Really, You Should Bench Press with an Arch
If you look in the comments section of any video where a lifter is bench pressing with an excessive arch, then you are bound to find a massive amount of people who comment something like:
“Doesn’t count, that’s cheating.”
“Arching is bad for you back.”
“Let’s see you do that without the arch.”
I'm going to make the case for why you should bench press with an arched back, and not just for competitive lifters but also for anyone who trains the bench press in general.
Let me explain what a sufficient arch would look like. When arching your back in the bench press, it does not have to be excessive. All you need is your knee to be lower than your hip. In your setup, if your knee is level with, or above your hips then you probably do not have a sufficient arch. This can be fixed by bringing your feet further under your body (towards your head), and then pushing your traps (upper back) into the bench. After pushing up onto your traps, lower your butt until it touches the bench. If you are still having trouble, there are plenty of instructional videos on YouTube about how to properly set up for the bench press. So now that the how is explained, let's get into the why.
But Really, Why Should You Bench with an Arch?
The main reasons are that it:
- Protects your shoulders, and keeps them healthy.
- Adds stability to your whole system when pressing.
- Shortens the Range of Motion (more important for competitors).
Alright, so how does arching do these things that I claim? I’ll explain them in order.
I made shoulder health number 1, because this applies to everyone who performs the bench press. When benching with a flat back, the bar has to travel a greater distance since your chest is further away. Thus your elbow has to travel a greater distance as well, which in turn creates a greater angle between your shoulder and elbow putting a lot more stress on the shoulder joint. This added stress creates a greater risk for injury. This is why benching with even a slight arch can be beneficial for anyone who performs the movement. It keeps your shoulders protected and healthy!
Stability and Tightness
If you were to watch someone bench press without an arch they usually have a lot of unnecessary movement throughout their entire body. This instability creates a few problems. The most important issue is that this instability can put the lifter at risk for injury. Think in it terms of not bracing for a deadlift; this creates instability and risk for injury.
The other issue with the instability is that the lifter won't be able to press their optimal weight. If the lifter incorporated a slight arch, and created a nice tight and stable system through their feet, and up into their back and shoulders, then they would lessen the risk of injury and create a situation in which they are able to press more weight and see better results.
Shortened Range of Motion
This advantage mostly applies to the lifters who are competitors, and are trying to lift the most weight possible while staying within the rules of competition. So if you don’t care about pressing the most weight possible, you can skip this section if you’d like. The way this works is quite simple. Benching with an arch brings the lifters chest closer to the bar, and therefore shortens the distance that the bar has to travel, requiring less work to complete the lift. Benching with an arch also allows a lifter to create optimal drive with their legs, to create more force when pressing the bar off of their chest.
A big arch often times results in a pretty big press, and this is where a lot of the controversy comes in. Some believe that benching with a big arch is cheating, and that it should be banned or regulated in competition. My opinion is that arching (flexibility and anatomy) is an ability either natural to a lifter or gained through practice, and just like any other sport, ability (whether natural or attained) is never regulated. The rules state that as long as the lifters butt is on the bench, and feet are on the floor it is a legal press. So no matter the size of the arch, as long as it’s within the rules, why should it be illegal?
We don’t ban people from the NBA because they’re too tall, we admire them.
The same should apply to people with great flexibility in the sport of powerlifting!
Before You Go
Now that you’re aware of the benefits of benching with an arch, go get to pressing! Although, if you do not have access to a competition grade bench press then you may have trouble maintaining a good setup throughout your training session. A lot of benches are slippery, and lifters have trouble keeping a nice, tight setup due to their shoulders sliding back on the bench.
This is why the team over here at The Herd created a product called The Backbone. Just place The Backbone onto any bench where your shoulders go, and it keeps you right in place for a stable and powerful press. No more chalk. No more slipping. It even rolls up and fits right in your gym bag!
It's a product made by powerlifters, for powerlifters, and it's been tested by plenty of them! You will feel an enormous difference after the first use.
Thanks for reading!