Should My Neck Pop From Doing Overhead Presses?

August 13th 2019

You are doing some decently heavy weight on your overhead press and your neck pops. Once or a couple of times, you know this is not normal. The biggest question you may have is whether or not you should continue your remaining sets and if you should see a specialist.

Throughout my six years of strength training, I have encountered many popping joints. In fact, just recently, I have felt some neck pain from overhead presses this past week. However, I would say overhead presses were the main reason why I felt neck pain - that is an entirely separate issue.

What we are here to discuss is whether or not you need to do anything about your neck popping during overhead presses. So, let us dive deep into this issue.

Overhead Press Neck Pop

You should not be feeling any joint pops or clicks. However, this does not mean neck popping during overhead presses is uncommon. As long as these neck pops do not cause any significant pain or loss of function, it is better to ignore them and continue to train hard. Let us be real, all of our joints pop, click and grind. Muscles contract, spasm and relax. Sometimes, these events happen to certain lifters more often than others. However, if you are pushing your body to its upper limits, you will encounter more strange events. 

But does that excuse you from ignoring your body? Absolutely not. There is a difference between knowing if you can continue overhead pressing after some neck pops and if your neck pops, followed by immediate pain. Use your best judgment.

It could be a form issue

There have been many lifters who have been in this particular situation - they would feel certain symptoms during a movement for the first couple of times. After a few training sessions or a few weeks, the symptoms just went away. These lifters felt as if they did not adjust anything but whatever symptoms they felt have been cured. What gives?

This can very well be related to your form. As you continue to train, your body is rapidly adapting to your training stimulus. You activate and create more motor units, which in turn moves more muscle and generates more strength. It could be that you are untrained and you simply need to work with lighter weights and move up progressively. 

Do neck pops lead to neck strains in the overhead press?

Every person is different. If you are doing overhead presses and you feel a pop, which is followed by pain, immediately stop doing the exercise. 

Overall, barbell compound movements, especially the overhead press, is a relatively safe movement. You have a greater chance of getting hit by a car on the sidewalk than to suffer from a strength training injury. 

Your neck will pop and click. But what leads to most neck strains can be traced by to all the muscles around your neck, which connect to your upper back and shoulders. If you do not have a proper routine in place to relieve stress and tight muscles, it builds up. For some lifters, you see huge traps and a wide back and think about how strong that person is. However, in reality, it is a huge responsibility to mobilize the entire area and to make sure all your muscles are firing correctly. 

For instance, last week, I felt some intense pressure and pain in my neck while I was doing a 125lbs overhead press for an AMRAP set. I felt a twinge and a pulsing sensation at the back of my left occipital region at rep 7. I did not want to stop there and continued on to rep 10, which the pulsing sensation just got much worse. My neck never pops during overhead press but it does pops and clicks when I stretch it and massage the area. Granted, this was the third day out of four days (I also felt the same issue on my squat and deadlift day) I felt this sort of pulsing upper neck, around the back of my head pain. So, I am just managing the symptoms the best I can and I will continue to train hard until I feel that there is something drastically wrong.

Should overhead presses make my neck pop?

Overhead presses should not make your neck pop but it is not uncommon if your neck clicks or pops when you are doing this exercise. Just make sure you are still feeling great and very functional.

No movement should ever cause you pain. This is not the purpose of any barbell compound movement. This is not the purpose of any exercise. The main reason why you see form guides and trainers in the world is that there is an effective way to learn these compound exercises. And if you do decide to learn proper form, it puts you at an advantage to make more gains faster. 

The problem comes when individual situations come into play; some athletes come into strength training all banged up from previous athletic endeavors. Maybe some unfortunate situation has happened to them. But for some reason, lifting heavy weights receives a bulk of the blame whenever injuries come around. It is usually never the lifter’s fault but it is lifting weights that caused the lifter to suffer from certain ailments.

But if your neck does pop during overhead presses, what now? You ignore them and continue on with your training. If I stopped working out for all the little weird spasms and clicks my body created, I’ll never get to where I want to be. Your body is designed to be worked. It wants a challenge. 

And of course, use your best judgment. If you are warming up with overhead presses and your neck continues to pop and irritate you as the weight gets heavier, this is an obvious sign to stop pressing. There are just an infinite amount of scenarios that can happen but for most people, they can push past their comfort zones and finish their working sets.

Wrapping It All Up

Neck issues, whether they are neck strains, pops or pain, are not pleasant to deal with. If anything, you dread these days. Fortunately, this is not a very serious issue but it can be quite scary to a novice lifter or someone who experienced neck issues for the first time.

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