The overhead press is an exercise many gym-goers use for overall body conditioning as it works muscles in the legs, core and upper body. The overhead press is mostly known as a shoulder exercise, hence its other name, the shoulder press. It gives a well-balanced shoulder workout as it builds all of the muscles equally, unlike the bench press, which focuses primarily on the front of the shoulder.
While the overhead press can help prevent back injury from muscle imbalances, it can also be a source of pain if done with preexisting muscle imbalances and improper form. If you experience overhead press back pain, consider the following as possible causes.
Weak Abs and Glutes
Activating the muscles in the stomach and buttocks is an important part of injury prevention for any gym exercise. A balanced core workout should include bridges, which engage all muscles of the core, particularly the glutes and deep abdominal muscles. If your lower back muscles are very tight, you may need foam rolling to restore their elasticity.
It is not uncommon to see bodybuilders suffering from forward head posture, where the head juts forward and the shoulders are rounded. This is caused by an excess of chest exercises that aren’t counterbalanced by upper back exercises. The result is a tight chest and weak upper back. As the shoulders round, the thoracic spine in the upper back curves outward; this is called kyphosis. Excessive kyphosis limits the thoracic spine’s extension ability.
Thoracic flexibility is a crucial component of proper shoulder mechanics. As you push the barbell above your head, your shoulder blades need to be able to move throughout their range of motion in order for you to get the bar directly over your head. If the thoracic spine doesn’t extend, the scapulas’ motion is inhibited. In order for the bar to be over your head, your lower back must bend in to compensate for the lack of flexibility in the upper back, creating hyperextension.
Fixing this problem involves foam rolling of the chest and strengthening of the upper back. You may need to work with a physical therapist, depending on the extent of your postural dysfunction.
If you experience back pain during the overhead press, you may simply be doing the exercise with too much weight on the bar. While perfecting your form and ensuring that your muscles are balanced, use a low weight and work your way up.
The overhead press can be a back pain exercise or a cause of back pain depending on how you approach it. Keeping a well-balanced body and paying attention to your form will help prevent lower back pain when working out.
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