Bodybuilding is a relatively safe sport because you can plan your actions in advance. Therefore, it is less likely to suffer a sudden injury in comparison to more unpredictable activities like football, boxing…etc.
Truth be told, most injuries in bodybuilding come from overuse. Since many lifters put a lot of emphasis on the upper body and the arms, in particular, their elbows often cry.
Note: The information that’s about to follow has not been written by a medical professional. It’s for informational purposes only.
The main sources of elbow pain in lifting are:
1. Stupid programming
Since the elbow is a small joint, it does not take much to take it down. Even simple tasks like typing on the computer can cause overuse symptoms. That’s why you should select your exercises intelligently and give the area enough time to recuperate.
Another important part of preventing elbow pain are deload phases. The purpose of deload weeks is to give your body extra time to recover from the accumulated stress. You cannot add weight forever. To make the deload phase easier on your ego, you can think of it as a step back designed to take you three steps forward.
2. Doing exercises that put the elbow in compromised positions
Here’s a list of exercises that put the elbow in a compromised position:
1. Straight bar biceps curls. The straight bar curl can irritate the wrist and elbows. To fix this, you could use a wider grip or simply switch to dumbbells or the EZ curl bar.
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 or a neutral grip.
3. Squats. If you support the bar with your arms, elbow pain may occur. Stay away from low bar squats. They place extra stress on the elbows.
4. Skullcrushers. There are very few triceps isolation exercises that don’t kill your elbows. One example would be the PJR pullover.
5. Bench press with a super close grip. Benching with a super close grip may cause overflexion of the elbow at the bottom position. You are risking wrist and elbow pain.
3. Straight arm exercises
Straight arm movements are very stressful on the elbow joint. A good example would be chest flys done with straight elbows. Similar movements place a tremendous stress on the bicep tendon and can cause a tear or complete rupture. For the most part, it’s better to avoid them.
However, if you want to get stronger in similar positions, yo can make your dream a reality. One option would be to start doing gymnastics. Gymnasts have an 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 educated coaches. You can get there too but not tomorrow.
4. Lifting too heavy
The arms are composed of small joints, which often complain during overload. Don’t lift heavier than you have to. Moreover, it may be wise to avoid bench press lockouts, barbell rack pin presses, board presses…etc.
5. Overextending your elbows at the top
While it’s completely fine to straighten your elbows during pushing exercises, it’s not fine to overextend and/or snap them sharply at the top. When you are performing movements like push-ups, dips and bench presses, just straighten your elbows under control.
What can you do once you have elbow pain?
If you already have elbow pain, you should first see a doctor to rule out serious injuries.
If it’s an overuse injury, this post on elbow tendinitis can help you.
P.S. Don’t be afraid to take time off. You are not going to lose as much strength as you think. Truth be told, mild overuse injuries heal relatively fast. The harder part is preventing them from coming back. Tweak your programming and improve your technique.