T Nation

Head pain during bench presses

Something has happened to me in the past couple of weeks, and I don’t know what it is.

Last week, I was doing a standard flat bench, with a weight that was maybe 60% of my 1RM, so I’m not really straining too hard here. I was pushing the weight over my head at a very slow 4141 pace. As I was pressing it, I began to feel this pressure in the back of my head, like a mini-headache begin. I lowered the weight, and pushed it up again, and this mini pain suddenly became SO painful I had to rack the weight. It felt like an instantaneous tension headache in the back of my head. I sat up, and some of it began to subside, but this deep throb remained. I wondered if I strained my neck a little bit, and so, I did some loosening exercises: I locked and held my hands on forehead, and pushed against them in a ‘head-butt’ motion, squeezed and held, for a number of times, and then did it with the back of my head, rolled my head around…I did this for about 5 minutes, and then started another bench set. The first 3 reps were fine, and then suddenly, I feel the pressure in the back of my head, and it bloomed to this horrible pain and pressure so fast and so intense that I had to rack the weight after 4 again, squinting in pain. I decided to stop for the night.

Later that evening, and the next day, I felt nothing at all, and I basically totally forgot about it. I experienced no muscular soreness in the back of my neck or anyplace after that, not even a lingering headache.

Last night, I did bench again, and this time, I limbered up my neck before I began. I did a warm-up set of 10 4141 reps of a light weight, no problem. For my second set, I put 200 pounds on there, squeezed out 3 reps without incident, and then felt the pain begin in the back of my head, and as I pushed up the weight for the 4th rep, I felt it spread across the back of my head (I imagined an inkblot getting bigger), again, so intense that I grunted in pain, and racked the weight. While I was doing it, I wondered if my neck was too tense or something, but as the pain spread, I lifted my head off the bench and moved it around above the padding - there was no tension really back there at all! (I thought maybe I was pushing too hard with my head into the bench). By now, I was very frustrated, as I could lift a lot more weight. So, I thought “ok, you bastard. I’ll try it again, except I’ll mash my head as hard as I can against the padding.” This time, I was able to finish the set. Also, instead of looking straight up, I angled my head back a bit so my neck wasn’t actually resting on the padding. I finished the set, and the workout, with a pulsing tension-type headache.

Later that evening (and this is the scary part) I lay down on the couch to watch some tv, and propped my neck on a pillow - and felt the pain begin again! It feels like someone is squeezing the back of your skull so hard it's going to explode. My face started to get hot, and I immediately sat up. It also contributed to make me feel slightly nauseated.

Today, the back of my head still feels like it’s being squeezed, but not as badly, but the pain is still there. I’m starting to worry now, because I just have no idea what the problem is. I know it’s not a muscle strain in my neck, because they feel totally fine - the pain is centralized in the very nape of my neck, where the spinal cord joins the skull.

Has anybody ever had this? What on earth could it be? I have this mental image of a bulging vein in my head about to burst. A pinched nerve?

Also, was I correct in tilting my head back a little to create a little bit of an arch with my neck so it’s not resting on the bench? It seemed to help a little bit.

Any insights would be really, really appreciated.

It’s caused by your blood pressure going up suddenly and probably some constriction from pushing your head back against the pad. It is usually only caused by Leg press and bench press. You might try not to dig your head so hard into the pad and try not to hold your breath at any time during the set.

I had the exact same thing happen to me a couple fo weeks ago, it happened in 2 consecutive training sessions, the first time I was doing deads, and the lower part of the back of my skull felt like it was about to explode, the next time it happened while I was doing my great guns workout. I think it happened because I was straingn my face/neck, when I lift heavy I tend to tense my neck and head up, so now when I lift I try to work on relaxing my face/neck. First time it happened, scared the hell out of me, I thought I was having and a brain anurism (s/p?), and almost passed out.

Stratocaster - literally, I feel your pain! The problem is I don’t know exactly where it stems from. The first time I did it was in high school (I’m 29 now) and it seems every 1-2 years I do it again. I have felt it in bench press too, as well as deadlifts and squats. I like to think I’m fairly conscious of my form and not holding my breath too much or anything else simple I can think of. I have asked a few GP’s over the years, massage therapists, chiro’s and ART practitioners and nobody seems to be able to tell me a root problem but it happens rather infrequently. However,I’ve got to say that when we are dealing with the base of the skull, you may not want to continue your ‘get through it at all costs’ attitude. It could be relatively minor or something more serious. I’m happy to post any info if I find out more details.

Sorry I can’t give you any hard info - other than there is someone else going through what you are.


I’m actually surprised others have felt this! I’m glad I’m not alone.

I was very, very worried this morning after reading all about the symptoms of a brain aneurysm. So, I went to a walk-in clinic near my office and got checked out - a series of neurological tests showed I didn’t have one (sounds dumb, but when something this strange happens, your mind plays tricks). The doctor told me she had seen it before, and explained that under great tension, a number of muscles that connect at the back of the head can strain, causing a sudden and bad headache. The tension can be felt all over the back of the skull where connective tissues are attached. She told me that my symptoms were not anything like an aneurysm (whew!) and prescribed me some muscle relaxants - within 20 minutes of popping the first 2, the pain vanished. She told me though, no more benching for two weeks! I told her I’d think about it…ha ha!

Thanks to all who replied.

Thats the smartest thing that you could have done was to go see a doctor.

Strato, you do any direct neck work? If not, you might want to start. Having undeveloped neck muscles may be contributing to your problem. There’s a current thread about training the neck with a couple of good ideas.

Hey, I had the same exact thing happen to me a couple years ago. I went to the chiropractor and he said the it was my vertebrate in my neck getting stuck in akward position, and that was causing a lot of tension in the muscles of my neck and not alowing the nerves and blood flow to occur naturally. So he cracked my neck every which way and get things alogned again ,and the pain went away. It would come back every now and then and I’d just go get adjusted and I’d be fine. It really doesn’t occur anymore, but if it ever does I’ll know what to do.