Shout out to all my strong powerlifting women who have the incredible patience to post bench press videos and deal with the inevitable dozens of comments you’ll receive about “OMG You’re Gonna Break Your Back” which are all of course being written by guys who are expert coaches, physical therapists and successful competitors.
I’m sorry that apparently every guy on social media thinks it is his duty to correct a female’s lifting technique, even if his credentials are “lifting for a year, recently read an article” and that you’ve been training for 20 years and ya know, actually understand what the hell you’re doing. On their behalf, I apologize and guys, trust me, none of these women are thinking “wow that guy seems so knowledgeable, I think I wanna go on a date with him cause he corrected my bench arch.”
Dr. Mike Israetel, PhD in Sport Physiology has some points he wants to weigh in on too:
Arching in the Bench Press: Is arching your lower back in the bench press an unsafe practice?
1.) Arching your lower back to an extreme can in fact produce some stress on the Sacroiliac joint. However, this stress is not inherently deleterious and is well managed by making sure arched bench pressing does not occur at a higher weekly volume and frequency (total time under the bar) than the lifter can tolerate.
2.) The lumber and thoracic vertebrae and inter-vertebral discs are actually their safest in a lordodic (arched) position. The primary reason for the safety of the lordodic position is that discs tend to herniate posteriorly due to the presence of the incredibly robust anterior longitudinal ligament in front of the spine. Additionally, even if the disc somehow managed to herniate anteriorly, the resultant herniation would likely be asymptomatic as the spinal nerves are behind the inter-vertebral discs, not in front of them.
3.) Arching the lower and mid back does not push the limit-range of motion of the cervical spine in the neck, so there is not much concern for neck injury probability with arched benching.
4.) Arched benching (especially with a retraction of the scapulae) allow a greater use of the lower fibers of the pectoralis major (chest) muscles. Not only is this pushing angle likely safer for the glenohumeral joint of the shoulder, it’s also conducive to the great use of the larger mass of lower fibers (vs. upper fibers) of the pectoralis, which creates a more forceful lift without sacrificing as much safety as a flat pressing position might.
5.) The forces produced through the spine during leg drive are much lower than those produced even during lighter squats. If you wanted to push on the floor hard enough with your legs to slide back on the bench during your setup, could you? Of course, it would be easy. Some folks over-do their leg drive and get called on sliding down the bench even in competition! Compare this level of controlled force production (enough force to help with the lift, not enough to slide down the bench with only the friction of the bench and not gravity in opposition) with that of the squat. In the squat, the lifter is literally caught between the ground and a heavy barbell. The spine is in a similar position (actually, usually less lordodic and possibly at even greater risk) and is not required to push against gravity. If the bench arch is too high of force for safety, then squatting should be completely ruled out. And overhead shoulder pressing? Forget about it.