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When I bench press, I sometimes feel a muscle seize up slightly distal and lateral from my ASIS. I don't know what muscle this is, but I'm guessing it's involved with external rotation or abduction. This happens sometimes in the left hip, sometimes the right hip, sometimes both simultaneously.

It happens when I'm arching my back hard, with glutes pressed against the bench, legs open at about a 30° angle and feet flat against the ground.

I find it hard to maintain the arch of my back off the bench without these muscles occasionally seizing.

Am I tensing up an area that I should be leaving relaxed? Is this a sign of improper form?

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Based on comments and googling it arching or no arching in a controversial topic, and can cause back issues, try to do some workouts without the back arch and see if it keep cramping –  eklam Mar 12 '13 at 17:12
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2 Answers

The bench does require significant hip/leg drive, there are even stories of powerlifters tearing hammies or quads while benching. Pretty much everything needs to be tight on a max bench attempt, so I don't really think there are "right" muscles to keep relaxed. I would just chalk it up as the nature of the beast, assuming the seizing/cramping is just causing discomfort and not resulting in injury.

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This is re-assuring. It is just very distracting, and happens at the heavy weights where I need the most focus. It doesn't feel like an injury, and isn't affecting deadlifts or squats. –  Kate Mar 12 '13 at 20:36
    
@Kate - FWIW, I get the same thing in my arches (cramping under load) when I return to swimming after a layoff. Increased fitness and stretching the flexors and extensors for the foot usually alleviates it. –  JohnP Mar 12 '13 at 22:59
    
John! I don't know where you get "stretching the flexors and extensors for the foot usually alleviates it." I mean, is this like a scientific research proven method for all symptoms like Kate presented? If you want to know the truth about reducing the TFL cramping during hyperextension of the lumber, then I will share without "foot placement" on the bench. One is to stretch the TFL during breaks. Two is to get a PT to give you some lumbar spine mobility exercises. Since lumbar spine stiffness can put more stress on the hips and vice versa. We called this "Regional Interdependence." –  DrTrungNguyen Mar 12 '13 at 23:50
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Kate,

This muscle that you are feeling tensing up could very well be the Tensor Fasciae Latae (TFL). This muscle is activate by externally rotate the hip, slightly abduct the hip and slightly flex the hip (30 degrees in both motions).

Don't forget that this muscle is also a part of our ITB, so when you externally rotate your tibia, it will also engage at the hip. This muscle is activated the most during a hyperextended of the lumbar spine in addition to the motions described above (ER and ABD or the hip). People with increased lordosis or arching the back during benching will sometimes feel like this muscle is cramping.

You seem knowledgable about weight training. So, I would like to ask you why are you allowing your back to arch that much during bench pressing? Although this is a very common mistake many people do at the gym, and although they claim that they can bench more (cheating). However, this very technique (arching the back) has been shown to increase more stress on both the hips (in your case) and in the lower back area.

Have you tried placing your feet on the bench (with bent-knees)?

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-1 for recommending an unsafe alternative (feet on bench). It is less stable, not recommended and does not address the problem (usually flexibility), it just avoids it. –  JohnP Mar 12 '13 at 16:27
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@JohnP why it is unsafe and not recommended? I see that it is not so stable, and demands some balance, but I think it can help with avoid back arching –  eklam Mar 12 '13 at 16:57
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I'm using the back arch because it believed it to be standard powerlifting form. I'm trying to do exactly what Mark Rippetoe directs us to do in this video: youtube.com/watch?v=lBNeeeTId1M –  Kate Mar 12 '13 at 17:03
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Feet on the bench is not allowed during competition, so I'm not going to switch to that. If my issue may be related to IT band tightness, I could stretch that. Even if it's not that, I won't make anything worse. I will post a form video soon to get a better check that I'm not doing something wrong form-wise. –  Kate Mar 12 '13 at 17:15
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@GetFitChimp Thank you for helping identify this as the TFL/ITB. –  Kate Mar 14 '13 at 7:53
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