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Elbow Pain After Pull-Ups

author image Andrea Cespedes
Andrea Cespedes is a professionally trained chef who has focused studies in nutrition. With more than 20 years of experience in the fitness industry, she coaches cycling and running and teaches Pilates and yoga. She is an American Council on Exercise-certified personal trainer, RYT-200 and has degrees from Princeton and Columbia University.
Elbow Pain After Pull-Ups
The pull-up on a fixed bar can be hard on your elbows. Photo Credit Ibrakovic/iStock/Getty Images

Nagging elbow pain following a set of pull-ups indicates your approach to the exercise needs tweaking. Pain is a warning sign from your body, and if it lingers after a workout, your form and rep goals may need revision.

The way you hold the bar is a simple fix, but if that doesn't work, try other strategies — such as strengthening supporting muscles — before you return to your pull-up routine.

Read More: Close Grip Pull-Ups Vs. Wide Grip

Change Your Grip

You perform a classic pull-up by grasping an elevated bar with a shoulder-distance, overhand grip and bending your elbows to pull your collar bones up to the bar. However, an overhand grip isn't the only way to get the muscle-building benefits for your lats and biceps.

A neutral grip can be easier on your joints.
A neutral grip can be easier on your joints. Photo Credit m-imagephotography/iStock/Getty Images

The overhand grip makes it so your wrist and elbow joints can't rotate naturally as you pull up. Consider switching to a neutral grip, in which your hands face inward, so that your joints have a little more play during the exercise. This allows the joints to move naturally and can alleviate pain.

A fixed bar doesn't allow you to change your grip, so you might need to revise the equipment you use. Do pull-ups off hanging rings, a specially made gym bar that has a set of neutral grips or use wrist wraps that you attach to the bar.

Ring pull-ups allow your wrists to rotate, taking pressure off your elbows.
Ring pull-ups allow your wrists to rotate, taking pressure off your elbows. Photo Credit jakubzak/iStock/Getty Images

Move Your Hands

Sometimes, the simple action of moving your hands a little closer or a little wider alleviates the pain on your wrists. Too wide or too narrow of a grip can put your elbows at an angle that stresses the joint. Keep your hands wide enough so that at the top of the movement, your elbows make a 90-degree angle. Play around until you find just the right place so your elbows feel OK.

Develop Supporting Muscles

Weak wrists, lats and core can mean your elbows bear a lot more stress than they should during a pull-up. If you try to add a bunch of pull-ups on shear willpower without having the adequate strength and stamina in these muscles, your elbows — along with other joints — might end up doing a disproportionate amount of work and get irritated.

Strengthen your wrists to make pull-ups possible.
Strengthen your wrists to make pull-ups possible. Photo Credit PaulBiryukov/iStock/Getty Images

Work your wrist extensors with specific exercises to improve your grip. Squeezing a mini stress ball, as well as wrist circles and flexion and extension exercises done while holding a light weight, helps build up stamina in these mini muscles.

Read More: Wrist Flexor and Extensor Exercises

Build up to full pull-ups using an assisted pull-up machine. It offsets some of your body weight, so you can learn proper form and muscle engagement to protect your elbows. Developing your lat muscles with rows, lat pull-downs and straight-arm pull-downs is also important to being able to do body-weight pull-ups pain free.

Your core stabilizes you during the pull-up and takes some pressure off your limbs, including your elbows. Crunches are a go-to core exercise, but consider adding plank holds and paloff presses to develop the stabilizing abilities of the abs and back.

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