The Arch for the Bench Press

Anna C

Level 9 Valued Member
Elite Certified Instructor
Question: Where in the spine should we target any effort to develop the arch?

I'm convinced there are some reasons to develop the arch for the bench press. According to my SFL manual, "An arch shortens the stroke, pre-stretches the pecs, enables a better use of the lats, and enables safer shoulder mechanics."

I'm not aiming for any big advantage for powerlifting or anything. I just want to improve and effectively use the arch. But I'm middle-age and have spent many years at a desk job, so basically I don't have a lot of arch. Here's a photo from last week bench pressing.

upload_2017-11-5_16-50-47.png

I notice that for people who do have a lot of arch, it seems to be low in the t-spine, just above the lumbar. But a lot of our general efforts at t-spine mobilization (arm bar, foam roller, yoga block) seem to be targeted higher, i.e. in the ribcage area.

Wondering if I should be working for more t-spine mobilization in the upper t-spine, like in the area of the shoulder blades, or just in the mid-back where an arch seems to most naturally occur?
 

WhatWouldHulkDo

Level 6 Valued Member
Now, I'll admit right off the bat to not having worked the bench in a long time. So, feel free to toss this comment in the trash.

But, back when I did... always seemed to me that a high in the spine arch was trying to transform the lift into a bit of a decline press, engage more deltoid. Can get more weight up that way, but is it strength you can use elsewhere? If the goal is to BP a lot, get whatever advantage you can get. But maybe not a good general training practice?
 

Antti

Level 9 Valued Member
I think, like @Steve Freides , that it's best to try to spread the arch, so to say. Don't think of any one specific spot.

How do you set up your arch? I think a good practice could be to first get on the bench so that only your shoulder blades touch the bench, and the rest of the weight is on your heels. Then, unrack the bar, and right before you begin the eccentric, lower your butt so that you can feel it touch the bench, but not actually rest against the bench. Then do the rep.
 

Anna C

Level 9 Valued Member
Elite Certified Instructor
How do you set up your arch? I think a good practice could be to first get on the bench so that only your shoulder blades touch the bench, and the rest of the weight is on your heels. Then, unrack the bar, and right before you begin the eccentric, lower your butt so that you can feel it touch the bench, but not actually rest against the bench. Then do the rep.
I lay on the bench to set the grip, then come up in an arch on my tip toes, come down placing shoulder blades on the bench then push back maintaining the arch until I'm eyes under the bar. then butt on the bench arching a little more if possible (shoulder blades pinched together, abs tight, lats tight, legs tight), then place heels on the ground and pushing into the bench from the feet to the shoulder blades and butt. Then unrack the bar - butt is lightly on the bench during the set - do the reps, rack.
 

Anna C

Level 9 Valued Member
Elite Certified Instructor
So I guess here's my question....

Found this pic on Google and added the blue line and red line. Blue line - looks like where the arch comes from. Red line - appears that upper t-spine does not really arch or extend at all.

So it looks like the part of the spine that is most capable of arching is below the bra line. Does this mean that any attempts to develop the arch (foam roller, yoga block, etc.) should be targeted below the bra line, in the area that arches more easily?


upload_2017-11-6_5-7-12.png

So in the foam roller pic below, do both, or focus mainly on the bottom one (or even slightly lower)?

upload_2017-11-6_5-11-48.png
 

Steve Freides

Staff
Senior Certified Instructor
Elite Certified Instructor
A Google on

pictures of bench press arch

reveals a lot of bizarre looking things. You've picked on photo where the feet are flat on the ground but many of the more extreme arches don't feature that.

The really extreme postures have the underside of the butt cheeks touching the end of the bench - I don't think most people get to that nor would I make that your goal.

There's a lot to be said for the feeling of tightness from literally head to toe you get when trying to arch - go for that, drive your feet hard into the ground, and I'd tighten the glutes to protect the lower back. Whatever that gets you should be OK for now, and with regular practice, your arch will improve, I'm sure, even without a lot of stretching that specifically targets it.

If you're looking for arch for your BP, the bottom one looks a whole lot more like what you're trying to achieve.

Think about lengthening your spine before bending it.

Can you post a better picture of your BP arch? Something about the colors or the angle or the light made it difficult to see.

