Armpit Pain After Pull-Ups? Causes & Solutions Explained

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The armpit pain you’re feeling after pull ups is actually your teres major muscle. It connects the shoulder blade to the upper arm, and therefore is located around the armpit area. The teres major also happens to work in conjunction with the lats. So, if you’re training your lats, e.g. during pull ups, then you may also feel your teres major working too. This can also be a sign that you’re not using your lats correctly, performing pull ups when not properly warmed up, or simply that you’re doing pull ups too often.

You’re Feeling Your Teres Major

The Teres Major Muscle

The soreness or pain you’re feeling isn’t actually your armpit, but rather the teres major muscle.

In fact, it is very easy for the teres major to fatigue quickly during pull ups, which of course can eventually lead to injury and pain.

The teres major is a strong, but thin muscle, which runs from the shoulder blade to the humerus.

So, in effect, the teres major spawns the lower portion of the shoulder to the upper part of the upper arm bone.

Therefore, it is more-or-less located close to the armpit.

So it’s easy to understand why you may assume that the pain emanates from your armpit.

It’s also interesting to note that the teres major is a synergistic muscle with the latissimus dorsi.

In other words, your lats and teres major typically work in conjunction with each other.

So, as pull ups are mainly a lat exercise, your teres major muscle is also working hard at the same time.

You’re Not Using Your Lats

I’ve just mentioned that pull ups are typically viewed as a lat exercise.

However, this doesn’t actually mean that you’ll automatically activate and engage your lats when performing pull ups.

In fact, I’ll go as far to say that a high percentage of gym-goers never actually work their lats during pull ups.

Basically, when you initiate a pull up, you should be pulling through the upper part of your lat.

Funnily enough, this is actually located in your armpit when your arms are overhead.

So, this once more should explain your armpit pain following pull ups.

That being said, the upper lat is fairly weak, and if you don’t hit it immediately as you start your ascent towards the bar, then you never will.

In other words, you’re using other muscles to raise yourself towards the bar, and you’ll continue using these muscles throughout your set.

“If you’re not feeling the pull-up in your lats, focus on keeping your shoulder blades squeezed back and down during the movement.”

Tony Horton (Fitness Instructor, P90X)

And unfortunately, if you’re not using your lats, then it’s likely that you’re using your shoulders, biceps, or forearms during pull ups, and probably even some momentum.

Now, you have to take into consideration the location of your shoulders, biceps, and forearms.

Plus, the fact that they are all connected to each other in some way.

So, if you’re not using your lats for pull ups, but rather these other muscles, you’re going to feel it in various places.

Furthermore, there are many muscle fibres attached to these muscles, as well as a variety of connective tissues.

So, it could be a case that you’re feeling a pull or strain in the ligaments, tendons, and other connective tissues, many of which run across the armpit.

Don’t Do Pull Ups For Your Warm Up

Something else to consider is when you’re doing pull ups during your workout, and especially if you’re using them as a warm up.

To be honest, I don’t actually view pull ups as a warm up exercise, and yet many people treat them as though they are.

In reality, even with just your own body weight, pull ups are a major compound exercise.

So, in my mind, performing pull ups for a warm up is much the same as squatting 80% of your one-rep max as a warm up.

Basically, you wouldn’t do it.

Realistically, even negatives, band pull ups, or assisted pull ups could be too much for a warm up.

Remember, your aim is to get the upper lats activated, warm, and ready for action.

Therefore, I personally think a much better warm up would involve face pull, band pull aparts, and light lat pulldowns.

Not only will you open up your shoulders, but you’ll also stimulate the upper lats.

They are now ready for you to perform pull ups.

Unfortunately, if you typically do pull ups as part of your warm up, you’ll once again be unlikely to be using the right muscles.

So, the secondary muscles will generally take over, which once more means that you’re probably putting far too much stress on the connective tissues.

And this will explain why your armpits hurt after pull ups.

Are You Training Pull Ups Too Often?

The final reason that your armpits are sore simply comes down to how often you’re training pull ups.

Now, I’m probably not one to talk, as I have often performed X amount of pull ups, on a daily basis, for a specified period of time.

As an example, I have often done 100 pull ups a day for 30 days in a row.

However, I would consider myself well-trained, plus I’m only doing this for a short period, before returning to something more normal.

But, your teres major and lats can become extremely sore from overuse.

Much the same as anything in the gym, you should always build yourself up to workout harder and with more intensity.

Plus, no matter how hard you’re looking to train, you will always need ample rest and recovery.

Going back to my 100 pull ups a day once more, although I still completed my normal weekly workouts on top of the pull ups, I took a complete rest from exercise for a week after the 30 days.

However, I can guarantee that there are many gym-goers who perform the same exercises with amazing regularity, without ever taking a real break from the exercise.

“The pull-up is one of the best upper body exercises you can do. It works a wide range of muscles, requires no equipment, and can be easily progressed.”

Arnold Schwarzenegger

Now, I know that there are probably many people out there who perform pull ups every single day, and have done so for years.

But unfortunately, we’re not all capable of doing this, especially if we haven’t taken the time to build up to this type of intensity.

So, it could be a case that your daily pull ups are putting a great deal of stress and strain on the working muscles.

In fact, I can guarantee there will be some days when you;re aching, but you still do your pull ups.

The likelihood is that you’re no longer using the target muscles, and once again, those connective tissues are taking a hammering.

Key Learning Points

  • You’re more likely feeling your teres major muscle from pull ups rather than your armpit.
  • Ensure you are using your lats during pull ups, as opposed to the secondary muscles worked.
  • In order to engage your lats pull your shoulder blades back and down, contract your core, and really squeeze your lats at the top of the movement.
  • If you continue to use your secondary muscles during pull ups without activating your lats you’ll put excess strain on your connective tissues.
  • Don’t perform pull ups as part of your warm up. Pull ups are a strength exercise and therefore require their own warm up before being performed.
  • Be wary of performing pull ups too often, as this can cause issues and eventually a potential injury.

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