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When I was doing a 5x5 based workout a year or so ago, I had issues when trying to push the weight on the overhead press. Even though the weight felt comfortable in the sense that I could do at least 5 reps with a minimum of a few sets, twice on separate occasions I pulled a muscle in my upper-back/neck which prevented me from working out again for 2-3 days before it healed.

I switched to doing seated press and haven't had an issue with it until recently. While doing a higher yet still comfortable weight on bench-press, I pulled the same muscle and am baffled as to how it could happen doing such an exercise.

My question is, what am I doing wrong on both exercises that could be putting so much strain in an area that isn't a main muscle for the workout (especially in the bp case)? And what could I change in my form to help prevent this?

Form description

I had a spotter on both instances, during ohp they didn't mention anything about my form being wrong, and I followed the head movement described for most ohp forms when lifting the weight up.

For bp, I arch my back and assume typical bp form.

Injury description:

Prevents me from turning my head left or right to the normal maximum degree without straining/pain in the pulled muscle area.

Below I've circled where I feel the most strain from the pull.

enter image description here

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I'd check your posture and shoulder mobility. – Dave Liepmann Apr 2 '14 at 22:36
This happened to me exactly as you defined doing 5×5 shoulder press. After x ray and MRI looks like I have a slipped disc in c6-7. If you have any issues going into your arm get checked out ASAP. Might want to get it checked out anyways – Darrick Jun 6 at 18:45

2 Answers 2

Looks like you've got a strain in your trap and rhomboid muscles as a result of a muscle imbalance. The first thing I would do is not arch my back when doing bench presses. Try keeping your legs up on the bench with your feet flat. Also, make sure you are lowering the bar to your sternum and not the upper chest. Otherwise, you may be offloading the workload to your upper shoulder/neck area. As for shoulder presses, I would not perform the press from behind my neck (if that's what you're doing) until you've worked on strengthening your traps. Try performing the shoulder press from in front of your neck.

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I don't do ohp any more, but seated press using dumbbells. When I was, I pressed in front of the neck. What you described for my bp seems accurate, I will try your advice today and let you know if it helps relieve the pressure. Can you suggest something I could use to help strengthen the trapezius? Also could you elaborate more on the muscle imbalance if you don't mind? – JWiley Apr 2 '14 at 17:02
Simply put, muscle imbalance means that your other supporting muscles are not as strong or as dominant. This can happen if they are not exercised as much as the other muscles. For strengthening the traps, you should look at possibly doing upright rows, or, some form of shrugs (barbell or dumbbell) – rrirower Apr 2 '14 at 17:06
I do rows and shrugs regularly in my workout, and don't think I have a muscle imbalance to a degree that would be a direct cause of the strain, more of a combined factor if anything. Is there a possible other cause that could be causing the strain? Thanks for all the information so far. – JWiley Apr 2 '14 at 18:03
Without knowing more, I would guess that exercise form is the most probable cause. – rrirower Apr 2 '14 at 18:08

This literally just happened to me today even though my back is actually very strong as well as my traps/ rear delts/ rhomboids. The problem occurred as I attempted to unrack the barbell. I use a powerlifting set up for bench press and therefore had positioned my body slightly backward away from the bar as to create an arch in my back while flexing my lats and traps. Unracking the loaded barbell from a distance is what I think cause the injury because I was unable to lift the barbell straight upwards, but was forced to lift it from an angle. Why would you recommend putting your feet on the bench? I thought leg drive was good.

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