Unpacking the shoulders at the bottom of a pullup?

Discussion in 'Bodyweight' started by freeflowme, Sep 23, 2019.

  1. freeflowme

    freeflowme Triple-Digit Post Count

    Hey all,

    I've been doing pull-ups regularly for several months now, and up until recently I was always "unpacking" my shoulders at the bottom of each rep. I really like the stretch, and I feel like stretching at the bottom allows me to drive upwards more with my lats than with my arms, because the movement is initiated by drawing my shoulder blades down and back.

    Then I came across this video by Jeff Cavalier, in which he states that it's dangerous for your shoulder health to allow your shoulders to unpack at the bottom of a pull-up. I don't know whether he's someone worth listening to or not, but I gave keeping my shoulders packed a try and I have to say I didn't like it. I suppose that could just be because it's different, but it really shortened the range of movement and made it feel more about my arms than my lats.

    So, I was wondering what the "party line" is on pull-ups at StrongFirst. I have to imagine that most dead hangs are done allowing the shoulders to unpack, no? And if so it seems okay for the pull-up too.

    Thanks in advance.
  2. Hasbro

    Hasbro Triple-Digit Post Count

    Unpacked ok for deadhangs but I’m in the “keep them packed” camp for pull-ups. Before I discovered that a few years ago I nearly destroyed my shoulders doing pull-ups unpacked.
    Kiacek likes this.
  3. Steve Freides

    Steve Freides Forum Administrator Senior Certified Instructor

    @freeflowme, IMHO, if it ain't broke, don't fix it. There are many ways to do pullups, and many ways to do hangs. I would describe what I do at the bottom of each rep in a set of pullups as "half-unpack" and this, too, can be OK. You may, in fact, be doing this, too, just relaxing some but not going into a full dead hang but you can tell you are relaxing the tension somewhat.

    All the recent talk about the benefits of dead hangs for the shoulders refers to unpacked, truly "dead" hanging.

  4. Anna C

    Anna C More than 5000 posts Elite Certified Instructor

    The manual has you pulling from a tight position. ("It is recommended that the hollow position be assumed before each repetition." And in Hanging Hollow Position, "Brace when hanging on a high bar. Pack the shoulders").

    But you can, of course, get tight, and then pull, for each rep. It's probably more efficient to just stay tight at the bottom and pull... but efficiency might not be what you're after.

    I think the thing to avoid is initiating the flex of the elbows while the lats, abs, etc. are relaxed.
  5. Steve Freides

    Steve Freides Forum Administrator Senior Certified Instructor


  6. Hasbro

    Hasbro Triple-Digit Post Count

    This is a direct quote from Pavel when the subject came up in another forum...“Keep your shoulders in their sockets for pullups at all times. Don't relax between reps.”
  7. kiwipete

    kiwipete Quadruple-Digit Post Count

    I think shoulder packing isn't an either/or situation, but more of a continuum. I guess if you complete the movement with control does it really matter?
  8. Philippe Geoffrion

    Philippe Geoffrion More than 500 posts

    Don't you have to pack the shoulders before your first rep? I see it as re-setting and practicing every rep like it's the first so I'm not sure why it would be damaging. We reset our deads in between reps too. I suppose the muscles that depress the scapula can be compromised as their orientation is more of stability and resetting may fatigue them quickly, compromising subsequent reps but I'd think that unpacking in between reps wouldn't do any damage if it is done correctly and controlled. Keeping them packed may keep constant tension on your lats and make the reps more smooth and easier, if that's what you're after.
  9. Damiola

    Damiola Double-Digit Post Count

    I tend to listen to Jeff Cavalier. He is a physio and his explanation of why shoulders should be in makes sense.
    Last edited: Oct 18, 2019

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