Why Does Your Hamstring Cramp During The Bench Press
April 14th 2019
You are setting up in a tight bench press. Shoulder blades are retracted and depressed so that your shoulders can be in the safest position possible. Your glutes are glued onto the bench. Your feet are planted firmly into the ground. Then, all of a sudden - a slow, burning tightness followed by incremental jumps of pain in your hamstrings. It is a hamstring cramp. Why does your hamstring cramp during the bench press?
Hamstring cramp during the bench press
Tight bench press setups do invite hamstring cramps to occur. Here are some reasons why hamstring cramps occur during the bench press:
- Muscles are too tight
- Inadequate blood supply
- Lack of minerals
1) Your muscles are too tight
If you are using a lot of leg drive (which you should be doing), a hamstring cramp may be inevitable. There is a good chance that when you are applying leg drive, you are tensing up your hamstring as tight as possible to get the most out of your bench press.
Depending on conditioning, this may fatigue your hamstrings which alters your neural reflex activity. Constant exertion can lead to overexertion, depleting the muscles’ oxygen storage and creates more waste products, like lactic acid. Then, a hamstring cramp can occur when your spinal cord continues to tell your muscles to keep contracting.
Foam rolling can help
You will know if your hamstrings are tight before the bench press. One solution is to foam roll your hamstrings. Foam rolling can help your muscles relax and increase blood supply to the area.
2) Inadequate blood supply
In schools, we were conditioned to think about warming up before doing any exercise. There is some truth to that. If you are feeling cold prior to starting a bench press workout, it would be a very good idea to start warming-up all your muscles. Having good blood supply to the area helps relax the muscles, which is the missing ingredient of all hamstring cramps - they are painful because your muscles do not stop contracting. Having your muscles warmed up can prevent cramps from starting up.
So, here is a list of leg movements that will make sure you are properly warmed up before bench pressing:
3) Lack of minerals
Your muscles require a delicate balance of minerals and electrolytes in order to function normally. Through your sweat, you are losing a lot of this minerals through bench pressing. If you have been working out for a couple of hours now, it would be wise to refuel yourself on the essential minerals in regulating a hamstring cramp. Some of these minerals are salt, potassium, magnesium, and calcium.
In addition to losing minerals through sweat, you also lose a lot of water. Ever notice how some runners will start to cramp up if they do not stay hydrated? The same is true for any lifter who is serious about making progress in the gym. Stay well-hydrated in order to limit the number of hamstring cramps you will experience.
Hamstring cramp will not go away after bench pressing
If you felt a hamstring cramp during the bench press, it should go away when you get out of your tight bench press form. For some lifters, this may not be the case and their hamstrings will still contract, causing them pain and immobility.
Start by massaging the affect hamstrings. Try to actively relax and not excite the muscle. Make sure to breathe and get some water too. Your hamstring cramp should not last too long after since the most defining characteristic of a hamstring cramp is that the muscle does not stop contracting. By relaxing the muscle, you break up that neural response which will bring your relief.
Should I change my bench press setup if I get frequent hamstring cramps?
Depending on your goals, you will need to make a decision based on what is most important to you. Prior to that, you must analyze what you do outside of the gym. If you are not taking care of your body and letting it loose every weekend, that is one possible explanation for why you may not be as strong as you can be.
How is your sleep?
Recovery is vital. Otherwise, no one would be making progress in the gym. Are you sleeping enough? At least 7 hours of high-quality sleep every night? If you are a high-level athlete, you may even need more sleep.
Diet is good?
Another component to having a great recovery is that your diet is spot-on. This means you are eating enough of the right foods and getting enough micronutrients in order to regulate your bodily functions
High-stress levels are not good for recovery. Stress weakens your immune system and can wreak havoc on your mental stability. You can tell the difference between when you had a stressful day prior to going to the gym versus a chill day prior to going to the gym. Stay positive and keep your cool all the time.
Assuming you are doing everything right outside of the gym, it is important to know that if you are using the tightest bench press setup possible in order to maximize your bench press, hamstring cramps will always be an option. Because you are tensed up for a moderate period of time, this can invite cramps in. Fortunately, your body will limit the number of cramps you will experience as you gain more training experience.
It is not common to get frequent hamstring cramps every time you bench press. This can mean that your hamstrings are too tight or there is something else you need to address in the four bullet points above.
One quick solution is that you use a less tight setup. This will immediately relieve and hamstring cramping you will feel. Note that if you do choose to set up with a looser form, you are sacrificing some weight you can add to your bench press.
Best foot position to avoid hamstring cramps during the bench press
The best foot position for the bench press is to make sure your entire body is as tight as possible. In order to do this, a general rule of thumb is that your ankles behind your knees. This will force your legs to remain in a flexed position. Your toes will point outward and will vary depending on lifter to lifter. If you can get your feet underneath your hips, this will be an ideal position to start bench pressing. However, many lifters will need to work on their hip and hamstring strength and flexibility.
For beginners, they will probably not be able to get their legs past the knees. This is okay since novice lifters are learning how to navigate the lifting waters. Every workout, their improvement in flexibility, strength and mobility will be vast and they can probably get into a great bench press position within a few weeks.
Also, you will notice that this will prompt your body to have a natural bench press arch. This shaves some inches when bench pressing.
Foot sliding and losing tightness on the bench press
Some lifters have noted that they will have hamstring cramps during the bench press when one foot is sliding on the ground. Having one side of your body lose tightness may trigger a hamstring cramp. You have built up a lot of tension in your hamstrings. To suddenly lose all of the tightness, your hamstrings may still be contracting but your feet are no longer in the original position to do so. What is left is anguish and pain.
This can be avoided by checking your bench press surroundings. Clean the area if needed. Clean the bottom of your shoes. If you are in a home gym, a dusty gym may lead to further problems in the future. Sweep away the sand, dirt, and moisture away from the area so that your feet can have the entire contact with the ground.