Shoulder pain from pull ups

Although pull ups are a basic bodyweight exercise, if done incorrectly can cause injury. Shoulder pain from pull ups is a very common problem, it could be pain while doing pull ups or even days after training.

pull ups shoulder anatomy

before discussing treatment for shoulder pain from pull ups it’s important to have a basic understanding of the movement.

While doing pull ups your goal is to pull yourself over the bar. The important part that many people forget about is scapula retraction. You want to retract your scapula for the entire range of motion.

The muscles involved in scapular retraction are the trapezius, rhomboids, and latissimus dorsi.
The rhomboids are muscles localized in the back under the trapezius. They are most responsible for allowing the shoulder blades to come together. An important aspect of the pull up is the downward rotation of the scapula. The rhomboids stabilize the scapula so they can rotate upward and downward throughout the movement. When pulling the body up, the scapula rotates down. When returning to the starting position, it rotates up.

What causes shoulder pain after pull ups?

One of the most common causes of shoulder pain with pull ups is shoulder impingement. Your shoulder is made up of several joints combined with tendons and muscles that allow a great range of motion in your arm. Because so many different structures make up the shoulder, it is vulnerable to many different problems. The rotator cuff is a frequent source of pain in the shoulder.

When you raise your arm to shoulder height, the space between the acromion and rotator cuff narrows. The acromion can rub against (or impinge on) the tendon and the bursa, causing irritation and pain

Half rep pull ups

I saw many people that can do 15 half reps pull up, but when it comes to the full range of motion, they struggle to do 5. It’s said that half rep pull ups are good for building muscles because of the constant tension of the muscles. But in order to keep that tension, you’re sacrificing the most difficult part of the exercise. By not doing full range of motion you’re growing your strength unevenly. Therefore lower part of the pull up would require much more effort, which leads to shoulder pain. Especially when those who do half reps, start with weighted pull ups. They are so weak in the lower range of motion that they can’t even retract the scapula with additional weight.

Wide grip pull ups

Another common shoulder pain is from wide grip pull ups. We can do pull ups with a lot of different grips. A wide grip is much harder than the normal shoulder width grip. That’s because a wide grip increases activation of the muscles and influences how your shoulder joints move as you perform the exercise. When using the wide grip, your shoulders perform a greater degree of adduction, which means your upper arms move in toward the sides of your torso. That’s not a common movement pattern for our bodies, thus it can cause pain.

Ho to fix shoulder pain from pull ups?

Shoulder pain usually occurs in the lower part of pull up, that because of the weak scapula or forward position of the shoulders. To fix that we need to strengthen the shoulders. Here are few exercesises to do that

Warm up

If you’re not doing it already, you should start training with a proper warm up. Warm up is a very important part of the training. The purpose of warm up is to prevent injury by increasing the body’s core and muscle temperature. A good warm up also increases range of motion – which might help if you struggle with shoulder pain during wide grip pull ups. Warm up is the simplest solution for shoulder pain from pull ups.

Active hang

Active hang differs from passive hang in that in passive hang only your wrists and forearms are engaged. It engages a lot more muscles, such as – the trapezius, rhomboid, and lats. Active hang is an easy exercise that involves all the muscles required for pull ups and teaches you how to retract your scapula which is an important part of pull ups.

Scapular pull ups

Scapular pull ups are the repetitions of dead hang to active hang, which builds strength in the lower part of the pull up. It improves shoulder mobility by reinforcing shoulder extension. Helps to master the control of the shoulder retraction, not only in the static position but throughout the movement.

That’s how it looks like

Drop your ego down

Proper technique is much more important than the number of reps. Improving your technique, doing fewer reps, or lifting less weight might fix the issue with shoulder pain. Training is not about the numbers, but rather good technique and being injury free. If you train this way, the numbers will follow.
To be injury free, focus on basics and then slowly improve. Same with wide grip pull ups, if you feel the pain with wide grip pull ups, try slowly widening the grip. Start with shoulders width grip and then every training add an inch or two (2–5 cm), that should help with that kind of pain.


Shoulder pain from pull ups is a very common injury. There might be different reasons for that kind of pain. The exercises listed above should help most of people. But if the pain persists, I recommend consulting that problem with a physiotherapist.

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