Push Press 101: Why is Overhead Pressing Hurting My Lower Back? Part 1

By djpope

February 3, 2013

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

If you guys have been following this site for any length of time you know that I’m a huge fan of cleaning up your technique on all of your lifts.  It will do just about everything from making you a more efficient athlete and reducing your risk of injury to filling in your bald spot on the top of your head.

I think that most coaches and athletes understand the idea of keeping your spine in a neutral position and moving from your hips during exercises like squats, deadlifts and olympic lifts.  I know I run around like a madman at class screaming back flat!

Taken from eorthopod.com

The flip side of the coin is keeping your lower back in a stable position as we press overhead, perform pushups and work on toes to bar.  When I was competing more often in strongman I’d see a lot of athletes with something called spondylolisthesis.  Sounds bad right?  Well it is.  As you can see in the picture you’ve got a slippage of your vertebrae forward on the vertebrae below it.

Unfortunately you’ve got something important called your spinal cord that sits inside of your spinal canal and it can be pressed upon when you’ve got this condition.  Bad news bears to say the least.

Taken from nismat.org

How do we get it?  Overextension.  It’s a common injury in gymnasts because they are constantly hyperextending their lumbar spine (lower back) as part of the demands of the sport.  Basically the spine is being bent backwards too far. It’s not just spondylolisthesis that is problematic though.  Overextension of the lumbar spine can cause plenty of pain and damage to the lower back (facet joint damage, spondylolysis, spondylosis, arthritis etc. etc.) without actually causing the more severe spondylolisthesis.

Source: www.crossfit.com

Why is this a problem in crossfit and overhead pressing athletes?  Well, you can easily get overextension in your lumbar spine during things like overhead press, handstand pushups and as seen to the right, kettlebell swings overhead.

Well why does this happen?

  1. Poor thoracic Spine and Shoulder Mobility
  2. Poor core stability
  3. The weight’s too damn heavy.

Next week we’ll go over strategies to fix this.  Until then don’t go out there and destroy your lower back in the meanwhile!

Love and Push Press,



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