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Are Pull-Ups Bad For Your Shoulders? (The TRUTH Revealed)

Pull-ups are something of a legendary exercise.

But as effective as pull-ups are for building multiple muscle groups, they seem to carry a bad reputation for your shoulders.

Does this reputation carry any truth?

Well, that’s exactly what we cover in this article.

That’s right.

By the end of this article, you’ll know the truth about whether pull-ups are bad for your shoulders.

You’ll also know why some people are vulnerable to shoulder pain during pull-ups and how to stop this.

Ready?

Let’s get started.

Are Pull Ups Bad For Your Shoulders?

Pull-ups are considered one of the most challenging bodyweight exercises you can do.

Having to lift your entire body weight using just your upper body strength can be extremely difficult for many people to do effectively.

However, it’s because pull-ups are so challenging that they can actually make your shoulders, core, back, and arms much stronger.

While there’s a potential injury risk during pull-ups, it’s worth remembering that all exercises, no matter how safe they seem, also come with some element of risk.

When performed with the correct technique and with the appropriate level of fitness already being achieved, pull-ups are unlikely to have any negative impact on your shoulders.

However, if your technique is incorrect, or if you don’t have a solid strength foundation needed to perform the exercise, then your shoulders could very well take a bit of a beating.

Why Do Some People Experience Shoulder Pain During Pull Ups?

Incorrect Technique

If your technique is not 100% correct during pull-ups, you could be adding excessive stress and pressure to your shoulders.

This will very likely result in pain and discomfort during the movement.

Using the correct technique is important in any exercise, but it becomes even more important when performing exercises that require a huge amount of effort (like pull-ups). 

If you notice any pain during pull-ups, it’s usually a very good idea to stop what you’re doing and double-check your technique is exactly right.

Even small errors can have large negative impacts.

Injury

Pain during exercise could be a sign of injury.

This is even more likely if you’ve done pull-ups before and not felt pain.

If you’re confident your technique is correct and you’ve done pull-ups safely before, any pain felt in your shoulders should be looked at by a medical professional to rule out any potential injuries.

You may have picked up a shoulder injury during a previous training session or in a non-gym-related incident, but it’s always worth getting pain seen to as soon as possible to help prevent it from getting any worse.

Normal Exercise Discomfort

Something to keep in mind when feeling pain during pull-ups is that they’re a challenging exercise, which can lead to slightly more discomfort than you might be used to during a workout.

That being said, challenging exercises can cause discomfort in your body (in this instance your shoulders) but they shouldn’t cause pain.

Before removing pull-ups from your training, you should think about what you’re feeling in your shoulders.

Is it pain?

Or is it discomfort caused by your muscles working hard?

Once you know the answer to those questions, you should be able to make a decision as to your next course of action.

Why Do Some People Experience Shoulder Pain After Pull Ups?

Muscle Repair

During exercise, microscopic tears are formed in the working muscles.

These need to be repaired by your body which can take several days.

During the repairing phase, you’ll likely experience some discomfort in your muscles.

This discomfort is normal and should gradually improve with each day that passes. 

It could be that you confuse this normal discomfort for pain in your shoulders, which might make you concerned that you’ve hurt yourself.

That being said, the repairing of these tears shouldn’t cause any significant pain. Only mild discomfort.

Anything more than this should be looked at by a medical professional.

Injury

In the same way that pain in your shoulders during pull-ups could be a sign of injury, pain in your shoulders after pull-ups could indicate something is wrong too.

While it might not be anything serious, there’s a chance you’ve picked up a shoulder injury during your workout and that’s why you’re experiencing pain in your shoulders after pull-ups.

Can Pull Ups Cause Shoulder Injury?

Yes, although the same could be said for pretty much any exercise.

Pull-ups come with a slightly increased risk of injury though due to the high stress level placed on certain muscles and joints.

One of the main reasons why injuries happen during pull-ups is by using an improper technique, causing a forward shoulder position to be adopted.

This puts your shoulders in an extremely vulnerable position where shoulder impingement is likely to occur.

Shoulder impingement is where a tendon in your shoulder rubs or catches on nearby tissue or bone as you lift your arm.

