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?

  • 3
    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
    Commented Apr 30, 2011 at 19:27
  • I find that my neck aches really bad after doing heavy dumbbell squats too
    – Nobody
    Commented May 4, 2011 at 11:46
  • should really do neck stretches before you start working out.
    – KJYe.Name
    Commented May 4, 2011 at 17:37
  • For a lot of exercises it's important to focus both on tightening and forcing the muscles you want to use and relaxing the ones you're not using. For something like a deadlift you want to isometrically lock your abs and back, use your legs and glutes, but not squeeze your actual anal area: super common to get hemorrhoids by just squeezing the hell out of every part of your body during big lifts.
    – Eric
    Commented Oct 31, 2017 at 15:59

4 Answers 4


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.

  • 3
    Good point about where you look - you should be looking up towards the bar (and ceiling) throughout the whole exercise.
    – matt b
    Commented May 3, 2011 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.

  • 1
    +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
    Commented Aug 17, 2011 at 6:21

The way some people do their pullups (there are many variations) can place some rather unique and interesting loads on the traps (even more so sometimes with an added weight belt). Your "pain" is most likely just some tendinitis of the tendon connecting the shoulder blade to the trap muscle.

Make sure your traps are really solid and strong before attempting significant loads with pullups exercises. Your traps are here to stabilize the scapulae while you do your pullups --- and, as with many arm exercises, failure to stabilize the shoulder blades can have some pretty nasty consequences.

Personally, farmer's walks and weighted vests are my goto for traps strengthening.


Could also be that you're not well balanced from a strength perspective. The result of that might be bad form like the other folks are calling out, but if I were trying to beat my friend in a pullup contest:

  1. Lose all the excess weight (fat) you can --> I love intermittent fasting
  2. Work our your core/biceps/back/chest
  3. Do pull-ups with good form as was already suggested
  4. Yoga --> always improves my form for anything, ability to lift, and stretches me out so I don't get sore

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