Elbow Pain And Bodybuilding: Tips To Avoid Elbow Injuries

In general, bodybuilding is a very safe sport thanks to the possibility to plan your workouts. It’s less likely to suffer sudden injury, although it happens, compared to more unpredictable activities such as football, boxing…etc. This is why some of the most common injuries in bodybuilding come from overuse, and what do you think is the most trained body part by fitness maniacs? It’s the upper body and the arms in particular.


In this post we are going to go over some of the most common elbow joint pains people in bodybuilding experience.

Note: The information that’s about to follow has not been written by a medical professional and we advise you consult one, if you are experiencing pain and discomfort.

The main reasons for elbow pain among bodybuilders and lifters are:

1. Stupid programming


Quite often the cause of overuse injuries is improper programming. We all know very well how often people tend to train their chest and arms. Some do it daily.

It’s hard to do an upper body exercise that does not effect the elbow joints in some way. Since the elbow is a small joint, it does not take much to take it down. Even simple tasks like typing on the computer and masturbating too frequently can cause overuse symptoms. When it comes to training one should choose carefully selected exercises and plan sufficient rest between upper body sessions.

One of the ways to allow the body to recover is to add a rest or a lower body day between upper body sessions. An example training split would be: Chest; Legs; Rest; Back; Rest; Rest. There are many ways to do it and while all of this could seem quite simple, it’s one of the most effective ways to prevent overuse injuries – just don’t overuse the area.

Another important part of preventing elbow pain is including deload phases. The whole point of having deload weeks is to give your body the opportunity to recover from the stress that has accumulated. You cannot add weight every time you train and expect it to work until the end of time. In order to make deload phases easier on your ego you can think of them as taking two steps back to make three forward.

2. Doing exercises that put the elbow in compromised positions


There are many popular exercises that put the elbow in compromised positions. A good example would be the straight bar biceps curls. This exercise has hurt more wrists and elbows than it has built big biceps. It puts too much pressure on the joints and sucks for that. It’s better to use dumbbells or the EZ curl bar.

Here’s a full list of exercises which put the elbow in compromised position and can cause pain:

1. Straight bar biceps curls {for the reasons posted above}

2. Straight bar chin-ups and pull-ups {straight bar chin-ups and pull-ups place the elbow in bad positions. It’s better to use rings for your pull-ups or at least neutral grip}

3. Squats {If you are not squatting correctly, you may be holding the bar with the arms supporting it too much. This can cause elbow pain. Fix your form. The arms are meant to just help balance the barbell on your shoulders, not support so much weight}

4. Skullcrushers and general triceps isolation exercises {There are very few triceps isolation exercises that don’t kill your elbows. One example would be the PJR pull-over. Stay away from regular skullcrushers}

5. Bench press with super close grip {Doing the bench press with super close grip may cause overflexion of the elbow at the bottom position. You are risking wrist and elbow pain.}

3. Doing straight arm exercises

In order to do the iron cross you need years of elbow preparation work.

In order to do the iron cross you need years of elbow preparation work.

Another type of exercises that could literally make your biceps tendon snap at the elbow joint fall under the category of straight arm movements. A good example would be chest flys done with straight elbows. Those kind of movements place insane stress on the bicep tendon and can cause tear or complete rupture. For the most part it’s better to avoid them.

There are ways to get stronger in similar positions and one of them is to start doing gymnastics. Gymnasts are known for having exceptional straight arm strength displayed in moves like the iron cross. However, those guys have been preparing their joints for years under the supervision of coaches who know what they’re doing. You can get there too but not tomorrow.

4. Lifting too heavy


The arms are composed of small joints and were never intended to lift tons of iron. That’s why exercises that make you lift too much weight such as bench press lockouts, barbell rack pins presses, board presses…etc are known to cause elbow pain. The joint is just overloaded.

5. Overextending your elbows at the top

While it’s completely fine to straighten your elbows during exercises like push-ups, dips, bench presses…etc it’s not fine to overextend and/or snap them sharply at the top. If you do so, you may experience nasty strains of the triceps tendons. When your are performing similar exercises just straighten your elbows under control. Don’t over-exaggerate the movement.

6. Using super close grip

As we’ve already mentioned having super close grip on exercises like the bench press can cause triceps pain. The same is true for pull-ups. Performing pull-ups with very close grip will make your triceps tendons at the elbow scream and beg for mercy. Don’t use a grip that’s narrower than shoulder width.

What can you do once you have elbow pain?

If you already have elbow pain, you should first go see a doctor in order to rule out serious injuries such as tendon ruptures. If the injury is not acute and it’s more overuse related, you can read our guide for elbow tendinitis treatment.

The next step is to go over the points above and figure out what your are doing wrong, if you don’t know already. Don’t be afraid to stop lifting until the pain is gone. Far too many people are afraid that their gains will evaporate in a few weeks. To tell you the truth, mild overuse injuries sometime only need a few days and lighter programming over the next weeks. There are much scarier problems than missing a few days worth of training. The weight room is not going to go anywhere anytime soon. Well, unless there’s a hurricane but in that case you wouldn’t be worried about lifting anyway. Or at least, we hope so…

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