Back Pain After Bench Press: Causes and How to Fix

published by: Debbie Luna
Last Updated:
December 15, 2022

While back pain is a relatively common symptom of injuries sustained while working out, it is less frequently caused by the bench press - as this classic exercise primarily targets the front of the upper body, supposedly never placing stress on the back whatsoever.

Contrary to what some believe, back pain from the bench press is indeed possible, and is often located around the upper portion of the back due to improper execution or mechanics during its performance.

Back pain after performing the bench press is a sign of poor shoulder mobility, inefficient execution of the lift or simply delayed onset muscle soreness on account of insufficient rehabilitative work later in the training program.

Why Does the Bench Press Cause Back Pain?

If you’ve eliminated all other culprits in your workout and have narrowed it down to the bench press as the primary cause of your back pain, there are several factors that require investigation so as to completely eliminate your symptoms.

Keep in mind that not all forms of pain after bench pressing is bad, and delayed onset muscle soreness may simply be a side-effect of working out with no actual negative connotations associated with it.

Issues in Form

The first and most likely cause of back pain after the bench press is in poor form as the exercise is being performed.

During a bench press repetition, the lifter is meant to maintain a moderate lower back arch, as well as retracted shoulder blades pinned beneath the torso. 

These two form cues ensure that the muscles of the back are not accidentally utilized during an exercise meant to target the chest and arms, meaning that failing to adhere properly can result in back muscles being inadvertently injured in a disadvantageous position.

Excessive or Insufficient Lower Back Arch

Even in cases where the lifter has a bench arch present, bending too far or too little can shift resistance unnecessarily along the torso, resulting in pain as muscles along the back are stretched beyond their safe range of motion.

bench press glutes

A lower back arch that is too round or too flat will not only reduce transmission of hip drive from the legs to the barbell, but also possibly alter the positioning of the exerciser in relation to the bench itself - potentially affecting other parts of their bench press form and thereby leading to a higher risk of developing back pain.

Poor or Reduced Shoulder and Scapula Mobility

Poor mobility or mobility that has been affected by a previous injury is especially dangerous when concerning the shoulders or scapula while performing the bench press.

This is because forward-rotation of the shoulders or a failure to properly retract the scapula while performing said exercise can easily lead to injuries of the soft tissues along the mid and upper back.

bench press shoulders

In more severe cases of poor shoulder mobility, the trapezius muscles atop the back can also become recruited unintentionally, causing them to contract while in a disadvantageous position and potentially resulting in pain or injury.

Excessive Weight or Volume

Another reason why you may be experiencing back pain after the bench press is simple overtraining - either in the chronic overtraining sense or within a single workout session by pushing the primary mover muscles beyond their limit.

This can cause other muscle groups (such as those in the back) to pick up the slack for the muscles that have reached a point of failure, such as the trapezius muscles attempting to correct for the deltoids becoming overly fatigued.

Common Bench Press Execution Issues Causing Back Pain

Caving Shoulders

As was touched upon earlier in this article, forward or internal rotation of the shoulders while performing the bench press is a major cause of trapezius or upper back pain after completing the repetition. 

This is because of the load being shifted away from the chest and deltoid muscles, resulting in injury and soreness.

To fix this, ensure that the shoulderblades or scapula are firmly pinned beneath the upper back before unracking the barbell, meaning that you are already in a stable and secure position prior to even placing weight upon your upper torso.

A common remedy for internally rotating shoulders is to imagine “pinching” a small object between the shoulderblades along your back, as this will provide the necessary movement to perfect the scapular retraction form cue.

Flexing Neck Muscles

Though uncommon, certain lifters may unconsciously pull their neck or chin forward as they perform the bench press, pulling the trapezius muscles and cervical portion of the spine out of neutral alignment. 

This can result in pain along the upper portion of the back, alongside several other areas that may present similar symptoms.

Fixing this particular error simply involves tucking the chin into the neck, which should consciously counter any urge to contract the muscles of the neck as you perform the exercise.

Setting Feet Too Far Back

Though setting the feet further back along the floor can aid in hip drive development - thereby aiding in lifting the bar - it is also a potential cause for back pain during or after performance of the bench press.

This is because of the manner in which setting the feet can affect the pelvis and lower back arch, resulting in more tension being placed on the lumbar or thoracic portion of the spine and potentially leading to minor injuries.

To remedy this, simply set the feet somewhat further forward than you are normally used to. Unless you are a competitive strength athlete, it is unlikely that the small increase in hip drive will be worth the pain it causes.

Core Muscles Collapsing

Whether due to muscular weakness or by accident, the lifter failing to recruit their core muscles during the bench press can result in pain along any part of the back, as well as in the pelvis or shoulders.

This is because the core muscles stabilize and reinforce the entirety of the body when under load, especially during exercises like the bench press where the back is meant to be held in a static position so as to reduce the risk of injury.

