Training

What To Do After Having A Sore Upper Back After Bench Press

Updated February 14th 2020; April 12th 2019

The bench press actively engages many muscles in your back.

While the bench press is known to be one of the most alpha chest exercises in the lifting community, you cannot have a big bench press without a well-developed upper back.

Your posterior deltoids, rhomboids, traps and many other muscles are responsible for generating and releasing all your bench press power.

So, what should you do if you have a sore upper back after doing a bench press?

Sore upper back after bench press

A sore upper back after bench press can be fairly common if you have not developed a good bench press technique, which includes scapula depression, scapula retraction, and shoulder and lat tenseness.

i) Squeezing your scapula too hard

When you start to bench press, one of the most common techniques to do is to get your scapula in a good position.

This means you would need to retract your scapula and depress it.

This will put your shoulders in a healthy position to bench press.

For a lot of lifters, this position may feel a bit unnatural.

As a result, when you first start learning how to retract and depress your scapula during a bench press, you may have a tendency to overdo it.

This is not a bad thing or a good thing; it is just one common behavior that I noticed for many lifters.

In fact, I have done it myself because the position was very unnatural for me.

You will find that under a moderate or heavy load with squeezing your scapula very hard, you will be very sore after doing a set.

ii) Your shoulder muscles are weak

When you retract and depress your scapula, your shoulders should be tensed and firm.

Another common reason for having a sore upper back after bench pressing is because your shoulder stabilizers are weak.

Perhaps you have not done too many rows or have not practiced any scapula retraction and depression in any sport.

iii) Tight shoulders

Limited mobility in your shoulders can affect how you bench press.

Specifically, having tight shoulders may contribute to having a sore upper back.

If your shoulders are tight, you will have a tough time with flexibility.

One of the keys to a strong bench press is to have healthy shoulders with good range of motion.

This allows lifters to freely get into a solid and stable position, without any pain or discomfort.

When you have tight shoulders, you will need to actively try to pull your scapula backward and downward more so than if your shoulders did not have this tension.

Making sure you have good shoulder health will be the key to unlocking a bigger bench press.

One solution

Tight shoulders may be a symptom of another problem, poor thoracic extension.

All big benchers know how crucial it is to maintain great thoracic extension so that we can tap into that big well of bench press power.

Thoracic spine mobilization

Work on your thoracic spine mobilization by kneeling in front of a bench.

Place both your elbows on the bench with your back parallel to the floor. Now, drive your head through your arms and try to get to the floor.

There should be a satisfying stretch in your shoulders and upper back.

Hold the bottom of the position for 10-15 seconds.

iv) Check your form

If your upper traps are feeling sore, you may not be practicing good scapula mobilization to stabilize your shoulders.

What is likely occurring is that you are doing scapula retraction but are not depressing your scapula.

As a result, you will feel that your upper traps are being engaged during the bench press, which will cause you soreness if you have not been actively working on your upper traps.

You need to learn from the best 

I aim to provide you only the best information.

Here is a video with Jim Blakley coaching two athletes about their bench press technique.

When it comes to bench pressing, Jim Blakley is no short of success, having bench pressed 710lbs in competition.

It is in gear but that does not take away from the fact that he has been elite and he has valuable training information to share to the public.

Reverse that situation to you, would you take nutrition advice from a NFL quarterback or MBL shortstop?

You would because you know to perform at an elite level, they all need to take care of their bodies.

Talent can only get you so far.

The grind, dedication to your sport, recovery, etc.  - so many factors come into play.

So, let us review some bullet points I made from the video above:

  • Have great thoracic flexibility

This is so that you can get an optimal set-up.

  • Take your time setting up on the bench press

Why rush one of the most important parts of the bench press that could help you be an efficient lifter?

The bench press is broken down into 2 parts - setting up and pressing the weight.

If you have a bad set-up, you only put yourself at a disadvantage.

So, if you cannot get the perfect setup, rerack and try again.

Be patient.

It will take time to learn.

  • Pinch your shoulder blades and keep your chest up. You need thoracic flexibility

Create stability in the bench press.

If everything is tight, you can directly transfer power into the bar.

  • Leg drive is important too.

You will be pushing both down and back.

Not just down.

v) Check your posture

If you have a forward head-lean, know that your upper back will be weak.

Because you are not aware or unable to retract your head back into a neutral position, the upper and mid back muscles are not used to working to keep your shoulders retracted and depressed during a bench press.

After a few sets, you will feel soreness and possibly some cramping.

Just know that this is one issue that you must continuously address in order to strengthen your upper back.

Solutions

You must work on these exercises daily in order to fix your forward head posture.

It took some conditioning for you to get into a bad habit.

Now, it is time to address that issue and return you back to full strength.

Chin tucks

As the name suggests, you will tuck in your chin so that your ears are at least aligned with your shoulders.

Against a wall, you can use a soft ball or a pillow to place behind your head so that you can tuck in your chin.

Another key posture tip is to keep your chest pointed to the ceiling.

Do not let your chest drop.

So, hold your chin tucks for about 10-15 seconds.

Do this for about 1-2 sets for 10-15 reps.

Chin tucks with wing flaps

While your chin is tucked, you will stimulate your C5 nerve in your neck.

Remember, after a long period of time of having a proper posture, your nerves and muscles are not activated.

So, doing these drills will help wake up these nerves and revert your head back into a normal position.

With your hands at 45-degrees (your hands at shoulder level will be 90-degrees) and having your palms face the ground, you will flap your hands up and down 10 times.

Chin tucks with ear covers

To stimulate your C6 nerve and from the 45-degree arm position, you will cover your ears and uncover them to return back to the 45-degree position.

Do this ten times.

Chin tucks with rope climbs

To stimulate your C7 and C8 nerves, you will do imaginary rope climbs with a pronated grip (your palms will face away from you).

Look straight and climb your vertical ladder with both hands, with your palms facing away from you, for 10 seconds.

After you have done that, return these three exercises for at least 3 sets, twice a day.

How to un-sore your upper back for the bench press

With scapula retraction and depression, lifters will put their shoulder in a healthy position.

Next, focus on driving the elbows down. We also further stabilize our shoulders while also engaging our lats too, which will make up most of our mid and lower back.

Your upper back makes up a lot of the bench press stabilizers that are used to hold your shoulders in place for a sturdy bench press.

Doing rows and other back movements will help you train your back to better prepare you for a big bench press.

1) Rows

Barbell rows, dumbbell rows, and many other row variations are one of the best exercises for engaging and developing a big back.

Adding rows to your exercise program will not disappoint you as you smash your next bench press PR.

2) Lat Pulldown

Lat pulldowns are amazing at engaging your lats.

If you name a machine to help you work on a specific body part, it must be good, right?

But a lot of lifters do not feel themselves working the lats on the lat pulldown.

Do not worry, you are not alone.

There are many lifters who share your training pains as well.

That is why I have addressed that concern in the article linked above.

There are a few cues I shared that will really change your training experience with the lat pulldown.

3) Pull-ups

A third exericse I would recommend is the pull-up.

This versatile exercise can be done almost anywhere, with increasing resistance too.

It powerfully engages the lats and most of your back muscles while keeping your body conscious about how you are activating those muscles.

Conclusion

Feeling upper back soreness can be common for many lifters.

However, it is important to distinguish whether or not you are bench pressing with proper form.

For a majority of lifters, they have not developed a proper bench press technique in order to stabilize their shoulders.

As a result, they may feel more or less upper back soreness, depending on their body’s natural position to bench press.

It is important to protect your shoulders during the bench press as you can strain the small shoulder muscles with heavy loads.


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