The bench press has been called the King of Upper Body Lifts. And while you may or may not agree with that statement, you can’t argue with its popularity! Almost everybody does it… and a lot of people have strong opinions about it.
The arch is the biggest source of controversy. Some argue it’s cheating, and others are convinced that you’ll herniate a disc.
Let’s start with WHY most lifters - and all powerlifters - bench press with an arch.
- Reduced Range of Motion: One of the biggest reasons why lifters use an arch when bench pressing is simple: it shortens the distance the bar has to travel. And when you’re pressing a heavy weight, every inch counts!
- Increased Shoulder Stability: The shoulder is a ball and socket joint. The stabilizer muscles (lats and upper traps) are much easier to contract when your shoulders are retracted and pressing into the bench. This position allows you to “pack” the ball even deeper in the socket. And “packed” shoulders are safe shoulders.
- Increased Activation of Lower Pec Muscles: Muscle activation studies show that when you’re in an arched position, you’re able to recruit more muscle fibers in the lower pec. More muscle fiber recruitment means greater overall force production. And more force production means you can lift more weight. And who doesn’t want that?!
IS IT CHEATING?
A lot of people think an arch is ‘cheating’ primarily because the bar travels a much shorter distance. In reality, “cheating” is only a concern if you violate the rules of competition.
Here are the International Powerlifting Federation (IPF) Rules regarding arching:
- The lifter’s HEAD must maintain contact with the bench
- The lifter’s SHOULDERS must maintain contact with the bench
- The lifter’s GLUTES must maintain contact with the bench
- The lifter’s FEET must be flat on the floor
So if you don’t break any of these rules, you’re good.
IS IT SAFE?
As long as you don’t have any pre-existing back conditions or issues, the bench press arch is a perfectly safe technique. Dr. Mike Israetel, PhD in Sport Physiology, has the following to say about arching: “The lumbar and thoracic vertebrae and intervertebral discs are actually their safest in a lordotic (arched) position. The primary reason for the safety of the lordotic position is that discs tend to herniate posteriorly due to the presence of the incredibly robust anterior longitudinal ligament in front of the spine. Additionally, even if the disc somehow managed to herniate anteriorly, the resultant herniation would likely be asymptomatic as the spinal nerves are behind the intervertebral discs, not in front of them.”