Why Do Pull Ups Give Me a Headache?

Crossfit toes to bar men pull-ups 2 bars workout

Pullups are a body-weight exercise that develops upper-body strength in the pulling muscles of the back, shoulders and arms. The most common sources of pullup-induced headaches are incorrect breathing techniques, poor exercise form and improper body positioning. These poor lifting practices can lead to muscle tension headaches, or cervico-genic headaches. Other sources of exercise-induced headaches include low blood sugar, dehydration and overtraining.

Proper Pullup Technique

Grip the pullup bar with both palms facing forward and hang downward until your arms are straight. Get a neutral spine position by squeezing the pelvic floor muscles as if trying to hold back from urinating. Retract your shoulder blades by pinching the lower inner corners toward each other. You should maintain this position throughout the entire set; this position keeps your feet hanging straight down. Performing these bio-mechanically correct pullups in combination with maintaining correct neck positioning should help prevent undue muscle strain and pullup-induced headaches.

Neck Positioning

Hold your head and neck in a neutral position while executing pullups or chinups. In the neutral position, your head is straight and your eyes should be looking straight ahead. Maintain your head and neck in line with the spine. Your neck should not be bent backward or hanging forward, not be bent right or left, not be turned to either side, and not jut forward or be pushed backward. Holding your neck in a neutral position protects the neck from over-straining and allows the muscles to work symmetrically.


In medical terms, the neck is called the cervical spine. Cervico-genic headache means the source of the headache stems from the neck. Muscle tension headaches are caused by taut neck muscles pulling on the skull. Improper neck positioning, unsymmetrical pull of the neck muscles on the spine and spasm of the muscles lead to muscle tension and cervico-genic headaches.


Incorrect breathing can cause headaches associated with pullups. Holding your breath while straining increases intercranial pressure, thus increasing the possibility of head pain. The correct breathing technique while performing pullups is exhaling through your mouth while pulling yourself up and inhaling through your nose while lowering yourself.


Prevent headaches from low blood sugar while exercising by consuming healthy calories before training and eating a small healthy snack during long training sessions. You can prevent headaches caused by lack of hydration by sipping healthy fluids while working out. The solution to preventing headaches from overtraining is to gradually increase your workout frequency, duration and intensity.

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