Q | I see some people arching their back while bench pressing. It looks like they’re asking for trouble! Why do they do this?
A | It’s actually healthier if you maintain a slight arch while bench pressing because your lower back is naturally curved. According to Jordan Syatt, world-record powerlifter and strength coach, an arch makes it easier to tuck your shoulder blades together, protecting them from injury. “If your spine is completely flat on the bench, your shoulders will roll forward,” he says.
Arching is not only healthy; if done right, it can also enhance performance. A strategy commonly seen in powerlifting, arching the back beyond its natural curve brings the chest up higher, reducing your range of motion and allowing you to lift heavier.
Whether you want to protect your shoulders or nail a heavier bench, start experimenting with arching your back by playing with the positioning of your feet, Syatt says. Bring your feet closer to your torso to increase your arch, making sure they’re flat on the floor; keep your butt in contact with the bench. Begin with a lighter weight than you’re accustomed to and increase it when you become comfortable with the arched position.
Before you start hammering out heavier bench presses — arched-back or otherwise — Syatt advises caution. A strong, safe bench press requires core stabilization, but because you’re lying on your back, it doesn’t foster the necessary stability in your abdominal, back, and hip muscles. This can lead to a chink in your figurative armor that can create or exacerbate back problems.
The solution, says Syatt, is to prioritize core stability using exercises such as planks and push-ups. (Tune up your push-up at “Fitness Fix: Perfect Your Pushup” and find core-strengthening moves at “The Core Circuit Workout“.)