The floor press is an excellent exercise. It is a particular favorite of mine for guys with long arms. I often use it instead of the bench press for these guys. Here are five benefits of the floor press:
- Builds muscle mass in the chest, triceps, and shoulders
- Increases overall pressing strength
- Specifically boosts lockout strength
- A good choice for beginners or those coming back from injury
- Minimizes shoulder stress for long-armed lifters by limiting range
The floor press gives you a depth check on every rep as your triceps and elbows contact the floor. This allows you to keep the range the same on every rep of every set. While you can do the same on a bench press by bringing the bar to the chest this can be problematic for some, especially those with long arms.
All too often they get shoulder pain when barbell bench pressing. One of the reasons for this is high degrees of internal rotation required to bring the bar all the way to the chest. Another problem people have with barbell benching is a lack of stability. Many people are unable to maintain scapular stability when pressing and this places a lot of strain on the shoulder. A final reason is that people lack the required active range of motion to barbell bench all the way to their chest. The weight of a barbell in their hands can force them into this position, but they do not yet have the muscular strength to control this range. This limits the loads they can lift and also increases injury risk. Using the floor press can be a useful intervention to remedy these issues.
The issues with barbell bench pressing to your chest do not make the bench press a bad exercise. In fact, it can be an awesome strength and muscle builder! The problem is that not everyone is suited to performing it through a full range. In my experience, this is very often the case with people who have long arms relative to their height. As a result, when writing programs for long-limbed lifters I frequently use a floor press variation.
The floor press provides extreme stability because the whole upper back is in contact with the ground. This added stability means you can focus on challenging the working muscles, in a range, you can control. For beginners, this is invaluable because they often struggle when using free weights. Remember how shaky the bar path was the very first time you bench pressed?
Why I Like the Smith Machine Floor Press
Novice lifters who struggle with stability and coordination on free-weight lifts can benefit from the Smith machine floor press. They will most likely lack stability, the ability to create tension in the target muscle, and have weak triceps. The floor press can help fix all of these issues and provide an opportunity to challenge themselves with relatively heavy loads. For more advanced lifters I think it is an excellent choice to challenge the muscles and push to (or very close to) failure later in a session.
For all of these reasons it can be a great teaching tool/stepping stone for beginner lifters, an excellent choice for guys with long arms, or a brutally effective accessory exercise for more experienced lifters.
The floor press does not allow you to cheat or chop depth. While the range of motion is not as big as on a bench press it does stimulate mid-range and lockout strength very effectively. This places a lot of tension through the chest and it is also an excellent triceps builder.
Programming the Smith Machine Floor Press
For beginners, it can be their main pressing movement. Done early in the session and with heavy weights (relative to their strength levels). For more experienced lifters I suggest it comes towards the end of a workout.
As you accumulate fatigue throughout a session your ability to stabilize somewhat diminishes. As a result, an exercise that provides stability can be a great choice to create a large output of work from the target muscles, in a safe manner, to finish a workout. So, you would begin with your meat and potatoes barbell lifts and then finish up with the Smith machine.
To build maximum chest and triceps size I am a fan of the Smith machine floor press to be used as the final pressing movement of the day. The exercise allows you to focus on fatiguing the muscle fibers with no wasted effort on stability. You can blast your chest and triceps and empty the tank on this lift when programmed this way. This allows you to wring every available ounce of effort from the muscles and provide a powerful growth stimulus. Think of the Smith machine floor press as a chest and triceps building “finisher” to your workout.