If you’ve scrolled through a powerlifter’s feed on social media, I’m sure you’ve come across comments about their arches whether taken to extreme degrees down to the most subtle curve in the back.
Through this article, we’ll take a dive into why people arch, where and when this could be beneficial, and then finally decipher whether this technique can be applied to your training.
From my time as a competitive powerlifter, arching during a bench press was as common as butter is on toast. Everyone did it regardless of Instagram comments because everyone was trying to win; and in powerlifting, you win by moving the most weight possible while following the rules and regulations.
These rules state that the bar must come to a pause well touching the chest for X amount of time while keeping your butt, shoulders, and head on the bench. Regardless of the height of the chest but always respect the three points of context. This leads to pretty much the only few benefits that come with arching in and out of the competitive scene.
When applied, this technique can lead to reduced ranges of motion during the bench press. A reduced range of motion tends to lead to a greater load being moved, which in powerlifting and attempting to lift as HEAVY as possible is something every lifter shoulder consider.
However… the fitness industry is broad. with many different techniques and tools to achieve different goals. So how will you know whether you should apply this to your training?
However… the fitness industry is broad. with many different techniques and training methods to achieve different goals. So let us apply a wider lens to the industry and look at what avenues of fitness can adopt this technique and what avenues can discard the arch.
As stated above, arching in a press can be a great technique when it comes to lifting maximal loads. Whether in competition or if you’re simply just trying to impress the bros, having a solid arch when you bench can be the make or break. In competition, this arch will give you an edge over others and could potentially be the difference between 1st and 2nd place.
Unfortunately, powerlifting and max lifts only make up a small portion of the whole industry and as for the rest of the people who make it up, arching isn’t the end all be all. Taking away range of motion (via arching) is the last thing people who aren’t into powerlifting should be doing.
Hypertrophy (muscle building) is driven by loading end ranges (max loadable range of motion). Training in end ranges and restoring range of motion is a pillar stone of my rehabilitation process with clients dealing with injury or limitation in their daily lives.
As you can see, everything outside of powerlifting and 1 rep max testing requires a high degree of movement through joints. Something that you don’t necessarily get from having an arch.
Now you know the why, the when, and where arching belongs in the industry. So now it comes time to answer the big question, is it bad?
From my 9 years in the industry, learning that nothing here is black and white, whether it’s training methods, workout programs, supplements or techniques. Although none of them are inherently bad, knowing your goals and the quickest way to achieve them will save you a lot of time and energy.
Understand this, to a powerlifter, arching can be the competitive edge they’re looking for to podium at their next meet. To a bodybuilder, neglecting end ranges and reducing range of motion will only slow their progress. To the average fitness enjoyer, they should prioritize loading ranges they have and gaining new ranges, never taking away the range of motion.
At the end of the day, understanding what your goals in the gym are as well as other peoples goals will help you understand the why behind a lot of confusing topics. Nothing is black and white, 99 percent of things have their rightful place in this industry.