Suffering Mid-Back Pain During Bicep Curls? Here’s Why & How to Fix it

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It feels weird to talk about pain in the middle of your back when doing bicep curls.

I mean, you’re training your biceps, so obviously you should be feeling it in your biceps.

Okay, I’ll admit that there are times when you may feel bicep curls in your forearms, wrists, elbows, and even shoulders.

But, surely not in the mid-back region?

However, you know as well as me that this does occasionally occur.

So, allow me to explain the reasons why and how you can fix this.

If you’re feeling pain in the middle of your back during bicep curls, this typically comes down to using momentum, hunching your back, rounding your shoulders, or having weak upper back muscles. If this is the case it’s likely that you’re trying to curl too much weight. You can counteract this by reducing the weight, performing bicep curls with your back against a wall, or using a staggered stance.

You’re Using Momentum During Bicep Curls

A Muscular Man Performing Dumbbell Bicep Curls

The most common reason that you experience mid-back pain during biceps curls is because you’re using momentum.

More specifically, you’re also using your back to curl the weight up.

This generally occurs if you’re not properly warmed up or if you’re trying to curl more weight than you can handle.

Firstly, most people typically perform a few lighter sets of bicep curls as a warm-up.

However, in truth, this is nowhere near enough.

Plus, once your biceps start to fatigue you’ll often use other muscles in order to curl the weight up.

Therefore, it makes sense to perform a full-body warm up, even if you are only training your biceps for that specific day.

Furthermore, you have to remember that your shoulders, traps, and back all need to stabilise when you’re holding a load in your hands.

So, it makes sense to warm these muscles up beforehand too.

With that being said, even if you have warmed up correctly, you may still be trying to curl too much weight.

If this is the case, you’re probably not using your biceps anymore to get the weight up, and it’s also likely that you’re swinging and using momentum.

You may not even notice it yourself, but I would hazard a guess that you’re rocking your torso forwards and backwards.

And unfortunately, this can eventually lead to straining your mid-back.

You’re Hunching Your Back

Jay Cutler: "Don't be a hunchback! Strong back muscles not only look good, but they also support your entire upper body and prevent injuries."

Hunching your back during bicep curls can be a major contributor to mid-back pain for several reasons:

Strain on muscles: When you hunch, your upper back muscles, particularly the rhomboids and middle trapezius, are forced to work overtime to pull your shoulders back and counteract the weight. This constant tension can lead to fatigue, soreness, and eventually pain.

Postural imbalance: Hunching disrupts the natural alignment of your spine, putting undue stress on the discs and other supporting structures in your mid-back. This misalignment can also lead to muscle imbalances, further exacerbating the problem.

Pinched nerves: The rounded posture associated with hunching can compress the nerves in your upper back and neck, causing radiating pain, tingling, or numbness.

Reduced core engagement: Hunching often involves disengaging your core, which leaves your back unsupported and vulnerable to injury. A strong core helps stabilize your spine and distribute the force of lifting more evenly, protecting your mid-back.

Decreased shoulder mobility: Rounded shoulders, a common consequence of hunching, can limit your shoulder’s range of motion during bicep curls. This reduced mobility forces other muscles, like your upper back muscles, to compensate, increasing the risk of strain and pain.

Tips to Prevent Hunching During Bicep Curls

Maintain a tall posture: Keep your spine straight, with your shoulders down and back. Imagine lengthening your neck as you stand tall.

Engage your core: Breathe deeply and tighten your abdominal muscles to provide stability and support for your back.

Focus on your back muscles: As you perform the bicep curl, actively engage your upper back muscles by squeezing your shoulder blades together.

Control the weight: Choose a weight that allows you to maintain proper form throughout the entire exercise. Avoid using momentum to swing the weights.

Stretch and strengthen: Regularly stretch your chest muscles and strengthen your upper back muscles to improve your posture and prevent hunching.

You’re Rounding Your Shoulders

Dr. Stuart McGill: "Rounded shoulders are like wearing a turtle shell in reverse. Protect your spine and posture by building a strong upper back."

