Arching in the Bench Press

How do you reconcile the DNS rib tuck with the flare on the bench for competitive powerlifters?
Train with lower weight on the rib tuck and compete with the flare?

This is actually has a fairly easy blow off answer.
If DNS principles are strictly adhered, there is not reconciliation.
And training with lower weight won’t get you a bigger bench in most cases, so that won’t work either.
But there has to be more to it than that.

So obviously, there is much more to discuss.
So as many of you know, nearly all of my blog posts are in responses to questions I get from others.  This question came from almost 3 years ago, and I’ve relished it coming up in my queue to respond to.
Because 1) at the time, it was a very interesting question because there obviously is a marriage between two apparently dichotomous messages, 2) it’s about powerlifting, and 3) by waiting so long to answer, there are several bullet points that I probably would not have talked about back in March of 2013.

I totally still have this. And of all the professional athletes and celebrities I've worked with, this one is my favorite of all-time.

I totally still have this issue. And of all the professional athletes and celebrities I’ve worked with, this one is my favorite of all-time.

I think it’s important to preface that I am a powerlifter.  Everywhere I’ve lived, I’ve had access to a legitimate gym with 100# wheels, a monolift, chalk all over the place, etc.  And one of those places where I learned to bench press was at Adirondack Barbell in Lake George and Glens Falls, NY from Bill Crawford and Sebastian Burns.  Bill is without a doubt one of my mentors and someone I am in great debt in terms of what I know about powerlifting.  He was the first man to ever bench 750, and more importantly in the Metal Militia style of bench press technique, the arch is enormous and critical.  Sebastian’s quote must be somewhere, “Try to arch higher and harder on every rep you ever bench.”

I’ve been complimented on my arch, and you can see that within the rules of the sport, there are things you can do get a big arch set in place.  This is an old video of a fair punch in a gym meet at Ironsport.  There are many other ways to bench, quite successfully as well, and I personally don’t use this technique unless it is with a competitive powerlifter, nor do I use it for anything other than flat bench with a straight bar.

So at the time of learning how to arch, why to arch, etc. where DNS or the apparent evils of aberrant rib position were not a twinkle in most of our eyes, the bottom line is that the arch helps you bench more with this particular technique.
The arch is a specific sport skill that is a choice to improve powerlifting performance.
And in this case, performance is measured by how many wheels are on the bar and do certain things happen in the lift as determined by the rules of the sport.
Whether we agree or not on the costs of this technique, the fact of the matter is the stroke is shortened, and there is a whole host of form closure to allow for stability in the lift.  Now if you’re not a powerlifter, maybe this has no resonance, but there are powerlifters.  And there are powerlifting meets.  And these meets need to be won by individuals that are not afraid to put triple body weight over the face.  And if these individuals are keenly aware of the risk-reward, the cost of doing business, program properly to recovery and be resilient to this highly impactful position, then we will win and others will think its cool to bench 2 wheels.

Highly impactful…………………
Highly impactful…………………
Now if someone were to argue that this type of arch has no negative impact on the system, then this would be very unfortunate.  But the first reconciliation, as per the question above, is how to prioritize General Physical Preparedness and Specific Physical Preparedness.  There comes a cost to specialization, and there comes a cost to taking advantage of the rules of a sport.  This would apply to any sport that allows or even forces ill mechanical or neurological positions.

So via what we learn from DNS and other models, rib position and uniform spinal angle are important basically to allow for 1) optimal joint positioning for the deep spinal stabilizers to contract timely and reactively, and 2) removal of the assumed CNS insult that this and other inefficient joint positions can lead to.

This is horrendous.

This is horrendous.

So when we see the pic above, if this is competition, have at it.
But when we see that the extension is coming largely from 1 particular spot leading to his ass 3 miles off the bench, this is where trouble is coming.  We see that at least at this part of the lift, there is very little stereotype of intra-abdominal pressure.  And this can, not saying it always will, lead to some recognition of threat through the spine or shoulders.  Maybe this is why we get sore shoulders when we bench even though the shoulder position probably checks enough boxes to be mechanically sound.
I would coach the shoulder position to be different at the touch, but I don’t think I can say that what we see here is ill or “wrong.”  I can say that the spine is hinged in 1 or 2 segment, and I believe this has very high cost both mechanically of joint overload and neurologically through the system, which I openly admit is a little fuzzier to explain.

The concepts of joint centration as taught by DNS revolve around a mechanical position of a joint or joint system and suggesting neurological and systemic effects.  I believe this.
It’s answers lie across the works of Bobath, Brunstrom, Knott, Voss, Hodges, McGill, Pavel T, and Louie.

Because in the video above, with an even and uniform arch, neck packed, humerus dialed, there are not nearly the same issues.
Can one have a uniform spinal angle WITH centrated rib cage over the pelvis as seen above?
I think the answer is yes.

And then we get to the 2nd question where now you don’t even have to worry about using lighter weight, and you can engage is deliberate random practice for this style of bench pressing.
The prerequisites are uniform spinal curve in extension and huge hip extension to keep your butt down.  I think when we have this along with proper execution of the lats and tris up top, what looks like a violation of DNS principles is very solid form.

So in summary,
1) Most legit competitive powerlifters don’t care about joint centration.
2) A heavy arch can be executed with centration, but this is VERY rare.
3) If not executed with centration, it is in violation of DNS principles or any smart general training philosophy.
4) We must work hard to battle against this strategy in general training approaches. This is not unlike battling the asymmetries developed from unilateral activities like golf. We may never change them; we will fight against them because we know they are potential injury risk factors.
5) Nothing we do in general training, DNS-sponsored or not, should make us worse at our goal, if that indeed is to bench press huge weight with a specific technique.

  • December 19, 2015

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