The Arch for the Bench Press

Anna C

More than 5000 posts
Elite Certified Instructor
Video from this morning's session... critiques welcome, as always. That's 3 reps at 100 lb.

I still feel like a bench press beginner, but after completing the first 4 weeks of bench pressing on this Plan Strong plan, I'm already feeling a lot of progress in a number of ways:
  • I can feel both the back arch and the lateral arch (between the shoulders)
  • My back doesn't freak out when I arch it. When I first started getting in this position on the bench it would be all tightened up to where I had a hard time even getting up from the bench. Now I can tense it and relax it a lot more readily. I guess it's just a new motor pattern I had to learn.
  • The press feels stronger and more controlled
  • I'm able to bring the parts together - legs, glutes, abs, lats all tight; tight grip, lower to the right place on my chest, control the bar, etc.
And a couple more things beyond the gym:
  • My ribcage feels like it sits differently in my body, with what feels like a backwards lean relative to what it used to be; in other words, with my back in a very slight arch at all times. This makes standing, walking, and breathing feel more natural.
  • My nighttime acid reflux has disappeared in the last few weeks. Could this possibly be related?? I have no idea, but it's something I've had for years, so I'm delighted if this trend continues.

 

MikeTheBear

Quadruple-Digit Post Count
@Anna C Perhaps tuck your elbows into your sides a bit more. Other than that looks solid.

I can't comment on your acid reflux issue only that I'm glad it's gotten better and good posture can help many things.
 

Anna C

More than 5000 posts
Elite Certified Instructor
If it has not neen previously mentioned, there's an excellent chapter on the bench press and arching the back in Deadlift Dynamite by Andy Bolton and Pavel

Deadlift Dynamite: How To Master The King of All Strength Exercises
Oh, thanks! Just got it on Kindle. And I see familiar names on the Thank You page... Steve Freides, Dr. Michael Hartle, Prof Stuart McGill, Mark Reifkind, and others.
 

Zack

Triple-Digit Post Count
Elite Certified Instructor
Strong press Anna!

When it comes to the intention of the arch, the Flexible Steel "spreadable strength" concept is probably the best to have in mind (as opposed to arching at a particular point in the spine).

The photo you came across is of USAPL/IPF Champ Marisa Inda. Her and Chad Smith's info on JTS Strength is definitely worth checking out.

In any case, any spinal "hinges" are the byproduct (not necessarily the intention) of maximally engaged glutes/legs and packed shoulders.

Speaking of the power the later arch, this may be helpful:
 

Anna C

More than 5000 posts
Elite Certified Instructor
Ooh, I like that idea of lateral arch over the hips. I will focus on that tomorrow. Thanks @Zack!
 

Anna C

More than 5000 posts
Elite Certified Instructor
I hadn't heard of her. Wow, impressive! She looks really balanced and strong, too. I'll listen to the podcast.
 

Anna C

More than 5000 posts
Elite Certified Instructor
So, I started this thread 10 weeks ago. I have been bench pressing 3x/week for 10 weeks. Things are happening.

I can feel that my back has changed quite a bit from the training, but today I had an interesting measure of it. After bench pressing I was doing yoga's "upward facing dog" pose and felt a very clear difference from what it used to be. I could actually look above me at the ceiling, and I don't recall ever being able to do that, even after doing yoga for 12 years. So I captured the pose on video today on the right side to compare to this capture on the left from about 2 years ago. I can see a difference, just as I can feel it. And it's not just the arch in the back, I think that it's an actual thoracic extension so that my back and chest are forward through my arms and shoulders, if that makes sense.

upload_2018-1-15_13-51-2.png

This is definitely one of the more impressive "body remolding" effects I've had over the past few years. I can't say for sure that it's all from bench pressing -- I've had improvements from heavy snatches, from arm-bars and other t-spine mobility work, and from other barbell work such as squats. But based on what I feel in my posture and back muscles, I would attribute most of it to bench pressing. It's not just mobility or that my back will bend that way now. It's that my upper back muscles can create and hold that shape of a strong t-spine extension. And this, in my mind, is clearly from developing it from that maximum tension and arch in the bench press. Which arch, you ask, relative to the rest of this thread? Mostly the lateral arch. I don't try for maximum mid-back arch, but it is becoming more natural. So I would say also the mid-back arch; or that is also developing as a by-product of doing strength work with the back in the arched position.

There is more to report, but I will wait until I finish this Plan Strong cycle to summarize. I am still working on the SFL bench press strength requirement and am confident I will have it by the end of February.
 

Antti

More than 2500 posts
@Anna C , that is a great job. Even if the pics aren't exactly alike, the difference is clear. There must be a big difference in your ability after such. And it's not just the bench press that's become better, I'd expect that to have a positive effect in your general fitness.

I have noticed some similar adaptations from my own powerlifting practice. I had done a lot of bodyweight and kettlebell squats in the past, but doing squats with a heavy bar on my back really helped me develop my mobility. Before the back squats I always needed a counterweight for deep squats. After a couple of months of back squats I could comfortably sit down in the hole. A big difference and really fast. I've now started a cycle with sumo deadlifts and I eagerly wait how my hips feel after the cycle, I can feel a change already after a few weeks of frequent practice.

