Clients ask me all the time, how can I feel bench press in my chest, rather than my shoulders? While bench press is a major exercise to build your chest muscles, without proper form, it’s a good way to over stress your joints and arms.

Here’s why you’re not feeling bench press in your chest and what to do about it:


You’ve seen it on Instagram and in CrossFit gyms, but despite the bad rap that it might get, there is scientific merit to arching your back while bench pressing. If you don’t arch your back, it’s actually MORE detrimental to your shoulder health.

Let me explain.

When you’re bench pressing and you have a flat back, when you lower the bar to your chest, your shoulders will roll forward, due to mobility constraints. Even the most flexible people witness this response.

Bench pressing with a flat back causes your shoulder to roll forward

Keeping your shoulders back with a flat back at full bar depression is very hard to to. Frankly it’s not what you want to be focusing on when you’re doing bench press.

You want to be focusing on your chest, right??

When you arch your back in bench press, it eliminates complications from shoulder mobility and allows your pectoralis muscles to (literally) do what they were made for.

Is Arching Your Back While Doing Bench Press Dangerous?

Arching your back and lifting weights are generally two things that don’t go well together. Bench press is one exception to that rule.

Unlike most major compound lifts — like squats and deadlifts — where arching your back can potentially cause severe back injury, there is almost no risk when bench pressing. Most other lifts load weight onto your spine. When your spine is compressed with weight, arching can cause damage to discs, vertebrae, and other soft tissue.

But when you’re bench pressing, you’re laying flat, loading the weight through your arms and shoulders, rather than through your back and legs. Without weight loaded onto your spine, you’re safely able to arch your back during bench press.


So, we’re on the same page about arching your back in your bench press. But that’s not all that you have to do to really feel it in your chest.

To set up with proper form for bench press, you need to do four things:

  1. Position yourself with your eyes directly below the bar.
  2. Put both feet on the ground with your heels directly under your lower glutes.
  3. Push up against the bench supports with your hands and down on your feet to arch your back (while keeping your glutes on the bench).
  4. Pull your shoulders back and down.
setting up for the proper bench press position
setting up for the proper bench press position

From this position, place your hands on the bar, equal distance from the middle and unrack the weight. As you lower the bar, keep your back arched, your shoulders down and back, and focus on resisting and pushing with your chest muscles.

setting up for the proper bench press position
setting up for the proper bench press position

Keeping your back arched and shoulders back is how you will feel bench press in your chest.

Safety And Discomfort During Bench Press

Safety is always the number one priority in weightlifting. Using proper form and protecting vulnerable joints and muscle tissue is a top concern for the Personal Trainers at Kraken Training.

Some people may experience slight discomfort when arching their back for proper bench press form. Ensure that you are not arching to excess by consulting a qualified Personal Trainer. But a minor ache in your back, due to a slight arch, is a nominal price to pay for ensuring the safety and health of your joints that are bearing the stress of the movement; your shoulders.

You’re at a far higher risk of doing damage to your shoulder by not arching your back, then you are of hurting your back while arching in this lift.

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