How To Fix Shoulder Pain From Pull Ups

Shoulder pain after pull-ups is a very common complaint among fitness enthusiasts. It typically arises from three main issues: lack of mobility, poor scapular stability, or insufficient overall strength. With the right approach, you can fix these issues and return to a pain-free shoulder. This guide is going to help you figure out why you have should pain, show you test to figure out appropriate treatment, and provide actionable tips to fix your back pain.

Testing and Improving Shoulder Mobility to fix shoulder pain

If you lack overhead shoulder mobility, the rest of your shoulder can take the brunt of the force. There is no escaping full overhead motion when performing a pull-up. If your shoulders don’t have full motion then something has to give way which is why you have pain. Think of your shoulder as rubber band. If your have stretch it past is limits to do pull ups, you can see why this would cause pain.

Perform the Lat Flexibility Test

This test helps identify tightness in your latissimus dorsi, a common issue for those experiencing shoulder discomfort during pull-ups.

Steps:

  1. Stand with your back flat against a wall.
  2. Place your feet about 6 inches away from the wall.
  3. Extend your arms overhead with palms facing up.
  4. Attempt to touch the wall with your hands without arching your back or rotating your palms down.
  5. Notice if one side feels tighter or if you struggle to maintain your back against the wall.

If you find an imbalance or tightness, proceed to the following exercises to improve flexibility.

How to Fix Lat Flexibility

  • Doorway Lat Stretch:
    1. Stand inside a doorway.
    2. Raise your arm, turn your hand so your thumb is pointing down, grip the door jam,
    3. Gently lean back until you feel a stretch in the muscles under your arms and along your sides.
    4. Hold the stretch for 20-30 seconds, relax, and repeat several times.
  • Foam Rolling Your Lats:
    1. Lie on your side with a foam roller under your armpit, extending your arm above your head.
    2. Roll back and forth from your armpit to your mid-torso.
    3. Spend extra time on any particularly sore spots.
    4. Switch sides and repeat the process.
  • Both of these exercises should open up your shoulder in no time. Back to the rubber band analogy. If you don’t have to stretch your shoulders past their limit then you don’t risk snapping them or pulling past their limits.

Testing and Enhancing Scapular Stability to relieve shoulder pain

The magic happens at your shoulder blade. Over 30% of your overhead motion comes from your shoulder blade movement. If your aren’t moving your shoulder blades well then your shoulder joint takes on the rest of the movement. Overt time this can lead to injuries of the shoulder.

Scapular Stability Test

This test evaluates the control and stability of your scapular (shoulder blade) movements, which are crucial for effective pull-up performance. If you can’t control your shoulder blade then your shoulder will have to compensate leading to increased pain and increased injury risk.

Steps:

  1. Hang from a pull-up bar with arms fully extended.
  2. Without bending your elbows, shrug your shoulders downward and squeeze your shoulder blades together.
  3. Hold the squeeze briefly, then release.
  4. Record yourself performing this motion to observe any asymmetry or difficulty in movement.

If the motion is not smooth and symmetrical, you likely have scapular stability issues.

How to Fix Poor Scapular Stability

Here are three exercises to fix poor scapular stability.

  • Scap Sets on Pull-Up Bar:
    1. Hang from the bar with straight arms.
    2. Perform scapular depressions by pulling your shoulder blades down and back.
    3. Hold for a few seconds, then release. Repeat for 10-15 repetitions.
  • Scap Push-Ups:
    1. Start in a standard push-up position.
    2. Keep your arms straight, lower your chest by allowing your shoulder blades to come together. Do not bend your elbows.
    3. Push back up by spreading your shoulder blades apart.
    4. Perform 10-15 repetitions.
  • Assisted Pull-Ups:
    1. Use a resistance band or pull-up assist machine.
    2. Focus on using your back and shoulder muscles to initiate the movement.
    3. Perform slow, controlled repetitions while concentrating on scapular movement.

All of these exercises teach you how to move your shoulder blade and improve its strength. If your scapular does its job then the small muscles of the shoulder don’t get over worked. Your poor rotator cuff can only handle so much.

Assessing Upper Body Strength to fix shoulder pain during Pull-Ups

Another potential reason for shoulder pain with pull ups is poor upper body strength. If your rotator cuff is no strong enough you rely on the passive structures of the joint causing pain. If you’ve passed the mobility and stability tests but struggle with pull-ups, consider assessing your overall upper body strength.

Test for Upper Body Weakness

If you passed the other tests then you likely have weak upper body muscles. This leads to weird movement patterns and compensations.

How to Fix shoulder pain due to Weakness

  • Ground-Supported Pull-Ups:
    1. Set up a bar in a squat rack at about waist height.
    2. Lie underneath the bar and grasp it with both hands. The angle at your hips should be around 90 deg so your torso is upright.
    3. Keep your body straight and pull your chest to the bar, then lower back down.
    4. This reduced-weight version helps build pull-up strength when a pull up is too difficult.
  • Bent Over Row:
    1. Hold a barbell with both hands, bending your knees slightly and hinging at your waist.
    2. Pull the bar towards your lower ribs, then slowly lower it back down.
    3. Keep your back straight throughout the movement.
  • Lat Pull-Down:
    1. Sit at a lat pull-down machine and secure your thighs under the pads.
    2. Grasp the bar with a wide grip, pull it down to your upper chest, and then slowly let it rise back up.
    3. Focus on using your lats to move the weight

By improving overhead mobility, scapular stability, and overall upper body strength, you can perform pull ups again without pain. Each component plays a crucial role in ensuring the health and functionality of your shoulders during this demanding exercise. If you have any questions feel free to reach out.

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