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 It seems that anytime I write an article about chest training and discuss proper bench press technique I always hit a nerve with some people when I talk about body position and setting up to perform the bench press.

When I explain how to set up for a bench press I tell people to stick your chest out as far as you can by arching your upper back. And retract your scapula by pulling your shoulder blades back together behind you. This is the way you should be positioned when laying down on the bench.

You can see examples of what I mean by this in the pictures below: 

 In the pics on the left you can see the upper back is relaxed. And in the pics to the right you can see that the upper back is arched and the shoulder blades are pulled back.

The reason for doing this is because it activates the chest muscles to a greater degree. It gives your upper back a solid base on the bench. It reduces excessive shoulder rotation and places them in a safer and more advantageous position for benching.

To sum it up this proper set up targets the major muscles that you want to work, puts you in a stronger position to bench, and it reduces your risk of a shoulder / rotator cuff injury. 

 However, for a lot of people when ever they hear the words “arch” and “bench press” in the same sentence they automatically cringe.

There is a ‘right’ and ‘wrong’ way to arch for doing a bench press.

You’ll note in the description I outlined above I said to stick your chest out by arching your upper back and pulling your shoulder blades. We could also use the word “flex” your upper back instead of arch.

For those anti-archers out there please realize, I NEVER EVER recommended anything about “arching your lower back” at all. Arching your upper back is what is important. That’s what rests on the bench, that’s where all the action takes place. You just need to keep your feet solid on the floor and simply maintain the natural curvature in your lower back. 

 The Right Way To Arch

The Wrong Way To Arch

 Actually sit up in your chair and do this simple exercise with me right now…

Try to stick your chest out as far as you can, but you have to keep your back totally flat and your shoulders forward…

How did it go? I bet you couldn’t stick your chest out much if any.

Now try to stick your chest out again, but this time pull your shoulder blades back together behind you and “arch your upper back"… Now look down… whoa what’s that? It looks like you got a chest that sticks out further then Dolly Parton’s… well maybe I’m exaggerating a bit here, but you get the point.

You NEED to expand your chest and pull your shoulder blades back in order put your body in the safest and most advantageous position for bench pressing. And in order to do this it requires ‘arching’ or ‘flexing’ your upper back.