Push Press 101: Why Does Push Press Hurt My Lower Back? Part 2

By djpope

February 11, 2013

lower back pain, overhead press, push press, spondylolisthesis
Source: www.ironmind.com
Source: www.ironmind.com

If you missed it, in Part 1 we talked all about why your lower back might hurt from doing overhead press.

So how do we fix it?

1) Check to see if you’ve got adequate thoracic spine and shoulder mobility – Read this previous article I wrote and use the standing overhead wall test

Then… fix said crappy mobility.

Here are some other thoracic spine mobility drills I really like:

2) Assess your core stability with the FMS Core Stability Pushup test

Were you able to complete the pushup with your thumbs at your eye level without your lower back arching?  If not then fix your core stability.

***There are literally hundreds of exercises you could use to fix this.  The important thing to keep in mind is that you’re going to have to learn how to keep a neutral spine position (aka keep your lower back from extending excessively) when pressing.

Here are another two of my favorite exercises for core stability: Around the World, Lizard Crawl

3. Learn How to Press Properly

Here is a video of me trying my damndest to press with lumbar curve held in overextension.


  1. Big curve in my lumbar curve
  2. Rib cage is held up high.
  3. I hyperextend my spine in the intial dip of the press
  4. I hyperextend my spine to finish the lift

Fixing the Push Press.

  1. Start with the bar held up high against the throat:  Your elbows can either be directly under the bar or slightly in front.  The bar should be stable in this position
  2. Dip straight down and straight up:  If you dip by sending the hips back first it will send your torso forward and make it harder to press overhead.
  3. Press in a straight line over your head finishing the press with your shoulders.

Press Start GoodPress Finish GoodWe want to start and finish each repetition with a neutral spine.  We also want to try and keep the spine neutral throughout the entire press.  Do your best to keep the ribcage down throughout the lift.

A note about heavy lifts:  During very heavy lifts it’s natural to want to try and get a bigger curve in the lumbar spine in order to put some of the larger more powerful muscles of the pectorals into use.  Although this is definitely helpful in moving more weight, it’s also going to create that nasty excessive lumbar curve.

For athletes where overhead press numbers are important for your sport (especially log press in strongman) it’s helpful to really squeeze your glutes and bring your hips forward as you press the weight overhead to create some spinal stability.

For the regular Joe’s out there, just lighten the load, keep your torso more upright and keep your spine in a neutral position during the entire lift.

Putting it all together:

There it is guys.  When we think about low back pain the first thing that usually comes to mind is the lower back rounding during deadlifts and squats.  Hopefully this opened your mind to other causes of back pain that we should be aware of at the gym.

Just a quick reminder to keep the weights light enough so that you can keep your technique together.

Go Press a Boulder Overhead,

Dan Pope

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