Chinups & upper back

WhatWouldHulkDo

Level 6 Valued Member
For the last couple years, I've been a bit of a pullup "purist"; I haven't trained any variations aside from the standard pullup, figured I needed to just focus on the basics.

More recently I've been doing just a couple of chinups every morning, just to show a little love to some of the other musculature. For the most part these feel fine, and actually seems to have done good things for my elbows. But, at the very end of the eccentric phase of the chinup (i.e. right at the bottom) I feel a knot in my upper back, right next to my spine. Rhomboids maybe? I'm not sure. But it feels like something that might benefit from some kind of focused remedial work.

Any suggestions?
 

Mike Torres

Level 6 Valued Member
Team Leader Certified Instructor
Elite Certified Instructor
I’m not a doc or clinician, but when I have stuff like this happen, I go right to my copy of How to Become a Supple Leopard by Kelly Starrett or The Roll Model by Jill Miller and get to work on some self-myofascial release.

9 times out of 10 it feels fine after a week or two. If it doesn’t, I go to a good sports massage therapist or hands-on PT.
 

watchnerd

Level 6 Valued Member
For the last couple years, I've been a bit of a pullup "purist"; I haven't trained any variations aside from the standard pullup, figured I needed to just focus on the basics.

More recently I've been doing just a couple of chinups every morning, just to show a little love to some of the other musculature. For the most part these feel fine, and actually seems to have done good things for my elbows. But, at the very end of the eccentric phase of the chinup (i.e. right at the bottom) I feel a knot in my upper back, right next to my spine. Rhomboids maybe? I'm not sure. But it feels like something that might benefit from some kind of focused remedial work.

Any suggestions?
When doing chin ups, I get a weird knot / tigger point sometimes between my left scap and spine if I get too fatigued or lazy and my traps start to take over.

For me, rumble roller loosens it up.

Then I re-pattern with scap push ups, emphasizing protraction especially.
 
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Steve Freides

Staff
Senior Certified Instructor
Elite Certified Instructor
For the last couple years, I've been a bit of a pullup "purist"; I haven't trained any variations aside from the standard pullup, figured I needed to just focus on the basics.

More recently I've been doing just a couple of chinups every morning, just to show a little love to some of the other musculature. For the most part these feel fine, and actually seems to have done good things for my elbows. But, at the very end of the eccentric phase of the chinup (i.e. right at the bottom) I feel a knot in my upper back, right next to my spine. Rhomboids maybe? I'm not sure. But it feels like something that might benefit from some kind of focused remedial work.

Any suggestions?
IMHO, you’re now paying the price for your purist approach. Just ease into doing variations, and get yourself a pair of rings. Mix, at the very least, pull-up, chin-ups, one-hand-over-and-one-hand-under (do both ways), all on a bar, and doing them on rings. The over-and-under variation Might be the best prep for you for chin-ups.

-S-
 

Carl

Level 5 Valued Member
I agree with @Steve Freides point.

Interestingly, my journey has been in reverse, years of being pretty purist about chins (mixing neutral, mixed grip) but overlooking pull ups, believing I got all I needed from others.

Now working on all but having to show some humility and patience with pull up technique. Although I’m used to pulling myself over the bar, it feels like a
new move.

I echo the words on Kelly Starrett as well.

Stay safe, stay patient And let the body adapt slowly.



IMHO, you’re now paying the price for your purist approach. Just ease into doing variations, and get yourself a pair of rings. Mix, at the very least, pull-up, chin-ups, one-hand-over-and-one-hand-under (do both ways), all on a bar, and doing them on rings. The over-and-under variation Might be the best prep for you for chin-ups.

-S-
 

bluejeff

Level 5 Valued Member
I realize I'm a bit late to this thread.... but here are my two cents:

IMO chins emphasize external rotation of the shoulder much more than pull ups, and it might logically follow that you are (were :) ? ) uncovering tightness/restriction in your mid back. Your lower traps are especially crucial to upward rotation and external rotation.
 

WhatWouldHulkDo

Level 6 Valued Member
IMO chins emphasize external rotation of the shoulder much more than pull ups, and it might logically follow that you are (were :) ? ) uncovering tightness/restriction in your mid back.
Still feeling it, so taking it slow. I've really done no focused work on my upper back in prior training, so in the end it's not surprising to run in to some restrictions/weaknesses.

In addition to just the regular 3 chins a day, I've done a few of the scap pushups recommended by @watchnerd , can definitely feel something similar there. Just haven't "programmed" them in any sense as of yet.
 

bluejeff

Level 5 Valued Member
My suggestion/two cents:

is to keep doing scap push ups; just do them for 1-2 sets of 10-ish reps as a warm up to all of your upper body work. Also try doing some cat-camel (or cat-cow) and spending time in the flexed-spine position. Take some slow and deep breaths there to stretch the back out some more.

Some other things that might loosen it up are to do some mild massage on the tight spot using a tennis or lacross ball or something. You can also do some active hangs (with your feet on the floor for support )at the bottom of the chin to stretch your shoulders into that position.

Take all these things easy, in case it's a rib out of place or something. Also I'd find a physio if it persists for much longer :)
 

AndyMcL

Level 5 Valued Member
I am a huge proponent of horizontal pulling; a lot of the muscles utilized are underdeveloped with pull ups and really help a ton for posture. Bodyeight and bent over rows are great. I love renegade rows, but primarily for their unilateral loading and anti-rotation, I don't feel them in my rhomboids as much. Bat Wings are an awesome way to light up the upper back and really feel the contraction, band pull aparts and band dislocates feel great for my shoulders, and I feel silly doing rear delt flyes but definitely feel them in my upper back.

