Arch Your Back For A Bigger Bench! by Jared Bachmeier for CriticalBench.com
Your arch and your bench set up are some of the most important factors when it comes to putting up a huge bench. If you start in the wrong position how do you expect to finish in the right one? Some people are gifted and naturally really flexible. For those of us that are not, we have to work on our arch and flexibility to get our set up optimized.
Just by changing your set up and increasing your arch you might see a significant increase in your bench max. You might not have increased your strength much but it's not all about being strong. Being good at benching is almost as important as being naturally strong. Huge strength gains don't come over night. However in a few short weeks you can change your arch and set up and see more gains than you thought possible in that short of time.
There are two main factors in getting and keeping a good arch. They are flexibility, and strength. If you are like I was and had virtually no arch, you need to gain flexibility. I started by getting a 3in. piece of pvc and Just lying down on it. It's not going to feel good. Roll back and forth on it hitting a 6-8" spot in your back that you want to bend. Try this a few times a week till it gets more comfortable. After you can set up your arch and not touch the 3" piece move to a 4" piece. Then repeat those steps. When you can be fairly comfy and pretty much arch over a 4" piece you are getting some decent flexibility.
The next factor is the strength.
You can have the best arch in the world but if you cannot hold it under higher weights it's useless. You need both your upper back and lower back to be extremely strong. A lot of bench only guys forget this and neglect their back work. They might be ok to 400-500lbs. But when they get up to a weight their back can't handle they will flatten out and lose that arch which in turn makes you miss lifts. A lot of them don't see back weakness as a problem for their bench. Believe me, I was one of them. hehe.
Lots of trap strength is needed. Shrugs and deadlifting helps all of your back. Your upper back needs to be able to hold your shoulders together under the higher weights. Which means lots of rowing, face pulls, and rear delt work. Your lats also need lots of strength to help you lower the weight properly and help keep your elbows in.
During my back and rowing exercises I try to hold my elbows in and touch around my second abs to mimic how I would bench. Your lower and middle back need to be able to keep you arched and not flatten out from heavy weight towards the bottom of the lift. I have found good mornings and deadlifts are the two best things for the lower back and all around strength.
Two main things help contribute and produce gains from a good arch and set up. The higher you can get your arch the more of a decline press it becomes. Most normal training people can bench more declined than flat. So why not make your flat as close to being declined as possible. The main factor in this helping you bench is that the higher you arch the less you have to lower the bar. I don't know about you but I would rather press 700-800lbs 6 inches rather than 12 inches. Being in that decline position your lat strength in crucial. You use more lats and tri's to get it going from that angle.
I set up with my feet really wide. I do this for 2 reasons. It helps keep my butt on the bench when I go to drive off my legs with my leg drive. And the other is being that wide it helps me stay stable and gives me a solid base to bench off. If you have to worry about leaning or rocking when the weight gets in your hands, you are wasting energy. I see a lot of top benchers that don't appear stable at the top and I feel they have to use extra energy to try and keep under control.
I use a wide stance when benching. I will try and demo on how to do that and get set as well as I can. When setting up I start by either grabbing the bar or the racks. Squeeze your shoulder blades together as tight as you can. And keep them tight. Then I dig my traps into the bench as good as I can. Then you want to drive with your legs and force your body back into your neck that's on the bench forcing you to arch up as high as you can. You want to try and get up as high on your neck as possible.
Then get your grip on the bar. If you are fully arched as high as your body will let you your butt should be off the bench a little. While holding your shoulder blades tight and your arch as high as you can slowly move your feet a little outward and away from you. After each subtle move I push off like I would from leg drive to see if my butt stays on the bench. Repeat this until you can fully extend your legs using as much possible leg drive and still just barely keep your butt down. This should give you a wide stable base. Keep your arch as high as you can. And put you in the position to get and use as much leg drive as you can.
Leg drive is one thing that is often over looked. To me it is huge. If I get my normal huge leg drive I usually blow through the lift. If I don't, it either comes up slow, or it gets stuck about half way up because my leg drive didn't get it coming back over my face to help flair my elbows and get me to my lockout. I can definitely feel when it's there and when it's not. I have noticed being over trained and my CNS being taxed can throw my timing off and lead to leg drive issues as well. I believe using this method to set up and being in this position gives you the most stable stance and allows you to use your leg drive to its best ability while holding and keeping your arch.
Bench Press Set Up & Arch Video
Things like flexibility and getting parts of your body to bend that don't normally do so can be hard and frustrating. It's not going to happen overnight. But when I started I had no arch, and I mean no arch. After a few weeks of putting the time in and working on it you will start to see results. And success shortly comes after those results. It will give you the ability to get your arch better and higher. Strengthening your back so you are able to hold in position and give yourself that much more stability and strength for pop off the chest. You will get stronger over time. But if you can get more flexible, while shortening your bench stroke you will start to see gains from not only getting stronger but becoming a better bencher overall.