Why Does My Upper Back Hurt After Push Ups? (4 Things to Know)

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The main reason that your upper back hurts after push ups is because of poor posture. This is typically caused if you spend many hours a day with the shoulders rounded or rolled forward, e.g. hunched over a computer. This can eventually lead to an issue with the pec minor muscle. Plus, it can also make the levator scapulae and rhomboid minor muscles more dominant than the upper traps.

You Have Poor Posture (of the Shoulders)

A Man With Neck/Upper Back Pain

Poor posture seems to have reached almost epidemic proportions in the modern day-and-age.

I guess far more of us spend many hours a day in a sitting position, typically hunched over a computer, than ever before.

Regardless, of how often you train, or how fit and healthy you think you are, spending many hours a day sitting will have eventual consequences.

I have previously written about your lats feeling sore after push ups.

And this can also be caused by poor posture, plus a mix of muscle imbalances and weaknesses.

However, the pain you feel in your upper back after push ups is probably even more of a posture issue.

If you think about it, if you spend 8-10 hours a day hunched over in this position, then a 45-60 minute workout isn’t going to cure you completely.

Of course, being active and exercising is far better than doing nothing at all.

But, you will need to focus a lot more on specifically fixing your posture.

As I say, years of holding your body in an incorrect manner can’t be fixed within just a few days.

You Have Levator Scapulae & Rhomboid Minor Dominance

Okay, I’ll try to not get too technical here.

However, that upper back pain you’re feeling after push ups could be down to certain muscle imbalances

More specifically the levator scapulae and rhomboid minor are more dominant than the traps.

The levator scapulae is a muscle that is situated on the back and side of the neck.

Levator Scapulae

The rhomboid minor is a muscle that connects the scapula (shoulder blade) to the vertebrae of the spinal column

So, as you can see the muscles are extremely close to each other, and it is generally around this area that your upper back may hurt after push ups.

The rhomboids are located on the upper back and underneath the trapezius muscles.

The levator scapulae works in conjunction with both the rhomboids and trapezius muscles.

Rhomboid Minor
Rhomboid Minor

Now the reason that these two muscles could be more dominant than the trapezius muscles is usually because of overdeveloped chest muscles, or the shoulders are rolled forward.

So, basically this could be down to poor posture again.

Or you work the chest far more than the upper back and traps.

Sound familiar?

You’re Not Retracting Your Shoulders During Push Ups

So, your shoulders could be rolled or hunched forward in your everyday life due to poor posture.

However, you definitely shouldn’t have your shoulders in this position when performing push ups.

Prior to doing push ups you should retract the shoulders.

So, in effect, you are drawing the shoulders back and down.

I often liken this to trying to hold an imaginary tennis ball between your shoulder blades behind you.

You should actually retract the shoulders prior to just about any pushing exercises, such as the bench press or overhead press.

In fact, this is even true of upper body pulling exercises like pulls ups, chin ups, and rows.

Retracting the shoulders will help to ensure that your upper back doesn’t hurt after push ups.

Plus, this will lead to better form and the targeted muscles being worked correctly.

As soon as you retract your shoulders, you’re more likely to keep your elbows tucked in during push ups.

And this of course will help to target the chest, shoulders, and triceps far better.

So, fix your form before you start doing push ups (or any other pushing or pulling exercise) by pulling your shoulders back and down.

And you should find that you’re good to go.

Perform Static Manual Release Exercises For The Pec Minor

Yet another small, but extremely important muscle, is the pectoralis minor.

This is a triangular-shaped muscle located underneath the more famous pec major.

The pec minor also plays a role in retracting the shoulder.

Pectoralis Minor Muscle

Plus, yet again, the muscle can be affected by poor posture.

I hope you’re starting to understand that poor posture plays a massive role in many of the aches and pains that we typically suffer when working out, or at rest.

If you have tight pec minor muscles it tends to pull the shoulder blade down and forward.

This is why you’ll often see someone who appears to have their shoulder blades poking out of their back.

You can work on fixing this issue with static manual release (SMR) of the pec minor muscle.

However, as with poor posture, this isn’t an overnight fix, but something that you’ll have to continuously work on.

With that being said, performing SMR prior to doing push ups can actually help to release the soft tissues around the pec minor.

And this will ensure that you can perform push ups with a pain-free upper back.

Final Thoughts

So, hopefully you now understand why your upper back hurts after push ups.

As you can see, this is typically down to either muscle imbalances or weakness.

However, these are generally brought on by poor posture.

So, you will need to work on these various aspects in order to improve your posture and the muscles I have mentioned.

It’s also extremely important to remember to retract your shoulders prior to doing push ups.

In fact, make sure you pull your shoulders back and down prior to doing just about every upper body exercise, whether pushing or pulling.

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