Training

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

Updated May 17th 2021

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.

Eccentric control of your chest muscles is important for bench pressing power. This is controlling the weight down to your chest.

Yet, your back muscles are performing eccentric training while you pushing the weight away from your chest.

This is one reason why your back is sore after any upper body chest workout.

The eccentric strength training of your upper back is often stated as stabilization of your upper and middle back.

Just as you would practice lowering yourself from a pull-up or chin-up, it is the same exact motion except you are lying flat on a bench. 

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.

  1. You are squeezing your scapula too hard
  2. You have weak shoulders
  3. You have tight shoulders
  4. You have bad form
  5. You have overall bad posture

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.

You might be shaking during bent over rows and just quit being consistent with the exercise.

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 a 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.

Do not forget to check if your wrists are bent during the bench press.

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 with the public.

Reverse that situation to you, would you take nutrition advice from an 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.

This can be one reason for your bench press stall.

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.

 

Upper trap soreness during the bench press is a sign that you are not properly retracting your shoulders properly.

If you are just shrugging your shoulders upward, you might think you are doing shoulder retractions, which is bringing your shoulders back.

Especially for beginners, this is a common bench press technique mistake to make.

It was one of my first bench pressing mistakes actually.

I probably performed both upper trap shrugs and shoulder retractions for about 3 months until I continued to watch videos of myself benching along with advice from more experienced bench pressers.

I made the correction by eliminating the shrugs from my bench press set-up.

That was just an error that needed to be fixed.

Once I got comfortable with just shoulder retractions, I added in shoulder depressions.

At first, it is a subtle movement but it becomes very noticeable once you continue to bench press in your strength training range, 75-90% of your 1RM.

v) Check your posture

If you have a forward head-lean, know that your upper back (thoracic region) 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.

There is a reason why doing deadlifts will result in a sore 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 softball 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

Adding compound upper back exercises for at least 3 sets of 5 repetitions will allow you to have enough volume to strengthen your upper and mid back to be able to stabilize your bench press for both eccentric and concentric control.

  1. Rows
  2. Lat pulldowns
  3. Pull ups

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.

Chances are that you will have barbell rows and deadlifts on the same day.

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 exercise 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.

You can achieve good size arms while you transition into weighted pullups.

Upper back pain after chest workouts

Just as you might have upper back pain from the overhead press, you can have upper back paresthesia.

It is not a common symptom. What you might be feeling is just general soreness if your chest workout was 24-48hours prior to the soreness feeling.

If pain is felt, you will know.

It is sharp and sudden. It does not feel great.

Let us get to the bottom of why your symptoms are occurring:

Confusing back pain for neck pain, tight muscles and muscle cramps are several reasons why you are having upper back pain after chest workouts.

  • Neck pain confused by upper back pain

The lower neck and the upper back are connected entities.

The upper back pain you might be feeling can originate from your lower neck.

Whether you have a pinched nerve or tight neck muscles, your neck pain is radiating down your body.

  • Muscle tightness

Your upper back is tight and it needs to relax.

Stretches, massages, soft music... everybody has their methods.

While the most common methods are effective in helping you relax, make sure you are self-sufficient.

Knowing exactly why your muscles are tight is an important first step.

  1. Is it your upper traps?
  2. Is it your rhomboids?
  3. Is it your posterior delts?
  4. Is it your rotator cuff?
  5. Is it your lats?

Your rhomboids, middle traps, and lower traps make up more of the middle part of your back.

Lifters may not have the proprioception of where the tightness is on their back. 

With developed musculature, overlapping is possible.

There are a ton of muscles that could be the culprit and it could be a combination of cases.

Though that is unlikely, be aware of your own body so that you can figure out what is wrong.

  • Muscle cramps

If you are dehydrated or lack electrolytes, you will cramp and feel pain.

You will know this type of pain immediately since it will prevent you from working out at your maximum capacity.

Conclusion

Feeling upper back soreness can be common for many lifters.

Not just from the bench press but I also get a sore upper back from squats as well.

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.

It also prevents lifters from achieving their full potential for the bench press.

"How rare is a 405lbs bench press" should not be a question we should be asking... it should be asking about how long we have been bench pressing with good form.


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