The bench press is probably the most prominent chest exercise, although it does engage the traps and upper back to some extent.
With that being said, the last thing you’d expect after bench pressing is for your traps to hurt.
However, this can occur, and it can dramatically affect the amount of weight you can press.
So, allow me to explain why your traps hurt after bench press and what you can do to solve this.
Here’s Why Your Traps Hurt After Bench Press
There are various reasons why your traps hurt after bench press. Firstly, your traps and upper back muscles are heavily involved during the bench press. In fact, they are trained eccentrically when you press the barbell up. So, a particularly intense or heavy set of bench presses can be felt in your traps and upper back. Furthermore, trap pain can be caused by either squeezing your scapula too hard or not depressing the scapula prior to pressing.
Your Traps Are Involved in the Bench Press
The bench press is viewed as the “go-to” chest exercise for most lifters.
Plus, you’ll also work the shoulders and triceps too.
So, if anything’s going to hurt after bench press, you’d expect it to be one of these muscle groups.
With that being said, the upper back and traps are antagonistic muscle groups to the chest.
Therefore, they will always be involved in some way whenever you bench press.
Basically, when a muscle is contracted, the antagonistic muscle will relax, and vice versa.
However, the traps (and upper back) play a slightly more important role during bench presses.
In effect, your upper back and traps will go through eccentric training when you push the barbell away from your chest.
In fact, the amount of work your upper back and traps have to do is similar to when you lower yourself from a pull up or chin up.
So, it is perfectly natural to have sore traps when you bench press.
Obviously, this feeling will be exaggerated during a particular heavy or intense benching session.
But, it’s not unheard-of to feel your traps whenever you bench.
You’re Squeezing Your Scapula Too Hard
One particular form cue for bench press is to retract the scapula.
In fact, you should actually retract and depress the scapula, but I’ll get to this in a moment.
Basically, the main joints used by the bench press are the shoulders and the elbows.
However, when you retract your shoulder blades there isn’t as much stress placed on these joints.
Additionally, retracting your shoulder blades also allows you to bench more effectively.
So, as you can see, pulling your shoulder blades back and down will not only support your joint health, but it will also make you a better bench presser.
With that being said, there is a tendency to squeeze the scapula too hard in order to get yourself into this “safe position”.
In fact, this typically occurs when you’re not used to retracting your shoulder blades.
In truth, there are various exercises which require scapula retraction.
However, if this isn’t a movement that you practice too often then you may find that you typically overdo it.
This is definitely a case of more not being better.
So, if you are squeezing your shoulder blades excessively hard during bench presses it’s likely that your traps will feel very sore afterwards.
You’re Not Depressing Your Scapula
I’ve just mentioned about depressing the shoulder blades too when you bench press.
Realistically, prior to benching you want to pull your shoulder blades back and then down.
I frequently liken this to trying to tuck your shoulder blades into your back pockets.
Then again, I’ve spoken about holding an imaginary tennis ball in-between your shoulder blades.
So, it’s not just a case of pulling your shoulder blades back, but also depressing them or pulling them down.
Unfortunately, if you don’t also pull your shoulder blades down (depress them), as well as pulling them back, then you’ll engage the upper traps much more.
This isn’t actually always a problem, although it doesn’t adhere to strict form.
However, if you’re someone who doesn’t actively train your upper traps then a lack of scapula depression during bench press will leave your upper traps feeling very sore.
You Have Weak or Tight Shoulders
Even though the bench press is primarily a chest exercise, there is a great deal of work for the shoulders to do.
In fact, I’ve never been a fan of specifically training the anterior delts if you bench press regularly.
Basically, the front shoulders are worked extremely hard during bench presses.
So, if you bench press fairly often, there really isn’t any need to ever perform an exercise like front raises.
Furthermore, strong and healthy shoulders are key to a great bench press.
If your shoulders are strong and mobile you should find that you’re benching heavier, while not experiencing any pain or discomfort.
With that being said, weak or tight shoulders will impact your bench press, plus you’re more likely to feel the movement in your upper back and traps.
Personally, I truly believe that everyone should perform regular scapula retraction exercises.
A couple of my favourites include band pull aparts and face pulls.
Both these exercises are fantastic for properly learning scapula retraction and depression.
Additionally, they will help to both strengthen your shoulders and make them more mobile.
Do This EVERY SINGLE DAY (Workout or Not)
You Have Poor Posture
The final reason that your traps hurt after bench press is down to your posture.
We now live in a society where poor posture has reached almost epidemic proportions.
And this is especially true of forward head posture.
Basically, we spend most of our day either hunched over a computer screen or staring down into a smartphone.
Unfortunately, poor posture will make its way into our everyday lives.
So, it’s not uncommon to feel certain aches and pains simply because of how we carry ourselves.
If you are someone who suffers with forward head posture then your upper back is going to be quite weak.
This is made worse during bench presses, as you’re either not used to or unable to draw your head back when you retract your shoulder blades.
This will immediately lead to soreness in the upper back and traps whenever you bench,
The solution is to spend more time working on scapula retraction and lat exercises in order to strengthen the traps and upper back.
So, you’re looking at a healthy combination of face pulls, band pull aparts, rows and pull ups to help correct your posture, while also strengthening your weak links.
So, I hope you understand that the traps, as well as the upper back, are involved in the bench press.
Basically, they are antagonistic muscles, which will be worked eccentrically whenever you press the barbell away from your chest.
You should retract your scapula when you bench press, but squeezing your shoulder blades back too hard can result in sore traps.
With that being said, sore traps after bench press could be down to having weak or tight shoulders, or poor posture.
However, these issues can typically be solved by having more concentration of scapula retraction and upper back exercises.
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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.