Rounding your shoulders during bicep curls is a common form error with several disadvantages:

Reduced bicep activation: When your shoulders are rounded forward, the biceps are placed in a less optimal position for contraction, limiting their ability to generate force and fully engage during the curl. This can lead to decreased muscle growth and less effective exercise.

Increased risk of shoulder impingement: Rounding your shoulders compresses the space between your upper arm bone (humerus) and the bony structures of your shoulder joint (acromion and coracoid process). This can pinch the rotator cuff tendons, leading to inflammation, pain, and potential long-term injury.

Decreased stability: Rounded shoulders contribute to poor posture and instability in the shoulder joint. This makes it harder to control the weight during bicep curls, increasing the risk of dropping the weight or using momentum to compensate, which can further exacerbate the problem.

Postural imbalances: Chronic rounding of the shoulders can pull your head forward and tighten your chest muscles, further disrupting your natural spinal alignment and leading to additional aches and pains in the neck, upper back, and even lower back.

Tips to Prevent Rounding Your Shoulders

Maintain external rotation: Actively squeeze your shoulder blades together and down, externally rotating your upper arms throughout the exercise. This keeps the biceps in a strong position and opens up the shoulder joint space.

Engage your core: A strong core provides stability and helps prevent your upper body from collapsing forward. Focus on pulling your belly button in towards your spine during the curls.

Use lighter weights: Using weights that are too heavy can make it difficult to maintain proper form. Start with lighter weights and gradually increase the challenge as your strength improves.

Practice scapular retraction exercises: Exercises like rows, face pulls, and wall slides can help strengthen your upper back muscles and improve your shoulder blade control, making it easier to maintain good posture during bicep curls.

Stretch your chest muscles: Tight chest muscles can pull your shoulders forward. Regularly stretching your chest can help counteract this and improve your shoulder position.

You Have Weak Upper Back Muscles

Eric Cressey: "Weak upper back muscles are a recipe for shoulder pain and instability. Pull-ups and rows are your friends, not your enemies."

I’ve already spoken about the issue of “hunching”, which can cause pain during bicep curls.

However, hunching could also be a sign of weak upper back muscles.

Weak upper back muscles can contribute to various problems, and not just during bicep curls.  

Consequences of Weak Upper Back Muscles

Posture: The main consequence is likely poor posture. Weak upper back muscles can’t effectively pull your shoulders back and down, leading to slouching, rounding, and kyphosis (hunchback). This not only looks slouchy but also strains surrounding muscles and puts stress on the spine.

Pain: Poor posture due to weak upper back muscles can cause pain in the neck, shoulders, and upper back itself. Tightness and knots in the chest and rhomboid muscles are common.

Reduced shoulder stability: Weak upper back muscles can’t support and stabilize the shoulder joint properly, increasing the risk of injuries like impingement, rotator cuff tears, and even dislocations.

Limited movement: Lack of strength in the upper back restricts your range of motion in activities like reaching, throwing, and overhead movements.

Performance limitations: Weak upper back muscles can hinder your performance in various activities, including exercise, sports, and even everyday tasks like carrying groceries.

How to Identify Weak Upper Back Muscles

Postural assessment: Check if your shoulders are rounded forward, your head pokes forward, and your spine curves excessively.

Difficulty retracting shoulders: Try squeezing your shoulder blades together. If it feels weak or difficult, your upper back muscles might be weak.

Pain during specific exercises: Pain, especially during pulling exercises like rows or pull-ups, can indicate weakened upper back muscles.

How to Strengthen Your Upper Back Muscles

Exercises: Focus on exercises that target the rhomboids, middle trapezius, and posterior deltoids. Examples include rows, pull-ups, face pulls, wall slides, and scapular retraction exercises.

Progressive overload: Start with lighter weights and gradually increase as you get stronger.

Proper form: Maintain good posture and engage your core to isolate the upper back muscles during exercises.

Stretching: Tight chest muscles can pull your shoulders forward, so consider stretching your chest and pectorals regularly.

Additional Tips

Mindful posture: Throughout the day, consciously pull your shoulders back and down and straighten your posture.

