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Inner Elbow Pain From Pull-Ups – What’s the Deal?

Have you ever had inner elbow pain from pull-ups? If you have, you know how frustrating it can be. Aches and pains are common among CrossFitters. But when pain feels like it could be an injury (if you’ve gotten passed denial) it is a whole different type of frustration. It’s hard enough to fight one mental battle (the WOD itself), but adding a second in – that can be a lot to handle!

The gym should be fun – not painful! Fortunately, there’s good news if you are experiencing inner elbow pain from pull-ups. It is possible to fix this – sometimes without decreasing your volume of pull-ups! (Which, we know, sounds a lot like what every CrossFitter – myself included – wants to hear – “I can get better without decreasing how much I beat my body up”).

The Two Reasons for Inner Pain From Pull-Ups

There’s two main reasons why inner elbow pain from pull-ups shows up.

  1. Your grip isn’t wide enough (which, ironically enough, is the same reason people get pain on the outside of their elbow with pull-ups).
  2. The load placed on your forearm muscles is too much. This comes in two different forms – your forearm muscles don’t have the endurance for the load you’re putting on them – or you’re simply putting too much load on them! (We know, we know, this is the part you don’t want to hear).
neck pain

Inner Elbow Pain From Pull-Ups Due to Grip Width

Of the two reasons why pull-ups can give inner elbow pain, this is the easy fix! Simply widen your grip, and voila, you’re golden! (Once you give your elbow a week or two to calm down, that is).

For those of you who want to know why this happens, keep reading. If you don’t care why it happens, but want to know if this is the reason you’re having pain, simply hop up on the pull-up bar. Do a few pull-ups as you normally would, wait a minute or two, and then do a few with a wider grip. Does the wider grip hurt less? If so, this is the solution you’re looking for!

The Why Behind Inner Elbow Pain From Pull-Ups Due to Grip Width

When you do a pull-up with a narrow grip, your upper arms are in front – or perpendicular to the plane – of your body. If you compare this to a standard pull-up, your upper arms are next to – or in the same plane – as your body. When your arms are in front of you, this places a rotational force, or torque, on your elbow.

The elbow isn’t made to withstand torque forces. It is a hinge joint that opens and closes in one direction. Yes, there is a small amount of a rotation-like movement that occurs, but this occurs between the two bones in the forearm, not where the upper arm meets the lower arm.

So, when the upper arm is in front of your body, forces that the elbow joint isn’t made to handle are acting on the inside of the elbow. Overtime, this force accumulates and can cause inner elbow pain from pull-ups.

If you found all this talk about torque and body planes can be confusing, here’s a quick video that puts a visual to this!

Inner Elbow Pain From Pull-Ups Due to Irritated Muscles

Of the two reasons why pull-ups can cause inner elbow pain, this is the more difficult one to solve. It involves discerning between the following two options –

  • The overall volume of pull-ups you’re completing is too much
  • Your forearm muscles don’t have sufficient endurance (you can easily generate the amount of force needed to hang onto a pull-up bar, but your muscles cannot continue to produce this level of force throughout the duration you are completing pull-ups).

Unfortunately, there’s no clear-cut guidelines as to “how much is too much”. “Too much” depends on your fitness level, exercise history, and current exercise regime. What we can say is that if you recently increased your volume of grip-related activities, (this anything that involves holding anything, which is about 90% of CrossFit) then there is a very good chance that your discomfort is coming from overuse.

If that’s you, check out this blog post that discusses how much activity you should do in the short-term to allow the discomfort to come down.

Accessory Exercises

The exercises that we’ve found are most beneficial for those struggling with inner elbow pain from pull-ups are

  • Wrist flexion
  • Wrist supination/pronation
  • Farmer carries.

Check out the videos below!

If None of This Helps Your Elbow Pain

It’s impossible to fully cover why you can experience inner elbow pain from pull-ups in a blog post (although that didn’t stop us from trying!) Regardless of the injury, there’s always going to be a few folks that don’t get better with the typical exercises. If that’s you, you’re in luck, because we specialize in treating stubborn cases of exercise-related discomfort.

Experiencing inner elbow pain from pull-ups isn’t something you need to grind through your WOD with. You can get better and relief can be just around the corner – if you want it! Click here to schedule your free Discovery Visit to see if we’re a good fit to help you!

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