Why do we bench with an arched back?

I have for a long time, avoided posting videos of myself bench pressing on social media. It’s not that I’m not proud of how much I can bench. It’s that I just can’t be stuffed with the many comments I get telling me that they fear for my back due to my arched position.

Pretty much any time I or any other powerlifter puts up a video of a bench press there are at least a few comments offering unsolicited advice. Or expressions of concern for the health of our vertebrae. 

So why do we arch? I’ve got some facts to combat commonly used arguments against arching.

“It’s cheating”: Arching while bench pressing offers a mechanical advantage. Is it cheating? Not under powerlifting rules. In fact, the bigger the arch, the better the advantage. The arch shortens the range of the bench press, making the distance the bar needs to travel shorter. 

“You’re going to break your back”: The lumbar and thoracic vertebrae are in their safest position in a lordotic, isometric position. Discs tend to herniate posteriorly so worrying about my discs in this position is a moot point. Additionally, the force on my spine in an arched position with the use of my leg drive is approximate to a light squat. You should be more worried about my back when I am maxing my squat.

“She’s not even using her chest”: Not entirely valid. The arched bench, with retraction of the scapulae, actually allows for greater fibre recruitment of the lower pectoralis. The arch does also allow for greater lat recruitment which helps me push more weight. 

“Looks dangerous”: The position is safer for the glenohumeral joint, as most shoulder impingement occurs when the arm works at or above shoulder height, an arched bench reduces this risk by effectively turning the flat bench into a more declined position. A good bench press arch is uniform throughout the lumbar and thoracic and neutral at the cervical spine.

Conclusion: The arch is for powerlifters who use it properly, if you’re a bodybuilder there’s probably no need for you to use a big arch but even a small one with a little leg drive could help you stay more stable on the bench, put your glenohumeral  joint in a healthier position and help you move more weight.

The arch really is a fine art. 

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