Physical Fitness Stack Exchange is a question and answer site for physical fitness professionals, athletes, trainers, and those providing health-related needs. Join them; it only takes a minute:

Sign up
Here's how it works:
  1. Anybody can ask a question
  2. Anybody can answer
  3. The best answers are voted up and rise to the top

I would like to train for a pull up contest with my friend. I can do ten now, and want to get to twenty or so.

The problem I'm having is that when I do a session of pull ups, later that day or the next day, the muscles in the top and back of my neck (trapezius, I think) get tight and strained, so that it's uncomfortable even to twist my neck enough to look over my shoulder.

If I rest a day, I get better, but the problem recurs when I do another session of pull ups.

What steps should I take to avoid these strains while doing pull ups?

share|improve this question
This question can be generalized to how to avoid neck strain when doing any non-neck related exercise. I also get neck strain when trying to open a tomato sauce jar. One time, I couldn't turn my neck left for 4 days because the jar took all my strength to open. – JoJo Apr 30 '11 at 19:27
I find that my neck aches really bad after doing heavy dumbbell squats too – rmx May 4 '11 at 11:46
should really do neck stretches before you start working out. – kjy112 May 4 '11 at 17:37

My suggestion is to make sure that you are doing the exercise properly.

  1. Grab a bar with a grip slightly wider than shoulder width, with your hands facing away from you.
  2. Hang all the way down.
  3. Pull yourself up until your chin is above the bar.
  4. Slight pause, before lowering yourself all the way back down.

On the way up really concentrate on isolating your back and biceps. Don’t swing, and look up towards the bar. Looking down forces the head to be pushed forward, placing undue and dangerous stress on the neck.

share|improve this answer
Good point about where you look - you should be looking up towards the bar (and ceiling) throughout the whole exercise. – matt b May 3 '11 at 13:37

I used to have this problem with doing pull ups too but I realised that I straining my neck during the last few reps when you are trying to get your head over the bar. The neck strain can also happen if you jerk your body, or even grit your teeth in the struggle to get the chin past the bar.

I guess the best prevention is to have better pull-up form. One thing that helped me is to always pack your shoulders into your torso. What this means is when start the pull-up from a dead hang position, pull your shoulders down toward the body and pack them into your torso.

Or try this: extend your arms toward the ceiling, your shoulders will beside your ears. Without flexing your elbows, try to bring down your shoulders. Your arms will still point toward the ceiling but your shoulders will be ‘down’ and ‘packed’ into your torso.

share|improve this answer
+1 for the shoulders thing, this is the likely cause of your pain. You need to have your shoulders "tight" and not "loose". What probably happens is that the neck muscles have to work too hard to stabilize the shoulder area since your shoulders aren't doing any work. It might also help to visualize squeezing your shoulder blades together to get a better form (see visualization techniques for pull-ups). – VPeric Aug 17 '11 at 6:21

Your Answer


By posting your answer, you agree to the privacy policy and terms of service.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.