These experiences have changed my viewpoints about stretching. It seems a significant load and some strength movement is superior to the ways I've tried to improve my mobility earlier on.
 

Anna C

More than 5000 posts
Elite Certified Instructor
These experiences have changed my viewpoints about stretching. It seems a significant load and some strength movement is superior to the ways I've tried to improve my mobility earlier on.
Yes, exactly, and me too!

I'm going to go back to yoga class and tell those people to get under a barbell if they want to make real progress. (Just kidding. Mostly. ;) )
 

amdemarais

Double-Digit Post Count
I'm late to the party, but have recently been playing around with the arch and the football trick has helped. Around minute 3:30:
 

LukeV

More than 300 posts
I'm late to the party, but have recently been playing around with the arch and the football trick has helped. Around minute 3:30:
According to that video her squat and bench maxes are pretty much the same. I've never seen that before.
 

Geoff Chafe

Quadruple-Digit Post Count
I really like Jen Tompsons "pinky squeeze" cue. I used the cue "bend the bar". Trying to bend the bar toward my feet. It turns on the chest and lats. Think of bending those spring chest exercises from the 80's.

Some like "tear the bar apart", but for me that does not encourage pressing with the lats, tucking the elbows, and promotes flaring the elbows and pressing with the rhomboids.

The "pinky squeeze" accomplishes bending the bar and crushing the bar with one simple cue.

@Anna C Your lower body does not look like you are "driving with the legs". "Knees out" or "screw your feet into the floor" is a great Bench cue as well as Squat. Timing my Leg drive with my Press is something I have been focusing on. I also use my Squat Stance and moved my feet forward a bit.

Everyone has there own style. Just suggestions. Take it or leave it.

Respectfully,
Geoff
 
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Anna C

More than 5000 posts
Elite Certified Instructor
Thanks @Geoff Chafe. Coincidentally I watched some Jen Thompson videos this weekend. Yes I just tried the "tear the bar apart" cue on Saturday but I agree, didn't have the desired effect. I'll try the "pinky squeeze" which does sound more effective.

I have gotten better at the drive with the legs since that last video above; in fact, I got too good at it (?) such that at the end of December when I tested my 1RM, I pressed a good weight (130 lb) but my butt lifted off the bench so the rep was no good. I tried twice more afterwards and pressed it both times, but again same thing. A bit frustrating. So I'm doing a second round of the Plan Strong plan, going into the 4th week of 8 now. I'm still working on channeling the leg drive more towards the head and not upwards. I will try "knees out" and "screw the feet into the floor" as this would be slightly different. I appreciate the suggestions!
 

william bad butt

More than 300 posts
If your butt is coming off the bench, you may need to experiment with feet placement. Consider going wider.

With 100% leg drive effort, there should still be contact.

It took me a while to experiment with my form and feet placement to get this right.
 

Anna C

More than 5000 posts
Elite Certified Instructor
The "squeeze the pinky" cue helped. The corkscrewing the feet also helped. I think the foot placement is good, but I may try wider (thank you @william bad butt ) with the corkscrew cue also.

From this morning's session, 2nd set of 5 at 95 lb.

 

Geoff Chafe

Quadruple-Digit Post Count
@Anna C The elbows are in noticeably more than before. In the previous video your elbows are pointing out. For most people this is a disadvantageous position not allowing you to use your leverage.

Now that you are tucking your elbows maybe try moving your grip slightly narrower and see how that feels. One thing I am neglecting which will inhibit my progress is training various grip widths. I have just been sticking with my strongest grip.

I have been considering Narrow Monday Tuesday, Wide Wednesday Thursday, and strongest Friday because it is heaviest and needs the least amount of work. I am doing 5 day PTTP Bench.

In regard to a strong arch and maintaining it throughout the rep and set, I recently heard the cue “push through the traps”. To me that means keep my weight as high up on the back as I can. For me this is helping me maintain a strong T Spine arch as opposed to hyperextending the low back. In the past I have had issues with shrugging up and losing my solid arch in the bottom of the bench and this cue has helped eliminate that dangerous error. This cue may also help keep your butt on the bench.

I don’t like to add too many cues at once, but I can handle two new cues at a time.

Looking strong. Solid pressing.
 
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Anna C

More than 5000 posts
Elite Certified Instructor
@Anna C The elbows are in noticeably more than before. In the previous video your elbows are pointing out.
Aha you are right! I hadn't noticed that. I looked at some of my other videos in the 8 weeks between these two, and it seems to be a gradual change. I haven't been focusing directly on keeping the elbows tucked, so the strength development seems to be supporting this. I might do even better now if I concentrate on it.

Keeping the weight high up on the back sounds good. I'll try that. Benching 3x/week, I'm getting lots of opportunities to practice.

Thank you for the ideas and feedback, I appreciate it!
 
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