Chances are, you’ve seen the bench press variation named the Larsen Press at least once in your lifting career. Whether it was at your local gym, or scrolling through social media, the Larsen Press is continuing to grow in popularity due to its unique approach to improving bench press strength and form.
Contrary to other bench press variations that shift the body’s angle, utilize different training implements, or require accommodated resistance, the Larsen Press simply alter’s the body’s position on a flat bench. The Larsen Press requires athletes to lift their feet off the ground when pressing. This completely eliminates this point of contact and the leg drive, which is a large contributor of force when performing a standard bench press.
As with every exercise, there’s a time and place when the Larsen Press is best served in the gym and during a program. So before writing this movement off, it’s important to acknowledge its potential benefits for specific bench press goals. Below, we’ll dive into:
- Where the Larsen Press came from
- How to the Larsen Press
- The benefits of the Larsen Press
- When to use the Larsen press in your program
Author’s Note: Like with every exercise, ensure you understand the form and intent of the Larsen Press before adding it into a program and haphazardly using it.
Where Did the Larsen Press Come From?
Adrian Larsen, Bench Press Specialist
The Larsen Press was originally popularized by Adrian Larsen who is considered a bench press specialist in the sport of powerlifting. Larsen was born with dislocated hips and club feet, and underwent multiple corrective surgeries throughout this first few years of life.
After growing up having to wear leg braces every day, eventually Larsen decided to go against his doctor’s recommendations of wearing braces full-time, and began pursuing sports. Growing up, he played basketball and eventually found himself in the weight room working to improve his strength and athleticism. Soon after, Larsen competed in powerlifting for the first time when he was a sophomore in high school.
In the Super Training video below, Larsen notes that he competed raw and was able to beat out guys lifting in single-ply suits — and it was at this moment he began to truly dive into competitive lifting. Check out the video below to learn more about Larsen and his upbringing!
Since his first powerlifting competition, Larsen began to train and perform movements that accommodated for his unique approach to the gym. He discusses in the Super Training video that he continually adapts his training to what he has available and what he’s capable of doing.
Over the course of his powerlifting career, Larsen has won multiple powerlifting competitions, has held the 220-lb all-time bench press world record, and has benched over 700 lb equipped in competition. In fact, we actually wrote on Larsen two years ago when he bench pressed a motorcycle with a passenger on it.
How to Perform the Larsen Press
Simple and Effective
The Larsen Press is great because it doesn’t require a whole lot of alteration to one’s normal bench press form and it doesn’t require extra equipment. In order to perform the Larsen Press, athletes should assume their normal bench press setup. Typically, athletes will have less arch when Larsen Pressing due to the mechanics required to press while lifting the legs. Once an athlete is set, then they will unrack the bar and lift the feet off the ground.
- Step 1: Assume normal bench press setup (arch will typically be less).
- Step 2: Really focus on retracting the scapula and creating upper back tightness/arch.
- Step 3: If not using a spot — unrack the weight (if you have a spot, then you can unrack after you lift the legs).
- Step 4: Once the weight is over the body, lift the feet off the ground by leaving the legs straight out or placing them on an object.
Note: The feet will either be hovering above the ground with the tops of the thighs on the bench or placed on an object. The core will be engaged, but this should not feel like a true static leg lift or result in the hips flexing to a degree where the legs come above the bench.
The feet lifting off the ground can vary from athlete-to-athlete. For example, some athletes place their feet on benches or low-blocks, while others simply lift their legs straight off the ground and leave them floating. Skip to 4:45 in the video below for a better visual!
One of its main goals is to increase one’s awareness of their upper back placement and set positioning. This forces athletes to really focus on maintaining their upper back tightness without the feet and legs compensating for poor bar path, set positioning, and inadequate force displacement. That being said, play with with different ways to keep the feet off the ground to find what serves your needs and this press’s goals best.
One thing I’ve learned while performing Larsen Presses in my programs is that I prefer placing my legs on lower-blocks. Personally, I have a hard time maintaining my thoracic and upper back arch due to my anterior pelvic tilt, so leaving my legs straight out is slightly uncomfortable — my lower back will arch too much. If that sounds like you, then play with different foot positions, while also working to improve thoracic mobility.
Benefits of the Larsen Press
Produce Force Without the Legs
Potentially the biggest benefit that comes with the Larsen Press is how it can heighten an athlete’s awareness of poor bar path and lack of force production with the upper body. Since the legs are out of the equation, the upper body must then create all of the force to displace into the barbell to be successful without a large arch.
This can be useful when teaching athletes how to produce force without the legs, so when the legs are used again, they’ll be better equipped to utilize both the upper and lower body to produce force.
Similar to producing more force, the limitation of the legs will force athletes to maintain a stronger set position with the upper back on the bench press. If you find that your upper back is losing its tightness throughout bench press sets, then limiting the legs will force the back to remain tight in order to create success.
Pec, Tricep, and Shoulder Strength
Without leg drive, the bench press gets increasingly harder to perform. This makes the Larsen Press a great bench variation for increasing the relative intensity on the pecs, triceps, and shoulders (prime movers in the bench press) without physically loading more weight on the bar.
The Larsen Press can be a great option for athletes working towards improving their time under tension and hypertrophy when targeting the pecs, triceps, and shoulder without creating a ton of fatigue using close-to and maximal sets.
When to Use the Larsen Press
What’s Your Intent?
The biggest question one should ask themselves before utilizing the Larsen Press blindly in a program is what their intent is. There are multiple ways the Larsen Press can be programmed and below we’ve included a few ways athletes could use this press in their workouts.
1. Technique Focused Days
The Larsen Press can be a great bench press accessory when building upon one’s bench press technique. Whether it be a focus on overall technique or the competition press, the Larsen Press is a great tool when utilizing tempos and pauses. An example can be seen below.
- A1. Pause Bench Press — 3 x 5 @80% 1-RM
- B1: Larsen Press (4110 Tempo) — 3 x 8 @60% 1-RM
2. Off-Season Volume Accumulation/Finisher
On top of being useful for technique practice, it can also be a great finisher after normal bench press days for additional pec, tricep, and shoulder volume.
- A1: Bench Press — 5 x 3 @85% 1-RM
- B1: Larsen Press — 1 x AMRAP @65% 1-RM
3. Strength Focus
Outside of being programmed as an accessory, the Larsen Press can also function as one’s main bench movement. If an athlete is aiming to avoid any form of glute and leg work during a press day, then this can be a great option.
- A1: Larsen Press — 4 x 8 @70% 1-RM
In reality, the Larsen Press can be programmed in multiple ways and should be utilized like every other exercise. It all comes down to one’s overall goal and intent, and why they’re choosing to use this bench press variation in the first place.
Before writing off the Larsen Press, it’s worth giving a shot if you struggle maintaining upper back tightness during the bench press. It can be a great bench press variation for anyone trying to improve their bench technique and upper body training volume. However, remember to always utilize exercises with understanding their intent and purpose.
Feature image from Mark Bell – Sling Shot YouTube channel.