leg drive on bench press transfer of force

9 Tips for Improving Leg Drive on Bench Press

The bench press may seem simple at first glance. But nothing could be further from the truth.


There's a bunch of different things to think about when benching, including but not limited to:

  • Shoulder blades together and down
  • Upper back arched
  • Elbows in
  • Lats activated (when bar is near bottom of range of motion)
  • Breathe using the Valsalva maneuver
  • Butt on the bench
  • Leg drive

It's that last point in the list above that I want to focus on today: leg drive.

Don't know what leg drive is? In short, it involves using your leg strength to drive your feet/heels into the floor. This creates tension throughout your body, which gives you a stable base to press from.

Sounds simple, but it's easier said than done. Even lifters who understand the concept and importance of leg drive will often execute it poorly.

So, I'll share several practical tips and cues that (with practice) will help you use leg drive more effectively, and in turn, increase your bench press.

1. Initiate Leg Drive Before Lift-Off

Start using leg drive before you move the barbell. This will reinforce your back arch and keep your body stable on the bench.

leg drive on bench press

A common mistake many lifters make is waiting until after they unrack the bar to really initiate leg drive.

This messes up your position, causing you to use poor technique and waste valuable energy trying to get back into the correct position.

2. Press Your Heels Down, Then Drive

It's not enough to just say "drive through your heels." While accurate, that cue doesn't fully describe what you should be trying to accomplish.

I find it more practical to say "press your heels down, then drive."

The "press your heels down" part of this cue implies lowering your heels as far as possible, before you really start driving with your legs.

This should occur during the set up - after arching your back and getting the right grip, but before unracking the bar.

Pressing the heels down puts your feet/ankles in a position that creates tension and the right leverages for generating more force when you fully initiate leg drive.

This cue is applicable whether you bench with your feet flat on the floor, or with your legs tucked and heel raised. Either way you should lead with your heel, actively pressing it down into or toward the floor throughout the lift.

press heels down leg drive

3. Drive Forcefully from Start of Rep; Increase Force as You Lower & Press

As I said in tip #1, you should start the lift using a good amount of leg drive - Consider this your baseline amount of leg drive during your set.

Gradually increase the force of your leg drive as you lower the bar to your chest.

Then, as you begin to press the weight up, drive your legs as explosively as possible until you get past your sticking point.

Gradually decrease leg drive intensity back to the baseline level as you lockout.

See the graph below for a visual representation of how leg drive should change throughout the lift.

led drive on bench press

4. Never Disengage Leg Drive Between or During Reps

Once your feet are planted and you're driving through your legs, don't stop.

A common mistake you'll see is people lifting up or shuffling their feet around during or between repetitions. This causes you to lose your tightness and gets you out of position. Not to mention, you screw up your tempo and waste valuable energy getting back into position.

If you find yourself doing this, find out why you're doing it and then stop!

It may just be an unconscious need to move lower body while your upper body is moving the weight. Simply becoming aware of what you're doing should fix this.

Or, as was the case with me, it can result from having a poor setup position before liftoff, causing you to adjust position mid-set. The solution is to improve your setup.

5. Squeeze Your Glutes Hard!

What major muscle group connects the upper body to the lower body?

The glutes, of course!

Now, what would happen if you don't keep your glutes contracted while benching?

First off, there'd be less total leg drive force since your glutes contribute directly to that. Even more importantly, there would be a disconnect between your upper body and lower body...

...The tension created from pushing into the floor would not transfer efficiently to your upper body. Your back arch would be less profound and weaker, thereby reducing upper back tightness and creating a less stable base to bench off of.

The moral of the story here is to flex your butt muscles hard throughout your bench press set. Imagine trying to crack a walnut between your cheeks if you must :-D

crackin' nuts

6. Imagine the Leg Drive Pushing Your Bodyweight onto Your Upper Back

Imagine driving into the ground and transferring force up your legs, through your torso and down into your upper back and shoulders...

...Visualize this force causing your bodyweight to shift from your legs and lower torso, to your bodyweight onto your upper back.