It can cause pain and can last for several weeks (or longer in some cases).

How To Reduce Shoulder Pain When Doing Pull Ups

Use The Correct Technique

We’ve mentioned this several times already but making sure your technique is 100% correct during pull-ups will go a long way in reducing any shoulder pain you might be feeling during the exercise.

Small errors in technique might not seem like a big deal, but they can easily lead to bigger issues and more discomfort down the line.

Using the correct technique is one of the most important things you can do to reduce shoulder pain when doing pull-ups.

Here’s a quick video that shows you how to do pull-ups perfectly!

Work On Strengthening Your Shoulders

Pain or discomfort in your shoulders during pull-ups could be a result of you not having enough strength in them to perform the exercise effectively.

By working on strengthening your shoulders before attempting pull-ups, you can reduce any discomfort felt.

Increase Mobility And Flexibility In The Working Muscles And Joints

Quite a lot of muscles come into play during pull-ups.

Any tightness or tension held in them can lead to pain being felt in the working joints (elbows and shoulders).

If you can ensure that your joints and muscles have good mobility and flexibility before doing pull-ups, you’ll likely have a more comfortable experience when doing them.

Why Do Some People’s Shoulders Crack During Pull Ups?

There are a number of possible causes of your shoulders cracking during pull-ups.

One of the most likely causes though is your tendons moving across the boney structures within your shoulder.

As your tendons are so strong and stringy (almost like guitar strings), they can cause cracking noises as they move over bone.

A potentially more serious cause of shoulder cracking during pull-ups is an injured muscle that has had its shape or plain of movement altered as a result.

If you’ve only started experiencing cracking shoulders during pull-ups recently, this could be the cause.

Are Pull Ups Bad For Rotator Cuffs?

No, but they do place quite a bit of stress on them.

The position required for pull-ups can put your shoulders, particularly your rotator cuffs, under excessive stress.

This can result in injury if the correct technique is not maintained throughout the entire movement.

As long as you have built up the intensity of pull-ups gradually, and your technique is correct, pull-ups aren’t bad for your rotator cuffs.

Care needs to be taken though as they could end up in a vulnerable position during the exercise.

Are Wide Grip Pull Ups Bad For Your Shoulders?

In a 2016 study, wide grip pull-ups were found to be the pull-up variation that posed the most risk of shoulder impingement and injury.

That doesn’t mean they’re completely bad for your shoulders, it just means that extra care needs to be taken when performing them.

It’s also worth bearing in mind that wide grip pull-ups reduce the range of movement in the exercise, so you may argue that they’re less effective in some ways.

Are Dead Hang Pull Ups Bad For Your Shoulders?

Dead hang pull-ups are probably no more dangerous than most other pull-up variations.

That being said, they can increase the amount of stress placed on your shoulders so they’re best suited to gym-goers with no existing shoulder issues.

Are Kipping Pull Ups Bad For Your Shoulders?

The momentum generated during kipping pull-ups can help you perform more reps and make the exercise more comfortable to perform.

There’s a slightly increased injury risk though due to the added momentum.

It can be harder to maintain control with the extra momentum helping you perform the exercise.

If your muscles aren’t strong enough or fully prepared for each rep, an injury could be a potential risk.

Are Butterfly Pull Ups Bad For Your Shoulders?

Butterfly pull-ups are very similar to kipping pull-ups so they come with the same risk level to overall shoulder health.

As with all pull-up variations, if the correct technique is used and you have the appropriate levels of strength and fitness to perform them, you can keep your injury risk to a minimum.

Are Pull Ups Better Than Chin Ups For Shoulder Health?

Pull-ups use an overhand grip (pronated) and put more focus on the muscles on the backside of your body.

Chin-ups use an underhand grip (supinated) and put more focus on muscles on the front of your body.

The change in grip from pronated to supinated actually puts your arms in a more natural position during chin-ups when compared to pull-ups.

That’s why chin-ups have a lower risk of shoulder injury than pull-ups.

Both have some element of risk but they’re both safe and effective exercises when performed correctly.

If you’re worried about your shoulder health though, chin-ups will likely be a better choice for you.

Sources

2016 Study