Ever wondered if pull-ups are bad for shoulders? This exercise is not inherently dangerous like some upper-body exercises that put your shoulders in a compromised position. However, because of the overhead position and movement involved in the pull-up, you could experience a rotator cuff injury.
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Reduce your risk of injury by avoiding certain styles of pull-ups and proactively strengthening your rotator cuff muscles.
Read more: Can You Do Pull-Ups Every Day?
Identify the Muscles
The rotator cuff is a group of four muscles — teres minor, infraspinatus, supraspinatus and subscapularis — located around your shoulder blade. They are responsible for stabilizing the highly mobile shoulder joint.
The rotator cuff muscles are active anytime you move your shoulder, making them prime candidates for injury. Some common rotator cuff injuries include strains, tears and impingement syndrome, as described by the Cleveland Clinic.
Pull-Ups: Bad for Shoulders?
Biological factors, such as the structure of your shoulder joint, can make you more susceptible to a rotator cuff injury. You can injure your rotator cuff muscles if you fall on your shoulder or sustain trauma to the shoulder.
Other, more subtle, causes of rotator cuff injury include repetitive stress on the shoulder or repetitive shoulder motions, especially overhead movements such as the motion that occurs during pull-ups.
The pull-up movement puts the shoulder joint in a compromised position of external rotation with significant loading on the rotator cuff muscles.
Be sure to perform pull-ups properly to reduce risk of injury, as demonstrated by ExRx.net.
- Grip the bar with your hands outside your shoulders.
- Contract your glutes and abs to keep your core tight throughout the movement.
- Bend your elbows and raise up until your chin is above the bar.
- Lower back down until your elbows fully straighten.
Pull-Ups With Rotator Cuff Injury
If you do pull-ups regularly, the constant overhead motion can make you prone to a rotator cuff injury. Replace the pull-up with a different exercise that works the same muscles, such as the bent-over row or seated row.
You can also use different pull-up grips, particularly if you are doing pull-ups with a rotator cuff injury. A neutral-grip pull-up — your palms face each other — reduces the stress on the shoulder joint during the movement as your shoulders do not externally rotate.
Some variations of the pull-up are more likely to result in a rotator cuff injury. Avoid behind-the-neck pull-ups or rear pull-ups, as demonstrated by ExRx.net. This exercise requires you to pull yourself up until the back of your neck touches the bar, placing your shoulders in extreme external rotation and increasing your risk of injury.
Read more: 10 Exercises to Help You Conquer the Pull-Up
Prevent Further Injury
To reduce the likelihood of a rotator cuff injury, proactively train to strengthen the rotator cuff muscles. Use light weights to perform a series of internal and external shoulder rotation exercises, as demonstrated by Memorial Hermann Medical Group.
Complete three sets of 12 to 15 repetitions of each exercise. Stop the pull-up movement if you feel any pain during the exercise. Consult a physician if you have shoulder pain, numbness or weakness.