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The Middle of My Chest Hurts When I Do Push Ups or Lift Weights

author image Mike Samuels
Mike Samuels started writing for his own fitness website and local publications in 2008. He graduated from Peter Symonds College in the UK with A Levels in law, business and sports science, and is a fully qualified personal trainer, sports massage therapist and corrective exercise specialist with accreditations from Premier Global International.
The Middle of My Chest Hurts When I Do Push Ups or Lift Weights
Bodybuilders may often experience this pain if their routine contains a high number of chest exercises. Photo Credit Minerva Studio/iStock/Getty Images

When training intensely, you may sometimes pick up small injuries which are part and parcel of working out -- but they can be inconvenient and force you to step back from training for a short time. One common pain experienced by trainees is a mid-chest pain when doing pushups or other pressing exercises such as dips and bench presses. While this isn't a serious condition, it can be uncomfortable, and result in you having to take a short break from training. If this happens to you, it is important that you know the cause and how to deal with it.


In the middle of your chest you have a bone -- the sternum, which attaches to your top seven pairs of ribs. Your bottom five pairs of ribs are known as "floating" or "false" ribs, and are secured in place by costal cartilage. The pain you're experiencing may be due to an injury to the costal cartilage, caused by an excessive range of motion during exercising, or a repetitive strain injury, which when injured can cause mid-chest pain. There is also a possibility that the sternum itself may be fractured, but this is usually caused by an impact or blow.


The first thing you should do at the onset of the pain is to use the RICE method: rest, ice, compression, elevation. Cease exercise immediately and rest the area, then apply ice treatment. Use an ice pack wrapped in a towel and hold it on your chest while applying pressure for 20 minutes. Aim to do this once every two to three waking hours.

Further Treatment

If the pain begins to subside, then try some gentle mobility exercises to help get your upper body moving again and flush blood into the injured area to increase your recovery rate. If, however, the pain worsens, then visit your doctor or physiotherapist, as they will be able to conduct further analysis and recommend specialist treatment.


Once you have fully recovered then you should be able to begin training again. You will need to start off slowly reintroducing exercises like pushups and dumbbell presses back into your routine. At first, you may wish to shorten your range of motion on these exercises, so as to place less strain on the sternum and cartilage. Try pin presses instead of bench presses, and incline pushups instead of regular ones -- and be prepared for it to take a couple of months to get back to your previous strength levels.

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