Last updated on June 7th, 2022 at 04:25 pm
Most lifters with long arms would agree that it’s much harder to bench press than their short-limbed counterparts.
And unfortunately, they are right, as having long arms will put you at a disadvantage when it comes to bench pressing.
So, I’d like to discuss why benching is harder, and what you can do to make the movement easier and more efficient.
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Why is it Harder to Bench Press With Long Arms?
The main reason it’s harder to bench press with long arms is that the barbell has a longer distance to travel. This means that there is greater force and more work required during the bench press. However, working more on speed and power training off the chest, as well as triceps strength, will help a long-armed lifter bench press more effectively.
1. The Long Arm Bench Press Disadvantage
If you have long arms, pure and simple, the bar has a longer distance to travel whenever you bench press.
So, in effect this means that there is greater force required to press the bar upwards.
Additionally, this also means that you are required to work harder than a shorter-limbed person whenever you bench press.
Now, the most obvious way to counteract this would be to place your hands further apart on the barbell, so that it has less distance to travel.
With that being said, this may not be possible depending on what you’re training for.
As an example, powerlifters can only have their hands a maximum of 81cm apart during competition.
So, there isn’t much point in training an “easier” variation of the bench press.
Therefore, as an amateur or recreational lifter you do have the opportunity to bench with a slightly wider grip.
You’ll still be hitting the same muscles, i.e. pecs, shoulders, triceps.
But, with a wider grip you’ll place more emphasis on the pecs, but less on the shoulders and triceps.
Additionally, you could also decrease the range of motion by not bringing the barbell down as far.
However, a decreased range of motion also means reduced muscle activation.
This can also put you at an even greater disadvantage when bench pressing with a standard-width grip, and I’ll discuss why now.
2. Use Scapular Retraction to Improve Safety & Efficiency
Something you need to be wary of when benching with long arms is the potential for injury.
Basically, you’ll need to create greater force in order to move the bar away from the chest.
This requires both strong and mobile shoulders.
So, any hint of weakness in this area could spell trouble.
In fact, I know that many long-armed lifters often complain about shoulder painwhenever they bench.
However, as well aiming to improve mobility and strength in shoulders, you should also ensure that your initial set up is on-point.
One of the main cues for bench pressing is to ensure that your shoulder blades are retracted.
This involves pulling your shoulders back and then down.
I often liken this to trying to pack your shoulders into your back pockets.
Then again, you can visualise trying to hold an imaginary tennis ball between your shoulder blades.
You should also find that this raises the upper torso slightly off the bench, which allows for an arch in the lower back, as well as an easier starting position from which to use leg drive.
These are two things that can help you bench press more weight efficiently.
Additionally, by using scapular retraction you’ll place less stress on the shoulders when you bench press.
This should help to move the barbell much more effectively.
So, always ensure that you perform scapular retraction before placing yourself on the bench’
By doing so, you should find pressing a little easier, while protecting your shoulder health.
3. Improve Pressing Speed & Power
I’ve already mentioned that you’ll need to create greater force to get the bar off and away from your chest.
Basically, the longer your arms, the more difficult you’ll find it to maintain perfect upper arm and elbow position when benching.
In fact, I’ve heard many long-armed lifters say that their elbows end up in front of the bar, thus placing more stress on the elbow and shoulder joints.
Plus, from this “squashed” arm position it can be much harder to generate the force you need to move a heavy weight away from your chest.
So, it actually makes a great deal of sense to work on improving your pressing speed and power.
With that being said, many people seem to get stuck at the bottom of the bench press, irrespective of the size of their limbs.
As I say, this is simply a speed and power issue.
So, as a long-armed bench presser you should definitely be training for speed and power.
This will generally involve bench pressing with a fairly low percentage of your one-rep max, say 50-60%.
You’ll want to keep the reps low, generally in the 3-4 reps range.
However, you can train for slightly more sets, say 5-8 sets.
In fact, you could even specifically set aside one session a week simply to work on speed and power in your bench press.
The knock on effect to the standard bench press will be phenomenal.
Speed Bench Press With Acceleration
4. Increase Triceps Muscle & Strength
Another disadvantage of having long arms is that you’ll have to use your triceps more when you bench press.
Realistically, you’re no longer using your pecs after the halfway point when benching.
This means it’s pretty much all triceps in order to get your arms to lock out during the bench press.
Furthermore, if you’re trying to maintain a standard hand-width (or adhering to the 81cm I mentioned earlier) you may end up using your triceps even more.
In effect, for someone who is very tall and has extremely long arms this could feel much the same as close-grip bench press.
You’ll notice this even more in the triceps if your grip is narrower than your shoulder width.
Plus, as a long-armed lifter you’ll need to adhere more to elbow tuck to protect your shoulders.
All-in-all, this is much more work for your triceps than a shorter-limbed lifter.
So, once again, it makes a great deal of sense to train your triceps.
Stronger triceps will make bench pressing much easier once you pass the halfway point with the bar.
So, as you can see, there are various reasons why it’s harder to bench press with longer arms.
The most obvious of these is simply that the bar has to travel further from chest to lockout.
You can of course use a wider grip, or not bring the barbell down as low, in order to decrease the range of motion.
But, a decreased range of motion typically means decreased muscle activation.
However, you can make the bench press easier and more effective by working on a few different areas.
Firstly, always ensure that your shoulders are retracted before placing yourself onto the bench.
Additionally, you should aim to work on your pressing speed and power, as well as increasing the strength of your triceps.
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.