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Are Pull-Ups Bad For Your Training?

Are Pull-Ups Bad For Your Training?

  1. Does it seem pull-ups have been causing you pain and discomfort lately? 
  2. Do you suffer from shoulder pain and discomfort? 
  3. Are you doing pull-ups on a frequent basis? 

So I know you read that title and thought, “What is coach talking about?” The short answer is No…pull-ups are not bad for you, but poor programming can be very bad for you.

Pull-Ups And Your Shoulder Health

I totally understand. There’s a great quote I heard from a powerlifter years ago that says “Everything works, but nothing works forever.”

Another element that is crucial to your shoulder health is the development of your grip strength. The better your grip strength is the more stable your shoulder girdle will be during dynamic lifts.

This is especially true involving adaptation. When it comes to pull-ups by themselves the movement is awesome.

However the problem is people always use something that works until it stops working for them in some other way (remember the previous quote). People often find ways to mess things up.

When it comes to the pull-up the movement it involves you gripping the bar with your palms facing away from your face. This internally rotates your shoulder head and abducts your shoulder at the same time.

If you do this with a super wide grip it can absolutely wreak havoc on your shoulders and as a result you’ll find that the shoulder pain will eventually settle in.

Now if you’ve followed me for a while you’ve seen where I recommend a 2 to 1 vertical pull to push ratio and a 2 or 3 to 1 horizontal pull to push ratio.

This will usually help you to maintain a balance of muscular symmetry so that you avoid any real shoulder problem.

However people can often miss some details here as well. One example would be with the pull-up movement. Once again the pull-up will position your shoulder into a fixed internal rotation position.

If you happen to have a lifestyle where you sit at work a lot in front of a computer, or put a lot of time in hunched over during long commutes to and from work then you’re already getting a huge dose of internal shoulder rotation.

So constant pull-ups may bring on even more shoulder ailments, aches, and pains.

So what should you do?

Well some common fixes would involve the following…

  • Switch to a chin-up style grip (palms facing your face).
  • Perform more band pull aparts.
  • Make sure to perform bent over rows like a single arm dumbbell row and as you perform the movement rotate the thumb of your lifting hand away from your body.
  • Perform more stretching with shoulder extensions.
  • Foam roll your lats.
[Band pull aparts lying on a foam roller to increase range of motion (ROM)]

These aren’t going to solve everything for everyone, but they will help get you on the right track.

Pull-Ups: The Takeaway

Single arm kettlebell rows are a great horizontal row movement to incorporate into your training on a regular basis to give yourself a break from overhead pulling movements such as the pull-up. This is a movement I’ve been a big believer in for years and my shoulders are strong and healthy.

Another way to ensure you’re not shortchanging your shoulder health is making sure to implement a smart program plan to follow from the start. In order to get the most out of your training you MUST understand what it means to address your body’s needs. Even though something may not be an issue today it doesn’t mean that it won’t be an issue tomorrow and when it comes to strength and movement this is always true.

If you’re not sure how to do this then I always set the parameters with my programs to get you into the right position and then if necessary we can tack and adjust to get you to 100% to avoid injury.

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I'm a Certified Strength And Conditioning Specialist (CSCS) and author. I have had over 17 years experience in MMA fitness, strength and conditoning, and athletic performance for most every sport. As an author and specialist I've written close to a million words on fitness and strength. I'm also a Muay Thai practictioner and enjoy helping others to reach their peak potential through fitness and performance.

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