for you. But don’t deviate too far from shoulder width. Too far in or out isn’t optimal.
  3. Keep your legs straight and together. This is an upper body exercise. Let’s keep your legs out of it.
  4. Tuck your elbows. About a 45º angle works well. Too much flair stress the shoulder joints.
  5. Keep it stacked. The wrist and elbow joints remain stacked onto of each other and directly under the bar.
  6. Pull your elbows to the ground. Don’t let the bar fall to the ground and crush your elbows. Instead, actively row the bar controlling the eccentric portion of the lift. Looking for shoulder protraction. I talk about shoulder protraction in my Band Pull Apart article.
  7. Pause. We don’t want any momentum here. Once your elbows touch the floor, pause for a second or two. But keep your back tight.
  8. Press. And finish where you started.
  9. Repeat. Continue until you hit your prescribed reps.

Adding The Floor Press To Your Workout

Because the floor press is a compound exercise it fits anywhere within your workout routine.

I like to cycle it between a heavy main lift and as an accessory exercise to hit the triceps.

The Floor Press as A Main Lift

I’ve replaced heavy benching with the floor press. That means for a cycle the floor press is my primary lift on one of my upper body days. You can do the same with this 4 week plan.

Sample 4 week cycle:

  • Week 1: 3×8 @ 60-70% 1RM
  • Week 2: 4×8 @ 65-75% 1RM
  • Week 3: 4×6 @ 70-80% 1RM
  • Week 4: 5×4 @ 75-85% 1RM

If you don’t know your floor press max, it most likely falls between 75-85% of your bench press 1RM.

The Floor Press as An Accessory Lift

As much as you love an exercise it can’t stay in your routine forever. All  lifts get cycled in and out of workout routines. And the reps never stay the same. Using the floor press as an accessory exercise is a prime example of his.

There are two ways I program the floor press for accessory work.

  1. Super Set
  2. High Rep

You can make a mean triceps superset or can pump out some reps as a solo exercise. Either way it will help define and tone your arms.

What Muscles Does the Floor Press Work

The floor press is a compound exercise. Thus it hits multiple muscle groups.

  • Pectorals (Chest)
  • Triceps
  • Rhomboids and Scapular Stabilizers

Floor Press Variations

While the barbell is the Grandfather of the lift, there are many variations. Depending on your goal and joint health one of these other options will serve you well.

DB Floor Press

In this video Luka Hocevar, shows you how to get a heavy DB Floor Press into place when you’re all alone.

Bottoms-Up Kettlebell Floor Press

Be prepared to be humbled.

Compared to dumbbells, the bottoms-up variation doesn’t come within a stones throw with the amount of weight you can handle.

However, this is an excellent version to enhance stabilization, wrist strength and shoulder joint centration. Happy shoulders while still pressing.

You also have to option to use both arms. However, I prefer the single arm because it’s easier to get into position, and you have your other hand available for safety.


Band Floor Press

When you don’t have a gym, or want to do a burnout set, bands work wonders.

In the video below Scott Abel teaches a few different hand positions to adjust difficulty.

Even More Variations

You’ve already seen a few different floor press variations. But there are a lot more. Here are a few more to take for a spin…

  • Glute-bridge Floor Press – Maintain a strong glute-bridge throughout the set.
  • Swiss Bar – Allows you to keep a neutral grip.
  • Band / Chain Resisted – Even though the range of motion isn’t huge, accommodating resistance still works well.
  • Fat Bar – Don’t have a fat bar? Grab a pair of Fat Gripz.

Floor Press Alternatives

  • Board Press
  • Pin Press


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