I've read that arching the back recruits lats well during pull-ups, but is it safe? Is it better to just look up with chest out, but try to minimize back arch?
I've hurt my back a couple of times over the last three or four months, and both times was shortly after doing pull-ups (the next morning). Although I do pull-ups weekly, I may have been arching my back more than usual both times I got hurt (but not 100% sure). The pain is around the very lowest part of the lats, is one-sided, and is way beyond regular DOMS (even though the pain started the next morning, which I know sounds like DOMS).
There is no reason to arch the back during pullups. Arching the back is actually done by the erector spinae muscles not the lats. I doubt you injured your lower back through doing pullups. You may have a buldging disc or something similar which gets aggravated when the lumbar goes into extension (arching).Just pullup with a neutral back and you should be fine. Actually doing pullups with a perfectly straight body is good for core stability.
There's no external loading compressing the back in a pullup, and it is in fact de-loaded because you're in the air. Arched back should not be an issue. I believe I arch my back when I do pullups, and I think it is indeed easier to recruit the lats this way. It changes upper torso angle relative to the bar, and almost becomes a sort of row. My shoulder rotational flexibility is poor, so that's also part of why I don't do my pull ups with a totally vertical body position. It hurts quite a bit to do this for me.
Arch your upper back. Pull your shoulder blades together and down. This will raise your chest, and like Flip says, can make it easier to recruit your lats.
If you arch your lower back, using your erectors and going into extension like Angus mentions, I could see this hurting your back. Keep your lower back neutral. Arch your upper back.
I've found that holding a foam roller between bent knees while doing pull-ups keeps me true to form.
Thanks for all your responses. Turns out I've jammed my T10 and T11, causing thoracic facet irritation. I may be a special case since I have mild scoliosis around my mid-back, so arching seems to not agree with me. Too bad since I found it helped quite a bit with pull-ups.
Are you landing rough when letting go of the bar? I've irritated my back and ankles by dropping a long way after finishing a set of pullups.
Yes, that does make you a bit of a special snowflake (no sarcasm). As Flip said, arching your back is fine in general.
Not sure...I'll pay attention to this next time (probably in at least a week, maybe two).
You might not injury your back from doing pull-ups with an arched lower back, but if youre already injuried it might be a problem. To maintain a healthy back and strong core you should focus on using your abs to stabilise your body.
I generally do about the same as Flip described when I do pullups.
Since we're talking about pullups, what causes elbow pain while doing them? I've done pullups on and off for a long time and only recently did I start getting pain on the inside of my elbows. I'm thinking it's some kind of muscle imbalance but what is it exactly? It's more of a dull ache as opposed to a sharp pain and usually goes away pretty quick. Massaging helps.
I think keeping a tight core is beneficial, especially when doing weighted pullups.
Aopocetx - I don't know if this sounds like what you are experiencing, but I thought this might be helpful. Just an idea. I have never had elbow pain from pullups, but I have wondered if some of the symptoms below were related to elbow issues.
Dan John's written about this. It just seems like some people's elbows hate pullups. It's probably the early stage of tendinitis. Keeping the volume low and using a parallel grip may help.
I'd guess tendonitis as well. I put Aeyogi's response up there because I'd never heard of a carpal tunnel type syndrome in the elbow joint. I'm still not sure that's what was going on with me, but my pain wasn't at the elbow itself. It felt like I'd pulled a small muscle in my forearm, with pain radiating into my hand. It's happened to me a couple of times now. I was kind of interested to see if it rang any bells with anyone else.
Happens to me too. I've mostly avoided it by doing neutral grip pull ups. I almost never use anything but neutral grip these days. Ring pull ups are the easiest on my elbows/arms.
I like neutral grip pullups, but unfortunately they feel almost like a BB curl to me. I can do them with almost no lats. ERG! I've been thinking about getting some rings, mostly because a friend at my gym is using them to train her muscle ups, but ring pullups are an idea. I've also wondered if training my pullups with the rock climbing grips were causing some of the pain in my forearms. I hadn't thought about that. I'd love to be able to avoid having it happen again.
I'll back up the rings suggestion. I use them and have never had issues with my elbows. I use to do them with a bar, and although I never injured my elbows, they clearly didn't like doing them. And unlike rings pushes (esp. dips), ring pulls are not substantially harder than fixed bar pulls from a performance point of view.
^ Marc and all -
About ring pullups, after watching this video - you can really see how the hand position changes - I'm picturing me turning them into a bicep move. Grrr. I wish there were some at my gym to play around with before I buy some. The girl who trains with them is not here this summer. I know she has her own. We have a big TRX system, but I've never seen anybody attaching rings to it so I don't think the gym has them.See how he goes from hands forward like he's holding a bar, to the neutral position. Yeah. I will recruit biceps like crazy with a neutral grip, or with chins. Hmmm... Still might be worth a try. I appreciate the feedback.