Ouch! Is your elbow giving you the blues? Well you’re not alone. Millions of repetitive task hand workers suffer from elbow pain every day. Lateral epicondylitis (the medical term for elbow pain) affects men more than women. It mainly strikes those between the ages of 30 and 50, although people of any age can be affected.
This pain is commonly referred to as tennis or golfers elbow. You guessed it…this is an injury that is common for golf and tennis players. According to the Cleveland Clinic up to 50% of tennis players suffer from elbow tendonitis. This condition is caused by overuse of arm, forearm, wrist and hand muscles that results in elbow pain.
Tennis/golfers elbow might result from:
- Weight Lifting
This injury isn’t limited to the likes of Serena Williams and Tiger Woods.
Elbow pain is also common for those who perform a job that requires repetitive arm or grip movements such as carpentry and desk jobs. Another is by lifting weights.
If your elbows feel like somebody lights a match on them every time you raise your hand, then it may be due to these eight weight lifting mistakes.
Mistake #1: Poor Technique or Form
If you cringe at the thought of shaking hands or turning a doorknob, this may the reason why. Most elbow pain results from improper technique or form when lifting weights.
The bench press is the main exercise where most of them develop tennis/golfers elbow. For instance, too many guys perform the bench press like it’s a 400m relay race. They lower the weight too fast, resulting in the weight bouncing off their chest. Lifting in this fashion puts undue strain on the wrists, forearms, and of course, the elbow.
The main reason they lift so fast is because they want to get as many reps or lift as much weight as possible (This will be discussed in the next weightlifting mistake). While there is nothing wrong with lifting fast, doing it to the point where proper form is ignored leads to problems…elbow problems.
Eventually, your elbow joints (as well as your shoulder and forearm joints) will become weaker and inflamed. That is why it is imperative that you ALWAYS practice proper technique when lifting weights.
Mistake #2: Lifting Too Heavy
How can you lift a whale when your joints are only strong enough to lift a dolphin?
This is the problem many guys exhibit in the gym. Whenever a fella is committing mistake #1, chances are the weight is too heavy. Even if you use proper technique, extremely heavy weight can put tremendous stress on your elbow joints overtime. However, the elbow issues occur mostly because the load exceeds their current strength levels.
Plenty of fellas do this when doing bench press or bicep curls. They will arch their back to help lift the weight up. This is just wrong, wrong, wrong! This not only hurts your elbow, but strains your lower back. Unless you want to walk like the Hunchback of Notre Dame, I suggest you stop doing this. Better yet, reduce the weight to avoid this mistake as well as mistake #1.
Mistake #3: Progressing Too Fast
When it comes to working out, progress is the name of the game. No man (or woman) wants to keep lifting 3lb pink dumbbells forever, right? Well sometimes, not progressing is progressing. What?!? Well here is why that is the case: Your joints take a little longer to gain strength than your muscles. With that said, if you try to add weight (progress) too fast, your joints will suffer, elbows in particular.
This mistake usually happens to guys who have been weight lifting consistently for at least 3 years. Even if they avoid committing mistakes #2 and #3, the elasticity of their elbow joints will eventually diminish when the weight becomes unbearable. That is why it is always better to slowly progress by working with a weight until your joints are strong enough to withstand it. On some occasions, you may need to lower the weight until your joints are fully recuperated.
Mistake #4: Doing The Bench Press Too Much
You have probably noticed that one exercise has been the main focus of this article: the bench press. It seems as if every man and his daddy praises the bench press whenever they venture to the gym. The bench press is a great compound exercise as it does a phenomenal job of building and strengthening the chest, shoulders and triceps. However, some guys do the movement too much. Let me rephrase that, MOST guys do the movement ENTIRELY too much. The result of this is achy upper body joints, especially within the elbows.
Pop quiz: How can you tell if a guy is a bench press addict?
Answer: If he wears elbow wraps or straps. Go figure! Prolonged bench press eventually causes chronic inflammation in the elbow joints, thus resulting in guys using elbow straps to soothe their pain while lifting. That’s fine and all but guess what? Once those elbow wraps come off, it is back to pains-ville. If bench press is giving your elbow woes, switch to dumbbell chest press. You work the same muscles while alleviating pressure off your elbows.
Mistake #5: Doing Arm Isolation Exercises Too Often
It seems that the same guys obsessed with bench press love doing arm isolation exercises as well (e.g., bicep curls, triceps extensions, etc.). Most arm isolation exercises place immense pressure on the elbows. Too many men overdo these types of exercises, resulting in tennis elbow. For some workout sessions, it is best to skip arm isolation exercises for the sake of your elbows.
Mistake #6: Neither Stretching nor Warming Up Elbow and Wrist Joints
Not stretching or warming up your joints is asking for injury. Like your old elementary school P.E. teacher with the clumpy socks and short shorts preached, stretching is fundamental. Warming up your body prior to exercise will loosen your joints, thus lessening the chance of developing elbow problems.
If you have already developed tennis elbow, the first thing you need to do is stretch your wrist flexor and extensor joints 4-5 times daily; it should be held at the point of stretch but not to the point of pain. See the diagram below.
Mistake #7: Not Getting Enough Omega-3 Fatty Acids
This whole article has been focused on working out, but nutrition plays a role in joint health as well. Getting a proper amount of Omega-3 fatty acids in your diet reduces muscle and joint inflammation. You can get this vital nutrient by taking a fish oil supplement or actually eating fish. Aim to eat fish high in DHA and EPA omega-3 fatty acids about two to three times a week.
Here are a few fish that meets those requirements:
- Wild Salmon
- Lake trout
Mistake #8: Not Listening To Your Body
This final mistake is likely the main reason you go “Ouch!” every time you bend your elbow. While most women immediately attend to an injury, most men tend to ignore it like a past due credit card bill. These same men are the ones who are bench press addicts. These are the guys who arch their back higher than the McDonald’s logo to lift a weight too heavy for them. These “elbow wrap wearing” men are destined to make their tennis elbow even worse.
Not listening to your body is probably the worse thing you can do when it comes to lifting weights. In case you didn’t know, please beware of the following: Not every exercise is for everybody. While one exercise is beneficial for one person, it causes joint pain for another. There is nothing more important when performing an exercise than feeling the muscle work. If you don’t feel that muscle work, then the following is occurring:
- You’re doing the exercise wrong (i.e., improper form) OR
- Your body structure isn’t fit to do that exercise
While exercise technique is fixable, you can’t fix how your body was structured. Some people just can’t feel the bench press working their chest, yet feel their shoulder joints ache. Oppositely, others feel their chest being stimulated without experiencing any shoulder discomfort. If you feel your elbow or any other joint ache, it is best to discontinue that exercise.
Hopefully, if you have elbow pain, you have already stopped making some or all of these eight mistakes. Just because you have elbow pain doesn’t mean you were born with “bad” elbows. Instead, it is about taking the necessary steps to ensure you’re healthy enough to lift weights. If your elbow pain is so bad that you can barely raise your arm(s), please seek help from a doctor ASAP. No elbow wrap in the world will take care of that.