Will echo the usefulness of cat-cow and scapular push ups as well as foam rolling the thoracic (and if you have overactive traps like me, digging in with a lacrosse ball).
 

Whosonfirst

Level 6 Valued Member
For the last couple years, I've been a bit of a pullup "purist"; I haven't trained any variations aside from the standard pullup, figured I needed to just focus on the basics.

More recently I've been doing just a couple of chinups every morning, just to show a little love to some of the other musculature. For the most part these feel fine, and actually seems to have done good things for my elbows. But, at the very end of the eccentric phase of the chinup (i.e. right at the bottom) I feel a knot in my upper back, right next to my spine. Rhomboids maybe? I'm not sure. But it feels like something that might benefit from some kind of focused remedial work.

Any suggestions?
Also late to this party too. Chin-ups on a bar, were aggravating my elbows back when I could do a lot of them. So I changed to pullups only from a fat bar. Then this past year, I changed to rings only, and almost never have elbow issues any longer. I grab the rings in the trad. hands over grip, but allow their position to rotate to a neutral position during the movement. I think that same neutral position also works doing presses with kettlebells or dumbbells. I remember Pavel saying he was having elbow problems while still at RKC/DD, and he said how pressing with a kb allowed the more neutral position.
 

the hansenator

Level 6 Valued Member
I've been doing the over-and-under variation because @Steve Freides mentioned it. I've seen it before and even tried it once or twice but I've been working it for a couple weeks and I kind of like it. I almost never see it mentioned but it seems like a fine exercise. Nor sure why it isn't more common.
 

Steve Freides

Staff
Senior Certified Instructor
Elite Certified Instructor
@the hansenator, I've seen them called mountain climber pullups (although I've never climbed a mountain and therefore couldn't tell you why.) It resembles a neutral grip pullup in that your palms are facing each other but you can you do it on a regular pullup bar.

-S-
 

popeye123

First Post
@the hansenator, I've seen them called mountain climber pullups (although I've never climbed a mountain and therefore couldn't tell you why.) It resembles a neutral grip pullup in that your palms are facing each other but you can you do it on a regular pullup bar.

-S-
mountain climbers just feel weird. You can your reps on one side and then switch hand placement to try to balance it out, but it still feels weird. Not saying that its bad, but just feels weird ;-)
 

popeye123

First Post
I am a huge proponent of horizontal pulling; a lot of the muscles utilized are underdeveloped with pull ups and really help a ton for posture. Bodyeight and bent over rows are great. I love renegade rows, but primarily for their unilateral loading and anti-rotation, I don't feel them in my rhomboids as much. Bat Wings are an awesome way to light up the upper back and really feel the contraction, band pull aparts and band dislocates feel great for my shoulders, and I feel silly doing rear delt flyes but definitely feel them in my upper back.

Will echo the usefulness of cat-cow and scapular push ups as well as foam rolling the thoracic (and if you have overactive traps like me, digging in with a lacrosse ball).
Been working on my shoulders and neck with a ball for months, just got back to the gym, and I'm dying to get unhunched after so much time online during lockdown.
 

LukeV

Level 5 Valued Member
Chin ups always wrecked my elbows until I learned to stop with eyes level with the bar. Going further to bring chin over or chest to touch the bar resulted in a pinching movement that aggravated tendinitis or something similar in the elbow. Interestingly enough while it wouldn't have got me into the military, stopping with eyes level to the bar did not appear to degrade my muscle development, although I couldn't see from the back
 

WhatWouldHulkDo

Level 6 Valued Member
Going further to bring chin over or chest to touch the bar resulted in a pinching movement that aggravated tendinitis or something similar in the elbow.
I've noticed this in the past as well. I'm not a student of bio-mechanics, but I'm pretty convinced that there's a point somewhere between the eyes and the chin where a pullup turns from a vertical pull to effectively a horizontal pull, and all the weight gets transferred to a different - and weaker - set of muscles. It would be like doing a bench press, but then 3 inches from the top switching it into a triceps extension.

I've found that horizontal rows haven't done much for my overall pullup count, but they do make the top of the pullup better (and pain-free).
 

Steve Freides

Staff
Senior Certified Instructor
Elite Certified Instructor
Chin ups always wrecked my elbows until I learned to stop with eyes level with the bar. Going further to bring chin over or chest to touch the bar resulted in a pinching movement that aggravated tendinitis or something similar in the elbow. Interestingly enough while it wouldn't have got me into the military, stopping with eyes level to the bar did not appear to degrade my muscle development, although I couldn't see from the back
Have you tried different grip widths to see if it helps with the elbow problem? One approach might be to have a high step in front of your bar so that you could try different top positions without having to pull up into them - find a comfortable top position and then try using that hand placement for the full range of motion.

-S-
 

LukeV

Level 5 Valued Member
Have you tried different grip widths to see if it helps with the elbow problem? One approach might be to have a high step in front of your bar so that you could try different top positions without having to pull up into them - find a comfortable top position and then try using that hand placement for the full range of motion.
-S-
Definitely would be worth a try if wanting to continue with chin ups / pull ups. To be honest, I ended up gravitating to the wide grip lat pull down at lower than bodyweight as a near-enough-is-good-enough solution. That didn't aggravate the elbows
 
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