‘No pain, no gain,’ may have propelled the Spartans and Vikings into the annals of history, but for the rest of us, it is a poor substitute for the latest in science and fitness. This in mind: what is the correct way to bench press, for optimum results?
A recent piece of advice from Peter O Reilly, a mobility specialist (and Instagram fitness coach with 110k followers), suggests we shouldn’t be too quick to sacrifice bench press form just to lift more (or look more tough).
Answering the controversial question of whether you should arch your back when you bench press, O Reilly recently took to Instagram to clarify a question that has bamboozled gym warriors since time immemorial.
View this post on Instagram
In the post, O Reilly compares the bench press form of the ‘powerlifter’ arch to the ‘natural’ arch, explaining how the former (more extreme) iteration is used by competitive lifters because it decreases the distance the bar has to travel to get to their chest.
“This is great for powerlifters because it allows them to increase the amount of weight they can push while abiding by the rules and regulations of powerlifting, which is keeping your ass on the bench and bringing the bar down to your chest.”
Problem is, although it’s tempting to copy those lifting significantly more than you, O Reilly says “this may not be the ideal” for the average lifter.
“There isn’t much research evidence saying that the ‘powerlifting’ arch is good nor bad, but it is unnecessary for the average person.”
“The upside is that you will be able to lift heavier weights, but the downside is that you won’t be taking your muscles through a greater range of motion,” O Reilly adds.
So – unless you’re a powerlifter competing in a competition – it may not be worth the risk of using an arch which is excessive and holds increased potential of injury.
As for the natural arch (the one that comes with just setting up for your bench press), according to O Reilly, “This means retracting and depressing your shoulders and maintaining that throughout the motion.”
“This will naturally create an arch in your spine which is good enough to have your shoulders in a better position for benching.”
All up, the main point O Reilly makes is this: “I’m not saying the average lifter can’t utilize the powerlifting arch, but I would not use it to an excessive degree.”
In other words: don’t go crazy with the back arch, especially if you’re not an advanced lifter. Instead, keep it as a carefully used tool (preferably under PT supervision) to help you lift heavier weights and get you past plateaus.
So there you have it. The wisdom of perfecting your bench press form.