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Is a Bench Press Affected by Arm Length?

author image Mike Samuels
Mike Samuels started writing for his own fitness website and local publications in 2008. He graduated from Peter Symonds College in the UK with A Levels in law, business and sports science, and is a fully qualified personal trainer, sports massage therapist and corrective exercise specialist with accreditations from Premier Global International.
Is a Bench Press Affected by Arm Length?
Man bench pressing in a gym. Photo Credit Ibrakovic/iStock/Getty Images

The bench press is an exercise performed in powerlifting, but also has a place in any upper-body strength or bodybuilding-based routine. A full bench press requires you to start with your arms completely straight, lower the bar under control, pause briefly with the bar at your chest, then press up again until your arms are straight. While everyone can improve their bench press, how quickly you progress depends on a number of factors -- one of the most important being your arm length.

Shorter Arms for Better Gains

Having short arms is typically good for bench pressing, according to coach and elite powerlifter Brandon Lilly. Bench pressers with shorter arms don't have to move the bar as far between the point where it rests on the chest and the lockout. This is undoubtedly an advantage, as the less distance the bar has to travel and the shorter time you have to bear the load, the stronger you'll be.

Lagging With Long Arms

Long arms are definitely a disadvantage on the bench press. In a study published in a 2010 edition of "The Sport Journal," researchers found that female college athletes with longer arm spans were at a disadvantage to their shorter-armed counterparts. The women were asked to perform either three maximal bench press attempts, or a 30-second isometric hold followed by the three maximum attempts. For the second group of women, performing the isometric hold, it was found that long arm span meant a significant decrease in performance.

Force Factor

How good you are at the bench press comes down to how much work you have to put into the lift. Work equals force multiplied by distance, notes strength coach Elsbeth Vaino. Therefore, if two lifters have different arm lengths, even if they're both lifting the same amount of weight, the one with longer arms will have to move the bar further, thus increasing the distance and the amount of work needed to complete the lift.

Get a Grip

One thing you can do to make yourself a better bench presser is to change your grip to suit your limb length. A narrow grip may be more beneficial if you have longer arms, as by narrowing your grip, you shorten the range of motion. Long-limbed benchers should add in more top-end exercises, such as floor presses, board presses and pin presses, too, advises Mike Robertson, coach at IFAST in Indianapolis. If you have shorter arms, however, more bottom-end movements such as dumbbell presses and paused bench presses will help.

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