After 6+ weeks of no exercise and lockdown I found that just 10 press ups brought pain to my main neck muscle. So I have a painful sternocleidomastoid but I want to strengthen my chest (well, everything, really!)

What exercises can I do to regain chest strength without putting excess stress or tension on that muscle?

I'm thinking punching either with/out a bag (which I'm used to, having a martial arts background)?

  • Are you straining to look up while you do push-ups, or something like that?
    – C. Lange
    Sep 29, 2020 at 22:27
  • Yes. I think I strain the neck muscles when doing push ups, curls and sit ups. Very difficult not to do it. Didn't think I was doing it so much during press ups, but I must be. Either that, or the press up itself (using the chest and shoulder muscles) is causing it to get irritated.
    – Matt W
    Sep 30, 2020 at 4:44
  • Can you do wall push ups without pain?
    – Dark Hippo
    Sep 30, 2020 at 12:05
  • It doesn’t hurt when I do wall push ups, but it doesn’t hurt as such when I do regular push ups. It hurts afterwards, like the next day. I did 10 of them 3 days ago and my neck is killing me today, like it got worse over these 3 days. When I do them against the wall, at present, I can feel the tension in the painful muscle.
    – Matt W
    Sep 30, 2020 at 20:02

1 Answer 1


I have had this same issue in the past, for me pushups were just extremely uncomfortable and I was never able to hit my strength limit before I had to stop.

First of all, using a punching bag for some boxing routines would be extremely beneficial for certain areas of your chest (serratus, lower outer, and upper outer chest). Most boxers rely on a strong chest for punching power so beating up a bag at high intensity for 10-15 could really only do good.

A couple of exercises I have done in Calisthenics over the past few years are:

  • Put a bar over two chairs and lay on the ground, pull your chest as close as you can to the bar. Essentially, this is like an inverted bench press. Paused reps are good on this one, increasing the time under tension.
  • Chest dips. They are the best done with the proper equipment, but chairs or something of the sorts will do just fine. The key with chest dips is using the right form, otherwise you will be strengthening your shoulders/triceps rather than your chest. You can either google the form or just feel it out on your own. Everyone has a different body, whatever way you feel is putting significant tension on your chest, that is the one to do.
  • Resistance bands are great if you have. And if you don't, a great set on Amazon is like 30 dollars. This will allow you to do chest flys and other variants, which may be the most beneficial exercise among the three I mentioned.
  • Thank you. I have resistance bands, but not sure how I'd do chest flies with them. How long do I need to avoid the basic press up, do you think? Just until I find it stops twinging or is there a more defined method to check whether the muscle is ready or not?
    – Matt W
    Oct 2, 2020 at 12:25
  • 1
    @MattW You will definitely notice a difference, but avoid them for a while. If your chest is weak, much of the press up will be done with the shoulders and arms, and lots of strain will be put on your neck and upper back. A good test is to do paused reps with full extension, really work on proper form. Press ups are not actually a great exercise unless they are done right! For the chest flies, I stick my resistance bands in the top crack of a door and close it. Then, with one side of the band in each hand, start with your arms extended outwards and pull them into the center of your chest. Oct 2, 2020 at 13:50
  • Thank you :) Excellent advice!
    – Matt W
    Oct 2, 2020 at 14:10

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