Last updated on February 13th, 2023 at 02:27 pm
If pull ups are causing you forearm pain this usually comes down to a specific weakness, poor form, or a potential injury.
Here’s exactly what you need to know and how to fix this.
The most obvious reason for forearm pain during pull ups is a weak grip. You’ll generally find that your fingers start to loosen on the bar as you get further into your set. Eventually you’re hanging by your fingertips, which places a huge amount of stress on your forearm flexors. Additionally, it could also be the case that you’re not using your lats during pull ups. Finally, this could also be tendonitis, more specifically golfer’s or tennis elbow.
Your Grip is Weak
There are various limiting factors when it comes to performing pull ups.
And it just so happens that your forearms, and especially your grip strength, is one of these.
You can also throw biceps and your core into the mix as things that may limit your potential for performing more pull ups.
In truth, very few lifters possess sufficient grip strength to keep up with their back training.
What I mean by this is that it’s likely that your grip will give out before your lats and upper back when performing pull ups.
What typically happens here is that as you get further into your set, your fingers become looser when wrapped around the bar.
This also means that you’re generally relying on your fingertips to stop you sliding off the bar.
In fact, you’re no longer performing perfect form pull ups, but rather you’re concentrating on keeping that last finger wrapped around the bar before you fall off.
Unfortunately, if this does describe you performing pull ups then you’re going to put a huge amount of stress on the forearm flexors.
So, not only is this likely to lead to forearm pain, but it may also affect your elbows too.
In effect, your forearms are being stretched and strained under the load of your body, and this is being exasperated as your grip strength slowly dies on you.
The brachioradialis is a major forearm muscle, which aids the brachialis in flexion of the elbow, as well as supination and pronation of the forearm.
Furthermore, the better you can develop the brachioradialis, the more you can potentially improve your grip strength.
Plus, training this muscle could also see your forearm pain go away.
Essentially, your forearms (and grip) aren’t strong enough to see you through a pull up set without pain.
Therefore, training and developing the major muscles in this area should and will help you to improve your pull ups.
I have three exercises that I like to perform fairly regularly, which also happen to train the brachioradialis to great effect.
- Hammer Curls
- Reverse Curls
- Farmer’s Walks
Hammer curls are a fantastic exercise, which hit the vast majority of forearm muscles, as well as the biceps.
Reverse curls are viewed as a forearm-specific exercise, and you can perform them with dumbbells or a barbell.
Farmer’s walks are simply one of the best exercises going, and I personally think everyone should be doing them, whether they have weak forearms/grip or not.
Not only will farmer’s walks develop your grip strength, you’ll also hit a wide variety of muscles throughout the body, and can even turn them into a cardio/conditioning workout.
So, it’s time for you to start training your grip.
You’re Not Using Your Lats
I’ve always believed that if I feel an exercise in the wrong muscles then I’m doing something wrong.
If you think about it, it stands to reason, as all the exercises we know and love are typically aimed at hitting certain muscle groups.
Yes, I understand that compound exercises will hit various muscle groups during the same movement, and pull ups happen to be one of these.
Pull ups are mainly viewed as an exercise for the upper back and lats.
However, they also stimulate the traps, rhomboids, rear delts, forearms, biceps, and core.
That being said, you still want to train your lats the most when you’re doing pull ups.
But, to be honest, it’s actually fairly common for many trainees not to feel pull ups in their lats at all.
Realistically, this comes down to a poor set up and poor execution.
Pull ups are much more than simply grabbing hold of a bar, pulling yourself up, and then lowering yourself down.
However, this is typically how many people perform pull ups, and this is also why they could be lacking in lat development.
Firstly, even though the name suggests it, I try not to “pull” during pull ups.
A fantastic cue to hit your lats more is to lead with your elbows.
So, in effect, you should concentrate on pulling your elbows back towards the floor.
Another way to look at it is to bring the bar to your chest, as opposed to bringing your chest to the bar.
You should also retract your shoulder blades prior to performing pull ups, by bringing them back and down.
Plus, having your thumbs over the bar during pull ups, rather than wrapped around them, may help you to activate your lats more.
What you’ll generally find is once you start using your lats during pull ups, your forearm pain should hopefully disappear fairly soon.
Basically, it’s all about using the right muscles to perform a certain exercise.
You Have Tendonitis
If you’re experiencing pain every single time that you go near a pull up bar, this could potentially be tendonitis.
I would obviously recommend that you visit your GP for a formal diagnosis, although this is an extremely common occurrence for people doing pull ups.
In reality, you probably more specifically have golfer’s elbow or tennis elbow.
Golfer’s elbow is one form of tendonitis, typically felt on the inside of the elbow up to the wrist.
The pain you’re feeling is in the tendons which connect your forearm to your elbow.
Tennis elbow is another form of tendonitis, but this generally causes pain on the outside of your elbow, as well as the back of your hand and forearm.
The main way to deal with either issue is to initially completely rest the affected area.
So, you won’t be doing pull ups again for a while.
You should ice-treat the inflammation, and if the pain is too much you can take paracetamol or ibuprofen.
You then need to stretch and strengthen the affected area, while also doing the same for your forearms.
Additionally, light massage of the tendons with a tennis ball can do wonders.
Basically, place a tennis ball between the affected area and a wall, then simply roll the tennis ball over your tendons.
Do this for 2-3 minutes, and then repeat 3-4 times a day.
Key Learning Points
- The number one reason for forearm pain during pull ups is a weak grip.
- Train your forearms and grip strength to increase the effectiveness of your pull ups. Focus on exercises such as hammer curls, reverse curls, farmer’s walks, etc.
- Many trainees don’t actually use their lats, but rather their biceps and forearms, when training pull ups. Visualize bringing the bar to your chest and your elbows to the floor.
- Using a thumb over grip tends to activate the lats more during pull ups.
- If you constantly experience pain from pull ups you may have tendonitis. More specifically, either golfer’s elbow or tennis eblow. Although you can self-treat, it is advisable to speak to your GP for a formal diagnosis.
Hi, I’m Partha, owner and founder of My Bodyweight Exercises. I am a Level 3 Personal Trainer and Certified Strength & Conditioning Specialist through the Register of Exercise Professionals, United Kingdom. I have been a regular gym-goer since 2000 and coaching clients since 2012. My aim is to help you achieve your body composition goals.