This Doesn’t Count: Is It Proper To Arch The Back While Benching?


Strength training supporters (both beginners and continuers) often try to copy the technique of professional powerlifters and arch their backs too much during bench pressing.

To begin with, let’s clarify some things: I like when the back is slightly arched for bench presses. An excessive back arching is when you try deliberately to reduce the distance between your shoulder blades and glutes and make your backbone look like a horseshoe. Some especially flexible people have made a real performance out of bench pressing thanks to a way too big back arch.


An arched back at the powerlifting competition. Girls are more flexible and often pull off things like that, though, technically still keeping the rules.

Why do we Arch our Backs for Bench Pressing?

An excessive back arch appeared as a way of manipulating the laws of powerlifting which say that the upper back and glutes must always touch the bench. No clear-cut instructions on the position of the lower back are given and this is the point. Taking into account a natural spinal arch and the fact that human beings do have butts (powerlifters have even bigger ones) we should admit that an athlete’s lower back just can’t touch the bench.

Performing a back arch, no matter how big it is, has never been against the rules. As long as a big back arch makes it a little bit easier bench press and shortens the distance of lifting the bar-bell, this trick has become widely used at the competitions and during trainings. Of course, back arching has quickly become used by regular people as well.

If you are at the powerlifting competition and your goal is to bench press as much as you can then go ahead and arch your back. But I think you shouldn’t make a habit of training with a big back arch. Moreover, if you are not a professional powerlifter but just a gym regular who exercises to get stronger and gain some muscle mass then stop trying to make your back look like the Gateway Arch.


Amateurs have quickly caught that the bigger their back arches, the more they look like pro-powerlifters. But the thing is that they not always manage to do it.

An Excessive Back Arch means an Injury Risk

Firstly, when you perform a big back arch your lower back gets more pressure. When the back bone is extremely arched intervertebral disks and nerves are at risk for injury. Ask a person with a bad back to arch their back while bench pressing and their backache will come out.

Even taking into account the fact that a backbone arched in such a way is not loaded as much as it is during squatting, we should keep it in mind that such factors as bench pressing big weights and leg raising at the same time might lead to an injury.

Secondly, it’s powerlifters who are concerned about their bench presses and the majority of them do squats and deadlifts regularly which puts stress on their backbones. As long as it takes lower back muscles longer to recover, a bench pressing day, which is supposed to be a rest day for a back, becomes another stressful day for this part of body.

Also, an excessive back arch decreases leg balance. In order to perform a good back arch you need to place your feet behind your hips but the farther you place them, the more difficult it gets to keep the leg balance not lifting your butt off the bench.


The Bigger Back Arch, the Worse Muscle Growing

When we bridge out back while bench pressing we reduce the motion rate which makes doing the exercise easier and as the result we can bench press bigger weights. But there is a disadvantage: a reduced motion rate means that the muscle doesn’t work in full force which reduces its growth potential. The more a muscle stretches, the better it grows.

Bench presses with a big back arch negatively affect chest muscles growth as well as bench presses with negative incline are not really good for working both chest muscles and delts.

False Strength

Of course you can say that it’s not easy to switch from regular training conditions (with a small back bridge) to special competition conditions (with quite a big back bridge). But if you bench press 70 kilos with a normal back bridge and you change it to a huge one doing 85 kilos I would recommend you to perform your usual back arch while bench pressing during your regular training sessions. The thing is that if your bench pressing results grow when you perform a normal back arch then you’ll also have great results with a big one but, unfortunately, it doesn’t work vice versa.

If you perform an impressive bench pressing only with a big back arch and the same exercise is not that good with a light one you are not going to make great progress either in a gym or in other spheres.

Some people call it “false strength” – yes, you could outmuscle a huge weight, but taking into account all the efforts you had to take for this – this very big layback does not make any sense anywhere but for performing bench pressing only.

It’s cheating. Well, technically it is not cheating because a back arch while bench pressing is still allowed but it doesn’t make it proper. That is why Charles Poliquin prefers close-grip bench presses for measuring real strength. This kind of bench pressing eliminates different possibilities of cheating such as a big back arch.

My advice is to bench press with a good posture and a slight back bridge but don’t try to place your lower back really close to your glutes. Train this way most of the time and leave a big back arc for bench pressing the maximum weight.



Dmitry Smirnov’s Opinion

Here we’d like to say goodbye to Tim Hendricks and introduce Dmitry Smirnov’s, Men’s Health’s ex-fitness-editor, opinion. He is sure that there is nothing bad in arching the back for bench pressing: “Excessive back bridges, especially performed under big stress, are very high-injury. But a proper bridge is done by arching not a lower back but a lower t-spine for which arching (and all kinds of movements in general) is quite good. This is the only region of spine that needs mobility rather than stability. As a matter of fact, it is impossible to arch a lower back as there reserve of flexibility is only 14 degrees, if I’m not mistaken”.

However, here we speak about a regular back arch, not an excessive one.

To sum up, a moderate back arch is a proper natural spinal arch, an excessive one increases the possibility of risk which regular fitness enthusiasts don’t need at all.

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