So, you want to know, “How Much Should You Arch Your Back When Benching?”
You’ve come to terms with the fact that arching can help your bench press.
Yes, I know there are people who claim that this is “cheating”, but in reality it isn’t, and it’s actually great for your shoulder health too.
That being said, you don’t want to be seen as the “over-archer” by your gym buddies.
But, then again, you don’t want your bench to suffer because you’re not arching enough.
So, in this article I’d like to explain everything you need to know about bench press arching.
How Much Should You Arch Your Back When Benching?
There is no specific amount you should arch your back when benching. In fact, during powerlifting competitions the competitors are allowed to arch as much or as little as they wish. They just need to ensure that their feet are on the ground, while their head, rear delts, and glutes must remain in contact with the bench.
1. Is it OK to Arch Your Back When Benching?
You’re always going to hear both good and bad things about arching your back when benching.
However, let me first say that it is absolutely fine to bench press with an arch in your back.
I know many people view this as “cheating”, but if it’s allowed in powerlifting competitions then you’re not breaking any rules as a recreational lifter.
Firstly, the main reasons to use an arch during bench press is to provide greater shoulder stability and a decreased range of motion.
I’m sure you’re fully aware of how much stress your shoulders are under when you bench press.
In fact, there are few exercises that hit the front delts as hard.
Plus, one of the main bench pressing cues is to retract your shoulder blades.
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This allows you to draw your shoulder blades back and down, which immediately puts them in a far more stable position.
Plus, retracting your shoulder blades will automatically create a slight back arch, and it brings your chest further away from the bench and closer to the bar.
So, this obviously reduces the range of motion.
In truth, once you’ve retracted your shoulder blades and created a slight arch, there’s no need to arch anymore if you don’t wish to.
However, the more you arch your back, the more you’ll reduce the range of motion.
From a positive point of view, a reduced range of motion means that there is the potential to lift more weight.
So, if you’re specifically training for strength then an arched back is perfect.
In fact, the more you arch your back, the less distance the bar has to travel, and once more, the greater potential for you to lift more weight.
That being said, you also have to take into consideration that a reduced range of motion means a decreased potential for hypertrophy.
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So, in reality, if you want to bench press as much weight as possible, then you can have as much of an arch as you want.
Whereas, if you want to bench press to increase muscle-building, then less of an arch and a greater range of motion makes more sense.
2. Bench Press Arch – Safe or Dangerous?
The bench press arch is often both heralded as safer and more dangerous, just to confuse matters.
Firstly, for optimum shoulder health during bench press you should keep the shoulder ball in the shoulder socket.
In reality, this is achieved when you retract your shoulder blades.
However, you can protect your shoulders even more when you arch your back, as you’re literally allowing the shoulder ball to go deeper in the socket.
Additionally, there is greater lower pec activation when you bench press with an arched back.
And we all want to hit our lower pecs a little more.
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That being said, it is often claimed that excessive arching is really bad for the lower back.
Now, initially this may seem true until you look at the actual body mechanics of benching with an arch.
Basically, you are excessively arching the lower back, which we are always told is a definite no-no.
I completely agree with this when it comes to the other two exercises of the “Big Three”
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If you excessively arch your lower back when squatting and deadlifting, then you’re asking for trouble.
This is because your spine is loaded and compressed from top-to-bottom.
However, as you’re lying down for the bench press, your spine is not directly loaded by the bar.
In other words, your spine cannot be compressed from top-to-bottom.
So, your lower back is actually perfectly safe with a bench press arch, even though you’re excessively arching it.
3. Is it Bad to Bench With a Flat Back?
So, I’ve probably made it sound as though the bench press arch is fabulous, and we should all be doing it.
I will agree that there is a place for the arch, but I’m definitely not a fan of excessive arching.
But, this then begs the question of whether it’s actually bad to bench press with a flat back.
I’m going to have to say that it is bad to bench with a completely flat back.
So, if you’re simply lying on a bench, then pressing away on the barbell, you’re putting your shoulders in a precarious position.
I spoke earlier about having the shoulder ball deep inside the shoulder socket.
Basically, this provides more stability and is far safer for your shoulder joint.
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However, when you have a completely flat back then the shoulder ball is automatically pushed forward from the socket.
In other words, your shoulders are far less well protected now.
In fact, having your shoulder ball and socket in this position, while benching a heavy load, can lead to pec and rotator cuff injuries.
Furthermore, this shoulder position may even lead to bicep tendonitis.
So, I would never advise you to have your back completely flat when you bench.
As I’ve already mentioned, one of the main bench press cues is retraction of your shoulder blades.
This will automatically place your rear delts on the bench, while arching your back slightly, and allowing perfect shoulder ball and socket position.
Bench Press – Why We Arch/How to Arch
So, I hope you understand that there is no “exact amount” that you should arch your back when benching.
In fact, powerlifting competitors are allowed to arch as much or as little as they wish.
The main aim is to ensure that your head, rear delts, and glutes remain in contact with the bench.
Plus, your feet should always remain on the ground.
From a personal perspective, if you retract your shoulder blades correctly you will automatically create a small arch, this is the perfect amount for me.
However, as I say, there is no particular amount of arch that is right or wrong.
If you’re benching for strength and increased poundage, then the bigger the arch the better.
Whereas, if you’re benching for hypertrophy, the lesser the arch the better.
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Hi, I’m Partha, owner and founder of My Bodyweight Exercises. I am a Level 3 Personal Trainer and Certified Strength & Conditioning Specialist through the Register of Exercise Professionals, United Kingdom. I have been a regular gym-goer since 2000 and coaching clients since 2012. My aim is to help you achieve your body composition goals.