Individuals with lower back pain often think that performing the seated overhead press is safer than performing the standing military press. Although at first glance this may appear to be a good idea I firmly believe that this lift will not decrease back pain and will in fact lead to more problems down the road. Think about it for a second, while standing you have your legs between your spine and the floor to be used as a shock absorber. While sitting the spine is being sandwiched between and compressed by the weight above the head and the bench in which you are sitting. In addition, the standing military is a far more functional exercise, than the seated press, (I have written about the functionality of this lift in past blogs).
One reason for back pain while overhead pressing may have to do with the back bending which often occurs. A way to combat this issue is to brace the core while pressing. Too often individuals will attempt to press the weight while having a relaxed torso, they consider this exercise to be for the shoulders rather than the whole body. This is a mistake.
Before pressing think of tightening the whole core and lower body. For the abdominals, imagine that someone is about to punch you, don’t suck in the stomach, as this will soften the area, instead try to form a shield with the muscles. To support the spine, squeezing the glutes together will help with the bracing. To contract the glutes imagine pinching a coin between the cheeks, using a slightly narrow stance with the toes facing outward will help activate the adductors. As for bracing the spinal erector muscles, this technique may need some practice. One way to learn how to tighten this area is to stand straight and place your fingers on the spinal erector muscles. Bend forward slowly until you feel these muscles activate. Practice and familiarize yourself with this technique; by identifying yourself with this bracing eventually you will be able to perform the tightening while standing erect.
If you do happen to have back pain I would advise consulting your physician prior to starting any program.