Over the years, I’ve moved to prescribing exclusively neutral grip pull-ups.

The reasons for this are simple: they’re more comfortable and safer, without sacrificing much else.

If choosing between two exercises, all else equal, I will always choose the one where people are less likely to get hurt.

In this article, I’ll make my case (and save you some unnecessary shoulder and wrist pain) for you to switch over as well.

Unless You’re a Competitive Bodybuilder, It Does Not Matter

One of the challenges I see with mainstream health and fitness is that so much of the common information comes from either bodybuilding or powerlifting. This is a challenge because most people are neither bodybuilders nor powerlifters and don’t want to be.

Things like, body part split programs, or traditional pull-ups may make a lot of sense in these populations, but for most people, they’re not the best option.

Sure, if you’re a competitive bodybuilder and you’re concerned that your brachialis and brachioradialis are out of proportion, then you may need to choose specific pull-up grips.

But this doesn’t apply to 98% of people in the gym, including most likely you.

What Does Matter Is Staying Injury-Free

On the other hand, choosing neutral-grip pull-ups helps prevent injuries.

In strength and conditioning, I was always taught that our first job was to “do no harm.” We go to the gym to improve our health, not destroy it. Yet, injuries are all too common among regular folks like you and me, and most of them are preventable.

Common Pain From Ordinary Pull-Ups

Overhand and underhand pull-ups (chin-ups) cause a lot of common pain.

The front of the shoulder. Most of our shoulders are kind of messed up, thanks to all the hours we spend sitting, and because, unlike our chimpanzee ancestors, we don’t spend nearly as much swinging from trees.

If you’re like the rest of modern humans, I don’t recommend forcing through uncomfortable exercises. That slight pain in the front of the shoulder from regular pull-ups is a classic example. Just stop.

Elbow tension. Ditto for the elbow. Both overhand and underhand grip pull-ups require your arm to twist in a way that puts tension on the elbow. Again, ideally, we’d be better at swinging from trees. But we’re not, so just use a neutral grip.

Wrist pain. You know when you go to do a chin-up and everything feels fine except you feel like your wrist is about to snap? Maybe just stop and use a neutral grip.

Neutral grip pull-ups also have a few advantages.

Neutral Grip Pull-Ups Are Easy to Load

Because it’s more comfortable, I’ve also found it much easier to make neutral grip pull-ups a true strength exercise. You can go for max sets up 4,3, or even 2. Hell, you could do a true one-rep max pull-up with less fear of injury and discomfort.

In this article, I talk about the best ways to load pull-ups.

For Variation, Go Wider and Narrower

I agree that variation is important. It may seem that only choosing a neutral grip limits the pull-up variations. However, there are still plenty of options to mix it up.

So you can do…

Neutral neutral grip pull-ups

Wide neutral grip pull-ups

Narrow neutral grip pull-ups

Within this, you’re still getting lots of variation.

Nobody would ever make this same case with, for example, a bench press. They’d never say that you need to program a bench press where you reverse your grip into a very uncomfortable position. Because that’s stupid. Let’s apply the same logic here.

Don’t Have a Neutral Grip Pull-Up Bar? Use The Swissies.

Luckily, more and more gyms have neutral grip pull-up setups of some kind. However, if you don’t, I do have an inexpensive and portable solution for you: The Swissies.

Kensui fitness Swissies

Now, full disclosure, this company Kensui sent them to me for free a few years ago, but I’ve seriously become a big fan. Second disclosure, I receive a commission if you buy through my link. The good news is if you do, you can save 10% with my code ROMAN10. Your elbows and shoulders win, and I get to keep writing on the internet for a living for another day. That’s what I call a win-win. So pick up your Swissies.

Does This Mean You Need to Stop Other Pull-Ups?

No, not necessarily. If you can do them pain-free, if you like them, if you’re doing them in conjunction with things like shoulder and wrist mobility work, then you could do them all perfectly fine.

All I’m saying is that most people just find neutral grip pull-ups more comfortable. So let’s just do those.

Want to Double Your Pull-Ups in 6 Weeks?

We have just the article for you.

About the Author

David William Rosales is a writer and strength coach. He’s the head trainer and editor at Roman Fitness Systems. In addition to helping run RFS, he’s also the head editor for
prohockeystrength.com., the official website of the Strength and Conditioning Association of Professional Hockey. You can also check out his Instagram, he’s pretty easy on the eyes.

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