Switch To A ‘Neutral Grip’ To Avoid Elbow Pain During Pull-Ups

1. Neutral Grip

Switching to a neutral grip can be a simple solution when it comes to elbow pain during chin ups. It’s not uncommon for many trainees to find that the traditional supinated grip (palms facing toward your body) places excess strain on the elbow. The same can be said for the pronated (palms facing away from the body) grip during traditional pull ups.


What to do if You Start Experiencing Elbow Pain, Achiness, or Soreness From Pull-up Training

If you start experiencing pain that is different from the normal discomfort that comes from training and you suspect that you have an overuse injury in progress, here’s what I’d recommend:

1) Stop all activities that cause pain immediately. Don’t try to tough it out and finish your program. Don’t even finish the workout. Just stop.

2) Take a break from elbow-dominant exercises for at least a week or two (especially flexion exercises/activities).

3) Implement some of the tips from the “Extra Things…” section below on a case-by-case basis

4) Slowly reintroduce pull-up training and evaluate if the problem has gone away. And if not, take more time off and/or go see your doctor.

Important point: You need to learn how to differentiate between pain and discomfort. There is normal discomfort that is simply a part of training (i.e. discomfort from effort, exertion, and fatigue), and then there is pain from a problem (i.e. injury). Pain is a sign that something is wrong (i.e. damage has already been done). And in training, it’s usually a sign that something you’ve done (or that you’ve been doing) has created a problem, which means that if you keep doing what you’ve been doing, that problem will probably get worse.

So, on one hand, you don’t want to stop training every time a little ache creeps up on you. And on the other hand, you don’t want to make a real problem any worse than it already is. And so, it’s important to know the difference between pain and discomfort.

Extra Things You Can Do To Prevent and Heal Elbow Problems

If you want to go above and beyond to prevent and heal your elbow problems, here are some ideas to get you started.

  • Perform some active recovery activities as often as possible (several times a day, if possible), like joint mobility training, walking, etc.
  • Ice your sore muscles and joints
  • Massage the sore areas around the elbow
  • Perform range of motion exercises not just for the elbows, but for all adjacent joints (especially shoulders and thoracic spine, and ideally, for your whole body).
  • Take anti-inflammatory medication, as necessary

Note: some of the tips in this article may be advised for your condition, and some may not. So, it’s best to check with your doctor to make sure that you’re not making things worse.

4. Work on Your Extensors

Your training often involves a lot of grip work, wether you know it or not. Think about the amount of time you spend hanging from bars, picking up heavy weights, or swinging kettlebells. Your grip is being tested and trained during just about everything you’re doing in the gym. If you’re adding specific grip work on top of that, then you’re really upping the probability of elbow pain.

When the flexors in the forearms and hands are over worked without paying attention to the extensors, you create a muscle imbalance that can lead to pain. One simple, inexpensive, and portable method for balancing out these muscles is to use an elastic band to train the extensors. Seriously, a basic elastic band that can be found in every office just might be the savior of your elbows.

  • Wrap the elastic band around the second knuckle of your fingers.
  • Spread them outward against the resistance.
  • Higher reps work best, but at first you might be surprised how few reps you can actually repeat.

You Don’t Have To Stop Training

The good news though, is that as long as the pain is minimal, we don’t need to completely stop training. Instead, we just need to opt for less stressful variations of our exercises to give those tendons a break.

For this reason, dumbbells will become your best friend. They allow you to manipulate your hand position into basically any position that feels comfortable. Basically, we want to take our hands out of a supinated or pronated position. And, instead, into a neutral grip as much as possible.

A neutral grip:

  • Places the least stress on our forearm muscles AND
  • Eliminates our tendency to excessively flex and extend our wrist as we perform our exercises

So opting for exercises like hammer curls, dumbbell rows, and neutral grip chest presses are all great options. These exercises help take our grip out of a pronated or supinated position. 
In addition to this, always be mindful of your wrist positioning during your exercises. Avoid flexing or extending your wrists excessively during exercises like chin-ups, curls, and even pushdowns. Excessive flexing and extending create a ton of stress on the forearm muscles and tendons. Instead, focus on keeping the wrist neutral and in line with your forearms as you perform these movements. 
And if it still hurts, try something else. Or consider decreasing the weight and aiming for higher reps instead. There are plenty of ways that you can work around your elbow pain to continue stimulating your muscles and getting good workouts in while letting the overused muscles in your forearms recover.

To sum up the article, here’s what you want to do:

First, dedicate more time to your forearm training and grip training.

Pain on outside of elbow = Wrist extensions: 3 sets of 10 reps Pain on inside of elbow = Wrist curls: 3 sets of 10 reps Suitcase carries: 3 sets of 30s walks each side

Then, address potential weaknesses in your shoulder and scapular stabilizer muscles.

Scapular pull-ups: 3 sets of 10 reps External rotation exercise: 3 sets of 5-10 reps

And finally, manipulate your exercises and be mindful of your wrist positioning to avoid worsening the pain.

Implement more neutral grip exercises: Hammer curls, neutral grip presses, neutral grip rows, etc.

But all in all, you need to realize that if you’re feeling stress in certain joints then it’s often a result of imbalances or weaknesses elsewhere in the body. And for a step-by-step program that prevents this from happening by showing you exactly how to train to maximize growth while correcting your imbalances and weaknesses in the process, then:

Click the button below to take my analysis quiz to discover the best program for you:

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