Think of your bodyweight pushing your shoulder blades deep into the bench.

leg drive shift weight on to shoulder blades

Of course, you're not shifting your bodyweight, so much as your leg drive is stabilizing your torso and creating a tighter back arch. But who cares whether this visualization is accurate or not - What matters is that it improves your leg drive and helps you bench more.

7. Squeeze the Bench Between Your Thighs (for narrower stances only)

Note: This tip applies more to those with a medium to narrow bench press stance width. Obviously, those who use a wide stance are less able to squeeze the bench with their thighs since their legs are further apart.

squeeze bench between thighs to increase leg drive

Squeezing the bench with your inner thighs activates your leg musculature (particularly the adductors, hamstrings and glutes) more intensely.

The harder you contract your leg muscles, the greater the force you exert when driving your legs during the bench press.

There are other, less direct benefits of squeezing the bench between your thighs...

...For one, you'll find that this helps prevent your butt from lifting up off the bench. Secondly, it improves your stability because your thighs are essentially anchoring your body to the bench.

watermelon thigh crush

Basically, do this, but with a bench and not a watermelon. :-D

8. Try Benching in Olympic Weightlifting Shoes (if you bench with heels on floor)

Note: This tip only applies to you if you keep your heels on the floor while benching. If you bench with your heels raised, ignore this.

Olympic weightlifting shoes afford you increased range of motion in terms of being able to move your feet further back (i.e. under or behind your knees) without your heels raising off the floor.

brand new adidas adipower weightlifting shoes

My brand new Adidas Adipower shoes, fresh out the box.

The raised heel also puts your ankles at an angle that allows you direct more force through your heels.

Additionally, these shoes allow you to transfer the force from your legs directly into the floor without loss of energy, thanks to the non-compressible soles.

9. Do Glute Bridges or Hip Thrusts for Assistance Work

One of the best ways to improve leg drive on bench press is...wait for it...to practice leg drive. Go figure, eh?

Thankfully, there are exercises that mimic the same position and train the muscles used during leg drive.

These exercises are glute bridges and hip thrusts, which can be done with bodyweight or with added weight.

By adding these exercises to your routine as assistance work, you're getting better and stronger at leg drive because you're practicing it under a load.

About the Author Alex

Hey! My name is Alex, and I'm the owner and author of King of the Gym. I started this website back in late 2009 during college, and it has been my pet project ever since. My goal is to help you learn proper weight training and nutrition principles so that you can get strong and build the physique of your dreams!

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Leave a Comment:

Bill says October 27, 2015

Very informative and great visuals! Engaging my legs during a bench press is something I frequently somehow forget to do. Although when I do remember and do it correctly the legs make a huge difference.

Kamal says August 2, 2016

Awesome site dude, I just came across it. Great post, lots of good solid info. Benching with my elbows ‘out’ and not ‘in’ was the reason I messed my shoulder up a few years back. I’ve also got a pair of the Adi power’s in white, I’ve been using for a while now. Feels like I’ve got two plungers on my feet sticking me to the ground! 🙂

    Alex says August 16, 2016

    Thanks, Kamal. I’m glad you find my site to be useful. And great plunger metaphor with the Adipowers haha! 😀

ÁLVARO SHIOKAWA ALVAREZ says August 30, 2016

Thank you for sharing with us these tips, Alex! I like how the article cover content related to the powerlifting style of bench press, which is the one I use. But I have one question:

I use the “heels-off” the floor method for leg-driving, so I should imagine I am pushing DOWN and FORWARD with the tip of the toes (And while doing this I should try lowering my heels?) ? Would this help with the cue of transfering the weight to my upper back, as if I am trying to make the bench slide on the floor, or perhaps, as if I am trying to make a leg extension, with my feet on the floor??

Or should I just press DOWN with the tip of toes (While still trying to lower my heels to the floor)?

Anyways, thanks again! Cheers from Brazil.

    Alex says August 31, 2016

    Hi Álvaro, thanks for the great question.

