People tend to overlook learning the technique of the big compound movements being the squat, bench and deadlift. I can understand why this happens because these movements are some of the hardest movements to learn. But this microwave approach of instant gratification and trying to had more weight to the bar as quickly as we can is what leads to compensation of our body eventually leading to us stalling in gaining strength or worse, injury. Learning these movements correctly will not happen over night and it takes deliberate thought in the execution. Go about strength training and learning as the slow cooker approach. It needs time. Master slow before fast and take the time to appreciate the technique.
Looking at the set up of the person below, specifically the arch or lack of, we notice that his chest is sunken, shoulders elevated and forward and his back is flat on the bench. In this posture, a lot of stress would be placed on the front of his shoulders. This is not good, because if he moved through the movement, he would try to bench with mostly his shoulders. Something that might be okay at the moment but not down the road. In the bench, setup is extremely important and if done correctly, the execution becomes rather simple.
A lot goes into getting a good set up. In this post, let us talk about arching the back. First of, arching the back is not damaging as long as someone does not already have a pre-existing condition. Once again, this is why our athletes get screened. Secondly, when I teach the bench press, I teach it by focusing on arching the upper back. Yes, the low back will extend but the focus is on the upper back. It doesn't make sense to talk about foot position, leg drive, or elbow position when one can't even set the shoulders first.
The exercise that I use to create the set up position is a combination of a Scap Shrug and Kelso Shrug. Grabbing a set of gymnastic rings with straight arms and leaning back with a long body, the person will flex at the hips, letting their scapula elevate and protract (photo 1). This is a stretch as well as a teaching of bad position for the bench press. Please do not bench this way. We then reverse the movement with keeping the arms straight, elbows locked by retracting/pinching the scapulas back, and depressing them down towards the glutes. The upper arms should feel like they are being sucked into their sockets. If done correctly, the chest should be lifted towards the ceiling, a cramp should occur in the mid and upper back, and a long neck should result.
I never said it would be comfortable and it won't if done correctly. Enjoy the tension. The benefits of doing this type of arch is that it places your torso in more of a decline angle which is stronger. It pre-stretches the pecs so that the contractions will result in higher tension, and it places the shoulder back into a safer position. Disclaimer: This type of setup is only for the bench press. In the pushup or overhead press, we are wanting our scapula for move around our ribcage. In the bench, we are pinning our scapulas together and on the bench itself. This creates a more stable platform to push from when handling the heaviest weights in this position.
In the images above, an arch is more clearly seen. Shoulders are pulled back, chest is higher with less wrinkles in the shirt, and shoulders are away from the ears. This is how the setup should look as well as being maintained during the movement itself. Do not lose the shoulders. If the position is impossible to get into or hold, it could be a strength issue or a mobility issue.
Give it a try in your next bench session and see how it feels.