Ergonomics: Adjust your computer screen and desk height to prevent slouching while working.

Take breaks: Avoid sitting for extended periods. Get up and move around to keep your back muscles active.

By strengthening your upper back muscles, you can improve your posture, reduce pain, enhance shoulder stability, improve your performance, and enjoy better overall movement and well-being.

Practical Solutions & Fixes

Here’s a couple of alternative ways to perform bicep curls, which should help you to avoid back pain.

Plus, my go to solution for mid-back pain at any time.

Try Bicep Curls Against a Wall

The torso of a muscular man performing dumbbell bicep curls with his back against a wall

A great way to really isolate the biceps is to perform curls with your back against a wall.

Obviously, this will take any momentum or potential swinging of the weights out of the equation.

So immediately, you’re placing less stress on your shoulders, traps, and back.

It also makes sense to perform wall biceps curls with a lighter weight.

In fact, you may find the movement itself to be much harder.

If this is the case, it’s likely that you’ve always used momentum when performing bicep curls.

So, not only is there the potential for injury, but you’re also stifling any potential biceps growth.

For me, I always like to perform bicep curls slowly, while adhering to perfect form, and using a higher rep range.

If you can do this, while having your back against a wall, you’re likely to experience much better bicep growth, as well as remaining injury-free.

Try Staggered Stance Bicep Curls

A lot of issues caused while lifting weights can actually be down to poor posture.

And this can be made worse by the type of work you do, as well as the lifestyle you lead.

What I mean by this is that many of us tend to spend many hours a day sitting at a desk.

Furthermore, we’re constantly looking down at our phones.

If you add to this that the only real activity you do is visiting the gym a few times a week, it can be a recipe for disaster.

Basically, it’s likely that you have poor posture, your shoulders are rolled forwards, and you generally stand or sit with a slouch.

This can cause problems when performing many exercises, and this includes bicep curls.

You can obviously combat this, as I’ve mentioned above, by performing bicep curls with your back against a wall.

However, something else to try is doing curls with a staggered stance.

So, you’ll have one foot forward and the other foot back, which in turn will provide a more stable base.

Plus, as you start to fatigue, you’ll be far more aware of any use of momentum while in the staggered stance position.

Additionally, a staggered stance will require you to activate your core, which is extremely important whenever you lift weights.

Foam Roll Your Back

An athletic woman foam rolling her upper back

Okay, so it’s likely that you may have strained muscles in your mid-back if you’re using momentum or trying to curl too much weight.

However, the pain could actually stem from your lower traps or your rhomboids.

Furthermore, there are a lot of muscle fibres in this area, so it could be that the fibres have become trapped or entangled with each other.

In fact, this can be fairly common for many people in the mid-back area.

And unfortunately, this can be quite painful, and is typically exasperated when performing certain weighted exercises.

A great way to literally “unknot” your upper and mid-back, traps, and rhomboids, is to foam roll.

Plus, if you initially find foam rolling extremely painful, it’s an indication that you potentially have various muscle fibres tangled up or trapped.

Realistically, you should be foam rolling various muscle groups on a regular basis.

Some people choose to have a specific day dedicated to foam rolling.

However, I’ve found that as I get older, it makes more sense to do a quick 5-10 minute session every single day.

Trust me, it will do wonders for your body, and you’re less likely to feel aches, pains, and strains in the most unlikely of places.

I can pretty much guarantee that your mid-back will thank you for it, and it’s less likely to hurt during bicep curls.

Final Thoughts

So, as you can see, the main reasons for bicep curls causing pain in the middle of your back are momentum, a hunched back, rounded shoulders, or weak upper back muscles.

However, these are issues you can work on and resolve.

These problems can be made worse if you’re trying to lift too much weight, so it makes sense to reduce the weight.

Furthermore, you should try doing bicep curls with your back against a wall, or with a staggered stance, as this will remove the use of momentum.

Plus, if you “feel” your upper or middle back regularly when exercising I would suggest that you incorporate some foam rolling, both before and after your workouts.

If you’re looking to take your biceps growth to the next level check out whether bicep curls are better seated or standing.

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