I’ve recently had an epiphany in regards to my Bench technique, specifically in the areas of leg drive and force off the chest. Now I know what you’re maybe thinking (and what I’m definitely thinking), leg drive has been done to death. That’s true. Maybe you won’t find anything new here that you can’t find in the countless YouTube videos on the subject. But because there’s always the chance that the way I phrase a cue or describe a technique might cause a similar epiphany in someone else I think it’s worth putting on paper once more.
I think Leg Drive is a shortened description of what I personally think is referring to full body tension when benching. The common visual conception we have of leg drive is the visible movement of the body back toward the uprights as the lifter drives the bar off their chest. This is an on or off form of leg drive where the lifter has to consciously engage their quads to assist in pressing the weight.
This is a form of leg drive I’ve utilized in the past. I think it can be useful but in my opinion the better form of leg drive is one where the lifter is imparting constant backward force via tension in the legs throughout the entire movement. There are many ways to accomplish this. The prerequisite here is that you should already be moderately tight after performing your setup. If you’re too loose you’re going to be able to effectively transfer force to the bar.
The first cue you can use to initiate this form of tightness is “load the legs” or “load the quads”. This involves allowing the weight to settle into the legs after unracking. This should feel like your quads are engaged in the same way that unracking a squat should feel your upper back tight and engaged. This has the effect of making your hold body rigid and immobile, perfect for imparting force to the bar. This might take a second or two after unracking the bar for the load to distribute onto the legs. Once you understand how “load the legs” should feel you can use the cue “Settle” to remind yourself to allow the weight to distribute onto the lower body.
The second method is more of a modification to your setup rather than an active cue. As I mentioned above, you should already be very tight after performing your Bench setup. To help with leg drive, one technique is to throw your feet back behind your hips so that you’re on your tippy toes while lying on the bench. Next, walk your feet forward until you’re almost flat on the floor but there is still some space between your heel and the floor. Your heel should be pulled upwards by the tension in your lower body without you having to keep it elevated at all. Now, when you unrack think “Heels down” and allow the weight of the bar to force your heels hard into the ground. This will have the effect of getting your lower body extremely tight. A combination of these two cues can definitely up your leg drive game.
The last cue I want to talk about involves the moment you drive the bar off of your chest. I’ve always had issues with strength off the chest. I’ve never felt comfortable or confident in the bottom position. Recently I’ve come to realize I haven’t been actively engaging my chest in the Bench. This might sound kind of ridiculous, of course the chest is always engaged to some extent. But I’ve found I can actively contract my chest to get better strength of the chest.
The cue I’ve used to accomplish this is “Push with chest”. The way to think about this is that you should feel your chest engage in a similar fashion to how it feels when you perform a Pectoral fly. You should think about squeezing your pecs together, creating a peak with them to force the bar off of your chest. You can see this a lot in very good benchers. At the top of the lift the pecs will look very similar to how they might in the last bit of ROM in a fly.
These are a few cues I’ve used to improve how my Bench Press feels and performs. Remember that cues are always individual. These might not work for you and might even be counter-productive in some circumstances. But they might also be just what you need to get that next five pounds.