-S-
 

Anna C

Level 9 Valued Member
Elite Certified Instructor
I assume you covered most of it at SFL, but Pavel had a nice article about it a few years ago.

The Lateral Arch: A Secret Weapon for a Big Bench Press
OH... the LATERAL Arch.... Yes!! We did cover that at SFL, but to be honest, I had completely forgotten it. Somehow it didn't sink in that we are working on two aspects of arching when we spend time on yoga blocks, etc., and the one that we should really work on and develop is the one between the shoulder blades.

(From the article) "the lateral arch goes from shoulder to shoulder. It brings the scapulae together while spreading the chest out from shoulder to shoulder, as opposed to from the neck down, as the back arch does."

I'm much clearer now!

It also makes a lot more sense how the arm bar fits in to working on the arch. It's the lateral arch, not the back arch.

There's a lot to be said for the feeling of tightness from literally head to toe you get when trying to arch - go for that, drive your feet hard into the ground, and I'd tighten the glutes to protect the lower back. Whatever that gets you should be OK for now, and with regular practice, your arch will improve, I'm sure, even without a lot of stretching that specifically targets it.
Think about lengthening your spine before bending it.
This makes sense. Thanks, Steve! And yes I will try to get a picture. I think things have improved already actually, just through bench pressing. It will be interesting to see if the trend continues.
 

Anna C

Level 9 Valued Member
Elite Certified Instructor
From this morning's practice. Can't see the arch too well, I guess I have to wear a form-fitting shirt for that. Anyway, felt like I'm getting solid practice in the set-up, the arch, the bar path, etc.

 

kennycro@@aol.com

Level 6 Valued Member
I'm convinced there are some reasons to develop the arch for the bench press. According to my SFL manual, "An arch shortens the stroke, pre-stretches the pecs, enables a better use of the lats, and enables safer shoulder mechanics."
Decline Bench Press

Essentially, an "Arched Bench Press" turns the Bench Press more into a Decline Bench Press. So, it not exactly a Bench Press; the movement pattern is different as well as the muscle involvement

Since you can Decline Bench Press more than you can Flat Bench Press, it allows you to move more weight.

That the primary reason why Powerlifter try to arch as much as possible.

Tonic Neck Reflex, (labyrinthine reflex, TLR)


Another factor that increase the Bench Press (all lifts) is the Tonic Neck Reflex.

In all Bench Pressing Movements (Flat, Incline, Decline, etc), tucking the chin into the chest, while driving you head into the bench increase force production, you will move more weight.

Accentuated Tonic Neck Reflex Drive

Even more force can be generated with the Tonic Neck Reflex in a "Bench Press" by lifting the head slightly as the bar come down, then driving the head back in to the bench, just prior to driving the weight up.

For some reason, it appears heavier lifter do this more so than lighter lifters.

This method is a bit more complicated; "more moving parts", so to speak. However, when learned and leaned and implemented, it enable you to generate more force/power in driving off the chest.

Kenny Croxdale
 

Antti

Level 9 Valued Member
Tonic Neck Reflex, (labyrinthine reflex, TLR)

Another factor that increase the Bench Press (all lifts) is the Tonic Neck Reflex.

In all Bench Pressing Movements (Flat, Incline, Decline, etc), tucking the chin into the chest, while driving you head into the bench increase force production, you will move more weight.

Accentuated Tonic Neck Reflex Drive

Even more force can be generated with the Tonic Neck Reflex in a "Bench Press" by lifting the head slightly as the bar come down, then driving the head back in to the bench, just prior to driving the weight up.

For some reason, it appears heavier lifter do this more so than lighter lifters.

This method is a bit more complicated; "more moving parts", so to speak. However, when learned and leaned and implemented, it enable you to generate more force/power in driving off the chest.

