Leg Cramping With Bench Press

Todd Sabol, MS, AT


Bench press, the ultimate bro lift like we talked about last week is a testament to your upper body strength. But as we also talked about last week, there are many muscles involved in the movement, and they are not only limited to the upper extremity. If you are active at all on social media or YouTube, you have probably seen videos of different lifter’s bench setups; big back arches, feet tucked up under them, so on and so forth. Many of these techniques aim to cut down range of motion and overall to be able to push more weight.

One very overlooked portion of the bench press in the general weightlifting community is the idea of leg drive. If it is used correctly and efficiently it can allow for another segment of the body to produce force and allow more weight to be moved, who doesn’t want that?! But just like with any other part of the movement the “drive” to move more weight can cause pain or injury if not done correctly. Now with that being said, everyone will need to figure out their own bench setup based on their specific anatomical makeup. Your height, length of your torso, leg length, flexibility, ankle and hip mobility, even the type of shoes you wear while benching can all affect how you need to setup your bench and use your leg drive. So, I will leave that work up to you, but what I am going to do is give you some suggestions if you struggle with certain areas of using the leg drive during your bench press.

  • Focus on your ankle flexibility! This is extremely important for a couple reasons. If your ankle mobility is poor, you will not be able to get your feet flat on the floor because you are lacking in dorsiflexion. If you do not have adequate ankle dorsiflexion, it will cause you to need to be pushing off of your toes. If you are pushing off your toes, you will most likely not be generating to maximal amount of force you otherwise would be and additionally, the plantarflexion position you would be in causes more recruitment of the hamstrings and glutes and could increase the likelihood of you being extremely sore and have additional cramping during the movement.
  • Really hone in on your hip flexor flexibility. Leg drive during the bench press usually requires your hips to be in an extended position. If your hip extension ROM is less than adequate, it will not allow you to be in a great position to maximize your leg drive.
  • If you have a very intense cramp in the side of your hip, chances are you are trying to externally rotate your feet too much and are asking your gluteus medius and lateral hamstring muscle to work way to hard. For this I would recommend either a) Incorporate some isometric glute and hamstring work into your daily regimen to allow the tissue to become accustomed to isometrically contracting for extended periods of time OR b) Adjust your feet a little bit to see if that position alleviates your symptoms.
  • If your legs get sore or feel like they are cramping after you are benching, one thing you can try to do is foam roll your hip flexors and gluteal muscles, which are the two areas of your legs that are very active during the bench press and these tend to get tight overtime.

If you have any other questions about leg pain while benching please feel free to reach out and always remember to #HealByMoving.

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