If you’ve ever suffered the indignity of hamstring cramp during bench press, you know just how bad this can be.
I know it seems like a laughing matter to your gym buddies, but for you, the pain is real.
Plus, it just doesn’t seem right that your hammies are cramping up during an exercise that is specifically aimed at targeting your pecs.
So, what exactly is going on here?
In this article I’d like to explain why you get hamstring cramp during bench press and what you can do to fix it.
Hamstring Cramp During Bench Press
The main reason you get hamstring cramp during bench press is from straining yourself through excessive effort. This often happens if you’re using leg drive while you bench press. Then again, it could simply be a case that you’re trying to bench more weight than you can handle. Additionally, you should ensure that you’re taking on plenty of fluids and electrolytes if cramp is a regular occurrence for you. Plus, tight or weak glutes and hamstrings could also be a cause for cramp.
1. You’re Overdoing Leg Drive
I would hazard a guess that if you’re getting hamstring cramps during bench press then you’re using leg drive.
Yes, leg drive is a legitimate way to bench press, but it can also be the cause of your cramps.
This is especially true if you haven’t warmed up and performed some dynamic stretches for your lower body.
It could be the case that you have warmed-up your upper body, especially your pecs and other pushing muscles, but you have neglected your lower body.
Even though your glutes and hamstrings aren’t specifically moving the weight, they do have a major role to play during leg drive.
So, of course, it makes sense that they are primed and ready for what they’re about to face.
I will also say that there is a tendency to really strain and force leg drive when you’re benching heavier weights.
Therefore, this could also simply be a case of straining your hamstrings due to the amount of effort you’re putting in.
A final factor to consider is whether you’re training for strength or hypertrophy.
The reason I say this is that I believe that leg drive is fine for strength training.
Your aim is to bench as much weight as you possibly can, so a little extra “help” is perfectly acceptable.
However, if your specific aim is to build muscle then I would suggest that you stop using leg drive.
Your aim here is to activate the pecs as much as possible, while taking the barbell through the full range of motion.
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So, don’t use your legs, and allow your pecs to take the full strain.
2. You’re Benching Too Much Weight
I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again, many of the issues we face in the gym often come down to trying to lift too much weight.
And the bench press is certainly no different.
Yes, I completely understand the need and want to progressively overload.
We all want to be adding weight to our bench press on a weekly basis.
However, I’m still a great believer in adhering to perfect form and ensuring that you have the weight fully under control.
In fact, I would rather add reps, sets, or even take shorter rest periods, than adding weight.
I guess this does come down to (once more) whether you’re training for strength or hypertrophy.
Plus, this ties in quite well with what I’ve already mentioned above.
If you’re trying to bench more weight than you can potentially handle, you’ll generally start bringing other body parts and muscle groups into the equation.
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This, once again, is about overly straining and trying to create as much force as possible.
In fact, I’ve often seen people squirming around on the bench in order to press that one final rep.
Does this sound familiar?
Yes, I agree that you should be training with intensity.
Plus, your workout shouldn’t feel easy, and it is there to test you.
However, there is a fine line between trying to up your intensity and simply attempting to lift too much weight.
So, if you’re regularly feeling hamstring cramp when you bench, it may be time to reduce the weight somewhat and focus more on great form.
3. Hydration & Electrolytes
I guess this is the most obvious reason that you’re feeling hamstring cramp during bench press.
And yet, it’s something that many of us tend to ignore.
Clearly, you need to ensure that you’re drinking enough water on a daily basis.
Plus, this requirement for water is even more essential if you’re regularly active and exercise a lot.
Basically, your body needs water to function anyway, but your levels of activity could mean that you’re losing water quicker than you’re taking it on (sweating).
I would say as a bare minimum you should be drinking 0.5 ounces of water per pound of body weight.
And you can increase this up to one ounce of water per pound of body weight if you’re particularly active.
Your hamstring cramp could also be due to a lack of electrolytes, e.g. potassium, calcium, magnesium, etc.
So, it makes sense to get some more of these nutrients into your system.
Fluid & Electrolytes – Foods With Electrolytes
4. Do Some Posterior Chain Stretching
If you adhere to all the above factors, but still experience hamstring cramps during bench press, then this points to a potential tightness/weakness in the posterior chain muscles.
In fact, this is actually extremely common, and many people have tight glutes and hamstrings.
You wouldn’t think tight or weak glutes and hamstrings would affect your bench press, but it turns out they do.
Plus, as I say, many people seem to have this issue, especially in the modern day and age.
If you think about it, we tend to live a far more sedentary lifestyle nowadays.
Additionally, we spend far too many hours sitting, typically hunched over a computer screen.
Furthermore, the simple fact that we’re constantly looking down at our phones, or driving rather than walking, will also have an impact.
Basically, sitting on your butt for long periods will typically lead to poor posture.
This is most apparent by your head and shoulders being slouched forward.
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However, this can also lead to issues with your lower back, glutes, and hamstrings.
I’ll even say that this may not be helped if your lower-body training is especially quad dominant.
So, I would suggest that you spend some time stretching your lower back, glutes and hamstrings prior to benching.
In fact, it’s a good idea to perform these stretches on a daily basis, whether you’re working out or not.
Plus, it also makes a great deal of sense to strengthen these areas of your body, especially your glutes.
The glutes are the largest muscle in the body, and they are the main muscle that connects the upper body to the lower body.
Therefore, strong and well-trained glutes can make a world of difference to your time in the gym and your lifestyle in general.
So, as you can see, hamstring cramp during bench press typically comes down to overexerting yourself.
This is most apparent if you’re using leg drive to bench press.
There is a tendency to squeeze and contract just about every muscle in your body in an attempt to get the barbell up.
This will typically bring other muscles into play and it can be quite easy to strain or cramp your hamstrings.
The exact same thing can be said if you’re benching with too much weight.
Once more, you’re probably having to use other muscles in order to complete your reps.
You should also ensure that you’re well hydrated and take on ample electrolytes.
Finally, this could be down to a tightness or weakness, especially in the glutes and hamstrings.
I would recommend that you stretch your lower back, glutes, and hamstrings prior to benching.
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Hi, I’m Partha, the founder of My Bodyweight Exercises. I’m someone who’s been passionate about exercise and nutrition for more years than I care to remember. I’ve studied, researched, and honed my skills for a number of decades now. So, I’ve created this website to hopefully share my knowledge with you. Whether your goal is to lose weight, burn fat, get fitter, or build muscle and strength, I’ve got you covered.