Kenny Croxdale
Even if lifting the head may help the lift, like lifting your butt off the bench, it may not be a wise thing to train that way. From the IPF rulebook: "The lifter must lie on his back with head, shoulders and buttocks in contact with the bench surface. The feet must be flat on the floor (as flat as the shape of the shoe will allow). His hands and fingers must grip the bar positioned in the rack stands with a thumbs around grip. This position shall be maintained throughout the lift". Some other federations may have different rules, though, and depending on your choice it's fair game to do by whatever is in their rules.
 

kennycro@@aol.com

Level 6 Valued Member
Even if lifting the head may help the lift, like lifting your butt off the bench, it may not be a wise thing to train that way. From the IPF rulebook: "The lifter must lie on his back with head, shoulders and buttocks in contact with the bench surface. The feet must be flat on the floor (as flat as the shape of the shoe will allow). His hands and fingers must grip the bar positioned in the rack stands with a thumbs around grip. This position shall be maintained throughout the lift". Some other federations may have different rules, though, and depending on your choice it's fair game to do by whatever is in their rules.
Accentuated Tonic Neck Reflex

This method definitely increase your Bench Press, if you master it.

Organization Rules

As you noted, some organization don't allow it, some do.

The same is true with some organizations mandating a flat foot position; other allowing lifter to be up on their toes.

Being up on your toes in the Bench Press, allows lifter to obtain more of an arch.

Kenny Croxdale

 

Anna C

Level 9 Valued Member
Elite Certified Instructor
Interesting... thanks Kenny. I'm still working on the basics, but I'll keep it in mind.
 

MikeTheBear

Level 7 Valued Member
@Anna C I think you and I are the same age (49) and watching your video I think I get about the same amount of arch as you, perhaps even less. Getting older and immobile sucks. I'm no bench press expert but your set up seems good and it looks like you are getting some leg drive. I've read that you should push with your legs so that you drive your upper back into the bench.

I would also suggest tucking your elbows in a bit more as the bar touches your chest. Ideally the upper arms should be at about a 45 degree angle to your body. As the bar goes up it should go back over your head. I've read that this "J path" is not ideal and the bar should go straight up, but my understanding is that this only applies to lifters who wear bench shirts. If you wear a shirt then the bar should just go straight up, but lifters who do not use a bench shirt should still bring the bar back over the head on the way up. There were also arguments that pushing straight up is more efficient because it's a straight line, but the counterargument was that the J path was biomechanically more efficient, and biomechanical efficiency is what allows you to more more weight even if the distance traveled is slightly longer.

If anyone knows something different then please correct me as it is entirely possible that I don't know what I'm talking about.
 

Anna C

Level 9 Valued Member
Elite Certified Instructor
Thanks @MikeTheBear !

Yes, I'm learning to push with the legs to drive the upper back into the bench; good tip.

Tucking the elbows, and 45 degrees - you're right! Matches what I learned in SFL.

As for bar path - SFL teaches "straight up and down." So I'm going with that. I'm sure there are other schools of though and I recall a thread from a while back with lengthy discussions. I mentioned the forum thread to Doc Hartle and he said, really? What is there to discuss? Straight down, straight up. That's it. The SFL manual quotes Simmons on this: "The bar should be pushed back up in a straight line, not back over the face. This requires strong triceps. This path is a shorter distance and requires no shoulder rotation, which is also much safer. The barbell will always seek the strongest muscle group; that's why most push the bar over the face. Their delts are stronger than their triceps. But it should be the reverse. One sees a lot of shoulder injuries and pec injuries, but seldom do you see a triceps injury. Why? The triceps have never been pushed to their maximal potential."
 

MikeTheBear

Level 7 Valued Member
@Anna C Glad I could help. As for the quote from Louie Simmons, no question that Louie has helped lots of powerlifters get strong. The only downside to taking advice from Louie is that he and nearly all of his lifters wear bench shirts. The bench shirt makes the weight lighter at the chest, so a shirted lifter is really fighting for the lockout which is mostly done by the triceps. Also, I think the shirt forces somewhat of a straight bar path just by its design. So my question is whether a straight bar path is still appropriate for the non-shirted lifter. I don't know. Kenny would know, maybe he'll chime in.

For your purposes, if the straight bar path works for you then use it. Based on your knew profile photo you obviously got some triceps.
 

Anna C

Level 9 Valued Member
Elite Certified Instructor
Can you post a better picture of your BP arch? Something about the colors or the angle or the light made it difficult to see.
From today; just following up on this request, hopefully that is a little easier to see. But everything feels pretty good and I think I know what to work on now. I did particularly feel that lateral arch with pinching the shoulder blades together today.

upload_2017-11-8_20-34-0.png
 
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