To Arch Or Not To Arch, That Is The Question
It seems like everyone has an opinion on whether you should arch when benching. Many people see the move as cheating, because arching your back admittedly lowers the range of motion on your arms. Just like sumo deadlifting, another position often argued about, the range of motion means that there’s much less time under tension. The less time you’re moving weight, the more intense you can be - and overall, you can lift more weight.
However, we’re here to say that we don’t think arching your back is cheating, In fact, it might be the safest way to bench heavy - and might be the secret weapon your bench needs to really dominate. Here are three key reasons why you should arch your back while benching.
1. Getting tight
To properly arch, you have to engage a few different muscle groups to make sure you’re lengthening the right part of your spine to be solid under the bar. The arch in the bench press extends the thoracic spine. To do this effectively, you need to engage your posterior chain, tighten your abs, and pull down your lats. Think about how hinging for a deadlift helps you engage the same muscles. The engagement and stability caused by the arch is what makes the bench press a safe motion for your back and shoulders - making it one you can do long term for strength.
2. Protecting your shoulders and your spine
As mentioned above, engaging your posterior chain and lats are critical to having a strong arch, which is critical to protecting your shoulders and your spine during a bench press. Arching your back pushes your shoulders and glutes into the bench, locking you into place at your base, so you can have a strong foundation to build from. Having that strong foundation means that you’re less likely to wobble under tension. The second part of a strong arch means that the barbell comes down when you bring it to your chest, not forward. Think about doing a pushup and how your body moves when you keep your elbows tight to your ribs - rather than flared out. When your body is tight, your back, shoulders and wrists are safely in alignment.
3. Lifting more weight
When you’re tight before a lift, and your base is solid, you can lift more weight - it’s just that simple. More than getting a higher total, you can lift more weight safely, without having to worry about injuring your body long term. That confidence can help you go for a high total, and get under the bar more boldly than before. Go for a PR! You know you can take it!
If you don’t arch when you bench, try it out and see how it helps your lift. Consider that a proper arch is centered in your thoracic, not your lumbar spine. To imagine this, think about pinching your shoulder blades together - like you’re trying to hold a pencil at the center of your back. You should feel your spine naturally arch forward as your lats engage. That is the natural place for you to bend your back. Once you find that point, drive your glutes and shoulders into the bench and hold that tightness. You should feel the gains coming in no time!