Training

How To Fix My Bench Press Arch, What You Did Not Know

February 9th 2020

If you are bench pressing and you do not have an impressive back arch, you may not be doing something wrong. 

If you’re just starting out strength training, you likely have several questions as you’re studying proper form for each of the basic lifting moves. Every single one has to be conducted at such precise angles, for a consistent period of time! 

It may seem finicky, but there are good reasons for each of these recommendations. 

The human body is a marvel of biomechanical engineering. 

Just like any machine, if you bend things the wrong way or put too much force on a delicate junction, things may snap—or begin to bruise and ache. 

To put it mildly: you don’t want that. 

Focusing on proper form is the most important thing you can do as a beginning lifter. Let’s talk about the bench press—why you cannot arch your back and how to optimize your bench press form.

Can’t Arch My Back During The Bench Press

Most of the issues stem from flexibility issues from the thoracic spine. Slowly working on mobilizing that area along with doing specific bench press cues to improve your bench press arch. However, your tight bench press arch will only support the more important leg drive component of your bench press.

How should I work on improving my back arch for the bench press?

First, you want to make sure you stretch and move that area of the body. This means using a foam roller by laying onto it and passively stretching your mid-back. This means you can also relax the muscles around your thoracic spine as well since if your muscles are guarded and active, it will be difficult to produce any movement.

This also means using resistance bands in order to start actively recruiting muscles once you learned what to do.

Repeat this as often as you need to.

For some people who are hunched over with poor thoracic mobility, you may need to tackle this issue more aggressively than an advanced powerlifter with a 1500lbs total.

Do not look at others but keep track of your own progression.

Keep in mind that the bench press arch is not the only thing

You might be watching your favorite athletes’ bench press and see how big their arches are.

But that is not the only thing that is going on.

By creating a big arch, you are limiting movement throughout your body. You are tight, really tight.

You are actively driving your heels/foot into the ground. If someone were to poke your legs or body, you would not move an inch.

ONLY THEN, you should unrack the bar and begin to bench press.

In my opinion, 50% of the bench press is completed once you set up perfectly with a good arch and a tight body. The rest is your pressing power.

So, while you may think the bench press arch is important, let us go through a small checklist of what you should be doing.

You should be answering yes to each of these bullet points:

  • Are you pushing down and back hard with your legs?
  • Have you tucked in your shoulders?
  • Do you feel an enourmous pressure on your upper/mid back?
  • Do you have a tight arch?
  • Do you have the biggest arch you can create?

Is it okay for beginners to arch their backs during a bench press? 

It may seem like a strange omission, as you’re asked to keep your back straight during squats and barbell lifts and most other types of exercise to keep your posture on point and to protect your lower back. 

However, during bench presses, it’s completely fine for beginners to arch their backs.

There are several reasons why this is the case, which we will go through below:

  1. The only reason you should be bench pressing is to learn, eventually, how to bench press more weight. With arching, you create a more stable position for your shoulders. You stabilize your body and can directly transfer power from your legs into the bench press. In other words, you will not be wasting any energy if you have a tight back arch.
  2. T most important reason to incorporate the arched back into your bench press is that not only is it good for your back—it’s good for your shoulders. Optimal even. 
  3. While having a moderate arch in your spine is a good idea, arching it to extremely rounded places while lifting wouldn’t do you any favors. It’s a good idea to ensure that you aren’t moving your back while you’re moving, so your spine is a little less axially loaded.
  4. Just because it’s not a bad idea to arch your back during bench presses does not mean that it’s a good idea to arch your back during every exercise. Work with a trainer, watch videos to make sure that you know what the movement is supposed to look like, take videos of yourself so you know what you look like while you’re lifting, and always listen to your body. If something starts to hurt (as opposed to normal aching), there’s probably a reason for that—and that reason is your body trying to tell you something. 

 

The small of your back has a natural arch in it for a reason. 

It’s okay for beginners to arch their backs during bench presses—but make sure that you’re doing it correctly, that you’re exercising with your brain as well as your muscles, and that you incorporate it into your standards of good form. 

Is Arching Your Back during a Bench Press Bad? 

We’ve discussed why it might be beneficial for beginners, but is there a scenario in which arching your back could be bad for you? 

As it turns out, it depends a lot on what your specific lifting goals are. 

Your body is your body! 

If you’re a beginner just learning how to bench press with an arch and it feels like something is wrong, listen to that. Ask questions but do not be afraid to question something you are confused about.

If you’re trying to bench press more and more weight, however, you’re likely going to want to learn to bench press with an arch. 

Ultimately, it depends on whether you plan to use bench presses casually or if you plan on making bench presses a central tenet of your workout regimen. 

Is a Bench Press Back Arch Cheating? 

While this may seem like a strange question to beginner lifters, take a moment to imagine intensely competitive lifters who compete not only to see how much weight they can bench but who can do it with the best form. 

There are some who believe that lifters in competition are cheating via a back arch—because, as noted above, if you arch your back, you have a reduced range of motion. 

This may allow you to lift more weight. USAPL - the United States of America Power Lifting association — notes that the form is fine as long as the head, the shoulders, and the butt are in contact with the bench—along with flat feet on the ground. 

It’s always a good idea to review the specific form rules for any competition you plan to compete in, but for all of the reasons mentioned above, bench press arching is not generally considered to be cheating. 

In the end, it is not cheating if you are following competition rules. However, some of the more extreme folks will take advantage of the rule book.

With years of training and technique preparation, you will know who is the most efficient and strongest at the bench press.

Is a Bench Press Back Arch Safe to Do? 

There’s no such thing as an always-safe lifting move! 

However, as long as you set it up appropriately, having a bench press back arch is safe. 

There’s a reason that our spines naturally have an arch in them, and working with that can be good for your body. 

You’re going to want to make sure you do the research and the proper practice to ensure that the movement works for your body; what may be safe for one person won’t necessarily be safe for you! 

However, the answer for most people, in most circumstances, does seem to be that bench presses with arched backs are extremely safe when practiced appropriately. 

Don’t Push Yourself

The main theme of this article should be to work within the limitations of your own body! 

Whether or not a bench press arch is safe for the person next to you has nothing to do with what’s good for your muscles. 

Make sure that you’re working with what you’ve got and growing in the safest way possible. 

The Importance of Warming Up and Stretching

One way to ensure that you don’t go beyond your physical limits is to practice warming up your muscles prior to getting your workout on, and stretching both before and after to make sure that your joints and muscles are properly prepped to get the job done. 

You’re far less likely to injure yourself if your body is ready for a workout—and that doesn’t happen without your consciously deciding to make that be the case! 

Prioritize warming your body up and stretching properly at all times to make sure that your workouts are as healthy and effective as they can possibly be. 

If you cannot create a good bench press arch, start working on it today!

It is not the end of the world, but you do have a chip on your shoulder.

Start off with what you can. Use a foam roller, pillow, wooden blocks - something to force your body into thoracic extension.

Get used to the movement and allow your body to adapt.

While you may not have the perfect bench press arch today, slowly working towards it over a couple of weeks will yield fantastic results.

Besides, you probably need to work on other technique cues on the bench press as well.

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