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.
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.
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.
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.