The Back Arch for Barbell Bench Press: Flashy or Functional?


It’s been a year since I started powerlifting and not only have I improved my skill of powerlifting with consistent training under the guidance of my amazing powerlifting coach Tony Bonvechio, but also, I have built tremendous strength by being able to get underneath more weight with the barbell (as opposed to the kettlebell, my first love)…

My Current Personal Bests in Deadlift, Back Squat, and Bench Press:

300lbs Deadlift

215lbs Back Squat

135lbs Bench Press

In addition, aesthetically, I LOVE how powerlifting has changed my body and the muscle that I have built as a result; in particular, the muscle that I have built in my chest from bench press and in my quads from back squatting.


When I started powerlifting, out of all three lifts (back squat, bench press, and deadlift), the bench press was the most foreign to me and the most scary for me. A good, “I’m excited to learn more” kind of scary but at the same time I did not expect to love it as much as I did once I started to learn more about it.

Before I started powerlifting, I always wondered why powerlifters arched their backs when they set up for bench press. If you don’t understand the purpose of this technique it’s easy to assume that it may simply be for show and potentially be a position that may put one at risk for injury.

When I attended the seminar Optimizing The Big Three last August 2015 with coaches Greg Robins and Tony Bonvechio, I learned that the reason why powerlifters arch their backs to get into position for bench press is to take the stress off of their shoulders and to leverage themselves underneath the bar so that they can use their whole body, and in particular their legs, to help press the weight.

As my coach Tony Bonvechio explains,

“Arching your back during the bench press does two things: it decreases the range of motion of the lift (which lets you lift more weight and decreases stress on the shoulder joint) and puts your shoulders in the safest possible position. Your shoulder blades need to be put into a position of retraction, depression and posterior tilt, which is tough to do with a flat upper back. Therefore, you need to arch your upper back to put your shoulder blades in a stable position. Also, the arch puts your legs into a position where they can contribute to the lift, which lets you press heavier weights and gain momentum through the sticking point about 2-3 inches off the chest. People stress out when they see this aggressive technique, but keep in mind that your spine isn’t loaded the same way as if you were squatting or deadlifting with an exaggerated arch, so it’s not nearly as risky as it looks.”

Learn more from Tony about how to choose YOUR optimal foot position in the video below as well as the secret to a bigger bench press in his T-Nation article, “The Secret To A Bigger Bench Press” HERE 

It has taken me about a full year to find MY optimal position with the bench press in terms of both foot and back position; a back arch that is sufficient to serve its purpose, but not excessive, in that it allows me to feel compact and wedged under the bar with ultimate tension for the bench press and to help me maximize my leg drive.

If you would like to learn more about the three big lifts, barbell bench press, back squat, and deadlift, then I hope that you will join me and the amazing, “Wonder Woman” Julia Ladewski at my women’s strength retreat, I Am Not Afraid To Lift – The Retreat, on May 5-7, 2017 in Phoenix, Arizona at the Arizona Grand Resort.

Lift Retreat Leadpages Banner

Keep your eyes out for more details about this event, as well as Early Bird Registration. Registration will be limited to 30 women so if you’d like to make sure that you reserve your spot then complete the contact form below to get on the pre-registration list…

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