As a female who is passionate about the sport of powerlifting, I tend to be asked a lot of questions about the major differences between women and men in the sport. My answer is always “Actually, not that much.” Aside from interesting research by Dr. Lon Kilgore that explains why women are typically able to do more volume work as compared to men at a higher percentage of their One Rep Max (Further reading) Women typically are able to take advantage of increased mobility to change their range of motion – specifically in the bench press. This article will explain what an arch is, why we arch, and the advantages of a large arch during the bench press.
What Does An Arched Bench Press Setup Look Like?
A great way to compare the two setups is to look at side-by-side video from my husband and myself to see the differences between an arched and flat back setup. (Flat Set Up: https://www.instagram.com/p/_RXpkIqP5s/?taken-by=marksharksquats ) (Arched Set Up: https://www.instagram.com/p/BACsZq_DUez/?taken-by=diesellifts) In an arched setup, there is much more of a stretch in the hips to allow the legs to remain active throughout the entire lift. Shoulder blades are still ground into the bench, and feet are tucked back rather than straight down or in front. This article by Eric Spoto discusses the differences between the two setups.
Jennifer Thompson is one of the best pound-for-pound bench-pressers in the world considering both males and females. She has an amazing informational series for bench press on her YouTube channel here.
Pros and Cons of an Arched Bench:
Pros: An arched bench press can increase tension or the foundation in the lift. Tension allows for the entire body to be used to move the weight. This turns the Bench Press into a full-body lift instead of just working the shoulder, pec, and triceps. An arched bench press also decreases the Range of Motion, or the distance the bar travels from beginning to end of the lift. A smaller range of motion typically allows for a higher amount of weight to be lifted since it is moved a much shorter distance which is an obvious advantage for a competitive powerlifter.
Cons: Tucking legs back can help decrease the ROM with a higher arch, however, having legs over-tucked back has the potential to decreases your leg-drive. Jonnie Candito explains leg-drive in squat in this video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JVBUgvsMNtk
Mobility Work For A Larger Arch:
Jen Thompson brings a football with her for her warmup. She puts it under her back when she sets up as she is taking her first few sets in order to stretch out her back. Chris Duffin also has a great article on mobility for an arched bench here.
Make It Work For You:
Every person is different. Mobility, flexibility, and limb length will change each lifter’s leverages. Some will use only a slight arch, or maybe none at all. Some prefer to pull legs back in order to maximize their arch, and some prefer to have their legs out in front for a slight arch. It all comes down to personal preference and finding out what works for you and what setup you feel strongest in. What does your setup look like? Do you have a large arch, a small arch? Or none at all? Comment below or on our Instagram to share your thoughts!