    I’ll try to answer it as best I can. But let me first state what you may already know–that the effectiveness of any given cue varies from person to person. One cue for one person may lead to a “Eureka!” moment of instantly fixing/improving their technique…

    …Whereas the same cue for another person may do absolutely nothing. Or it can even cause them to use worse technique–it really depends on how a person interprets the cue and visualizes it, and what is good or bad about their technique before implementing the cue.

    So before I get into your specific question, here’s my big-picture answer: Use whichever cues cause you to be tighter throughout your body (and especially through your core, from hips to shoulder).

    Now, to answer you question more directly:

    I think the “DOWN and FORWARD…” cue can be helpful transferring weight onto the shoulder blades/upper back, but only if you change it like so: “DOWN and FORWARD with the tip of the toes balls of the feet.” The only problem I could see some people having with this one is that they end up almost sliding backward instead of reinforcing their arch–Like I said, cues are subjective.

    I like your second cue about leg extension the most. That’s a good way to visualize it. However, for it to be more all encompassing, I would personally use that cue combined with the “trying to lower my heels to the floor” cue. Again, this one may work great for me, but it could just confuse someone else.

    I can tell by your questions that you’re smart and very analytical about how you approach exercise technique. So, I have no doubt you’ll eventually zero-in on a set of cues that works perfectly for you–and that will eventually become second nature.

    Let me just add, though, that it’s important to avoid getting too “in your head” about the technical aspect, so as to avoid getting overwhelmed. If/when this happens, you need to regress to simply “feeling” your way through the movement instead of “thinking” your way through it.

    Hope my long-winded response helped! Let me know if you have any follow-up questions.

    Happy benching,

    P.S. Be sure to download my free PDF mini-guide to increasing your bench press. I think you’d reallly enjoy it–you pickup a few more technical cues and other nuggets of information that’ll lead to a bigger bench.

    Here’s the link to get it: http://www.kingofthegym.com/how-to-increase-your-bench-press/

      ÁLVARO SHIOKAWA ALVAREZ says September 2, 2016

      Hi Alex, it’s me, Álvaro, again. Thank you very much for the feedback!

      Haha, yes, you got me there, I have sometimes the tendency of overanalyzing stuff “Am I making enough arch? / Am I contracting the glutes and abs? / Am I making the correct bar path? “…

      But the thing is I really liked this post of your convering the leg-drive, and I am trying to incorporate this knowledge to the one I use…

      So lets say… considering I use the “heels off ground, thus, ball of toes only on floor” method (Yes, I really confused the terms, it is not the tip of toes, but the balls haha), according to the guide, in a step by step way of thinking it would be something like this?

      1) I have the balls of my feet on the ground
      2) even though the balls of the feet are on the ground, I will try LOWERING the heel as much as I can (as if trying to make the foot flat)
      3) Then I would start pushing DOWN and FORWARD (the forward part because of the leg extension analogy, and down to keep pushing the floor), thus making the leg drive?

      This that I ask you is because I too believe that the energy and force starts off the ground and transfers from the legs to the upper back which for me helps to understand that cue they often say about “push your self away from the bar”, that is, this force that kinda tightens our upper back against the bench would be the force pushing me away from the bar?

      Because, I imagine, that if I were to ONLY press DOWN with the balls of the feet, somehow I can’t visualize the force being transferred to the upper back, the only thing I can imagine is the possibility of the hips lifting up, and the upper back remaining the way it already was, without being modified by forces originated from the leg drive.

      Thanks again!

        Alex says September 20, 2016

        Hey Álvaro,

        It seems the way you’re describing it now makes a lot of sense. So I’m glad I was able to help you flesh out this concept, and give you that one cue that works for you–so that you can actually visualize it.

        Yes, the DOWN and FORWARD motion you describe (i.e. leg extension once your feet are in the proper position) is the final movement (however subtle a movement it is), which would really engage leg drive on your bench press setup.

        It seems like this DOWN and FORWARD cue is what you needed to make everything come together…

        …Hopefully someone else reads these comments and is able to use that same cue to execute leg drive and improve their bench press.

        Happy benching,

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