Failing to recruit the core muscles can cause the aforementioned collapsing arch of the lower back, as well as lopsided dispersion of the barbell’s resistance, or otherwise other muscle groups along the back picking up the resistance instead of the core muscles.

Remedying this particular issue is complex, but will generally involve performing additional core isolation work alongside practicing recruiting your core muscles in a conscious manner while performing the bench press exercise.

How to Fix Back Pain After the Bench Press

Correct Bench Press Execution

Whether your issue with the bench press’ execution is poor form or incompatibility with certain exercise mechanics, finding a way to correct these issues is one of the first steps to take when experiencing back pain after the bench press.

barbell bench press

If the execution errors mentioned in the previous section of this article do not cover your form issues, it is best to seek out the advice of a coach or other kind of exercise professional so they may investigate your technique more closely.

Perform Mobility Drills and Warm-Ups

Occasionally, minor back pain experienced after performing the bench press can simply be due to insufficient preparatory work prior to the set.

Whether this is because of poor mobility or a lack of a proper warm-up routine, incorporating these two aspects into your training program will aid in remedying your back pain - alongside a number of other benefits associated with proper mobility and warming up.

Take a Break

As is the case in nearly every rehabilitation plan, taking a break from exercise or other kinds of strenuous movement involving the affected area is of absolute importance.

This is done so as to give the body sufficient time to recover any damaged tissues that may be present, as well as to allow any further symptoms to become apparent in the event that multiple injuries (or one of greater severity) has been sustained.

Reduce Intensity of the Bench Press

Remedying back pain after the bench press can be as simple as reducing the intensity of the exercise itself, either by reducing the total weight being moved or otherwise reducing repetition volume.

In cases of back pain caused by fatigue or overtraining, reducing the intensity of the bench press is a good way to maintain your current level of muscular ability while still accounting for your symptoms of pain.

Remember that training through the pain is often a poor idea, and if such symptoms continue to plague you despite a reduction in exercise intensity, it is best to consult a medical professional.

Pick an Alternative Exercise

Unfortunately, the fact is that some exercises are simply incompatible with certain individuals, whether it be due to a previous history of injury or because of body proportions and biomechanics.

In the event that you believe the bench press is the wrong exercise for you despite correct programming and execution, then picking an alternative with a similar muscular recruitment pattern and level of intensity may be the wisest choice.

Other chest-focused compound exercises like the dip, the push-up or the incline press are all just as effective as the bench press for building muscular strength and size - if not more so.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)

Is it Normal for the Back to Hurt After the Bench Press?

No, any sort of pain during or after lifting is not considered normal.

It is important to understand the distinction between soreness and pain, however, as soreness of the upper back is occasionally experienced after performing the bench press and is normally associated with a return to weightlifting following a hiatus, or a recent progression in intensity.

Sharp or dull pain - as opposed to soreness - is a cause for concern, and can indicate that an injury has been sustained during the course of your workout.

How Do You Prevent Back Pain When Bench Pressing?

To avoid back pain during or after performing the bench press, it is important to always follow proper training protocols and place additional focus on your execution of the lift.

Apart from this, you may also wish to perform mobility drills and release-movements targeted towards the back so as to further reduce the risk of pain or injury.

Is it OK to Bench Press With Lower Back Pain?

As much as possible, it is best to avoid performing strenuous exercise while experiencing symptoms of an injury, especially those relating to the lower back and spine.

If you have consulted with a medical professional and have been cleared to perform the bench press despite your symptoms - then yes, it is otherwise fine to perform the bench press. 

In fact, with the approval of your physician, it is possible for resistance exercise to help remedy whatever lower back issue is causing your pain.

In Conclusion

Keep in mind that back pain is a rather common symptom, and can be caused by a variety of different exercises or lifestyle factors other than the bench press. It is best to ensure it is indeed the bench press that is causing your back pain prior to attempting any sort of rehabilitative measures.

Furthermore, if you are unsure of the cause or if your attempts at fixing the issue have failed, then it is best to consult a medical professional who may diagnose or otherwise detect the cause of your pain.

References

1. Ribeiro Neto F, Dorneles JR, Luna RM, Spina MA, Gonçalves CW, Gomes Costa RR. Performance Differences Between the Arched and Flat Bench Press in Beginner and Experienced Paralympic Powerlifters. J Strength Cond Res. 2022 Jul 1;36(7):1936-1943. doi: 10.1519/JSC.0000000000003736. Epub 2020 Jul 27. PMID: 32740285.

2. Mausehund, Lasse; Werkhausen, Amelie1; Bartsch, Julia; Krosshaug, Tron. Understanding Bench Press Biomechanics—The Necessity of Measuring Lateral Barbell Forces. Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research: October 2022 - Volume 36 - Issue 10 - p 2685-2695 doi: 10.1519/JSC.0000000000003948

Debbie (Deb) started powerlifting and Olympic lifting in High School as part of her track team's programming; She continues to train in order to remain athletic. Inspire US allows Deb to share information related to training, lifting, biomechanics, and more.
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